Game 87 Recap: Cardinals 5, Brewers 1

In a possible pitching duel between Junior Guerra and Mike Leake, only the visiting starter delivered; the Cardinals didn’t have much trouble against Guerra, while Leake mowed down the Brewers.

Best Play: Leake didn’t look especially sharp through the first three innings, when he allowed a run on four hits. Following a leadoff single in the fourth, though, he retired the next nine batters he faced, and a complete game appeared to be within reach. That changed to begin the seventh inning, when Chris Carter lined a 1-0 curveball into right field and scampered over to third base.

Carter’s triple (+.142) gave the Brewers a 35.8 percent chance of winning, up from 21.7 percent when Tyler Thornburg closed out the top of the frame. With three opportunities to bring him around, the Brewers could have made it a one-run game. An infield lineout, strikeout, and groundout later, Carter remained on third base, and Milwaukee’s odds had dwindled to 13.5 percent.

Last week, the Brewers made their first significant trade of the season, flipping Aaron Hill to the Red Sox in exchange for two prospects. It almost certainly won’t be their last move — Jonathan Villar, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carter could all find themselves on the trading block before July comes to a close. Carter has rebounded from last year’s poor showing with the Astros, and since he offers two years of team control beyond 2016, he may fetch a handsome return in a deadline deal. More three-baggers (or, preferably, home runs) would only help his cause.

Worst Play: Guerra never could seem to get into a groove against the Cardinals. He gave up a solo home run to Matt Adams to start the second inning, and a few frames later, St. Louis would score off him again. With two outs in the fifth inning, Aledyms Diaz reached on an infield single; he’d come around on a dying quail off the bat of Stephen Piscotty, which Kirk Nieuwenhuis couldn’t manage to corral.

Piscotty’s single (-.147) lowered Milwaukee’s win probability from 53.5 to 38.8 percent. From then on, St. Louis would retain at least a 50 percent chance of victory. Once Guerra sacrificed a third run in the sixth inning — on a monstrous Randal Grichuk tater — the Brewers had a much smaller shot at coming back; the two unearned runs tacked on in the ninth sealed their fate.

Prior to Sunday, Guerra had put together a (very small) hot streak — over his previous three starts combined, he’d allowed two runs on nine hits and five walks, with 22 strikeouts.  That success ended on Sunday, when he labored through 5.7 innings of three-run ball. As the Brewers’ best starter to date, by a scarily wide margin, Guerra needs to bounce back from this quickly, or else the de facto ace will become Zach Davies.

Trend to Watch: Ramon Flores, like so many of the players on the 2016 Brewers, started the season with nothing on his resume and everything to prove. He’d played only sparingly in the majors before, and although his Triple-A numbers looked pretty formidable, those came in hitter-friendly leagues. Still, Milwaukee took a flyer on the 24-year-old, acquiring him for Luis Sardinas in the hopes that he’d amount to something.

For a period, Flores seemed to be living up to his potential. FanGraphs’ Chris Mitchell wrote about him on June 21st, noting that he’d improved his plate discipline and pumped up his batting line. But as of late, that progress has vanished: Across his last 15 games and 51 plate appearances, Flores has batted a meager .133/.220/.178. That cold streak, buttressed by an 0-for-3 performance on Sunday, has lowered his seasonal triple-slash to .221/.300/.271.

During this stretch, Flores has actually made a fair amount of solid contact — his 35.3 percent hard-hit rate, per FanGraphs, is far above the 21.3 percent figure he posted before that. So the .182 BABIP he’s posted recently should disappear, if he can maintain that. He still won’t hit for much power, though, as his ground ball rate has remained high (57.6 percent) and he’s started to pull the ball even more often (44.1 percent). We saw that yesterday, when he hit two weak grounders to the right side in three of his trips to the dish.

The third plate appearance? That ended in a strikeout, which brings us to the more unnerving element of Flores’s slump. A patient hitter to start the year, Flores has suddenly become much more aggressive: He’s swung at 48.6 percent of the pitches he’s seen over his most recent 15 games, compared to 41.2 percent before that. That’s helped to sink his walk rate from 10.6 to 7.8 percent, while inflating his strikeout rate from 21.2 to 23.5 percent. As Mitchell discussed in June, Flores needs to have good plate discipline — it carried him through the minors, and it’ll be what brings him success in the majors.

In all likelihood, Flores will continue to get chances in the Milwaukee lineup. He’s looked like a solid defender, and Craig Counsell has expressed some faith by sticking with him to this point. Nevertheless, every player has a floor, and Flores has scraped up against his over the last two-ish weeks. The Brewers can’t send him to the minors, so either he shapes up or he hits the waiver wire.

Up Next: Most of the Brewers will get some time off before the regular season starts back up again on Friday. Lucroy, however, won’t have a four-day weekend: Along with Wilson Ramos, he’ll back up Buster Posey at the All-Star game in San Diego. Hopefully, Terry Collins will rotate his players and let Lucroy see action in the Midsummer Classic. After an unsatisfying first half that has left the Brewers with a 38-49 record, a little victory like this would soothe everyone’s pain.

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