My, how the tables have turned. Last week, the Pirates swept the Brewers at Miller Park, outscoring them 20-12. The Brewers just returned the favor in PNC Park, and this time with a more decisive 18-4 advantage in runs.
Best Play: Steven Brault held the Brewers in check through the first five innings; Milwaukee managed a lone run — on a dinger from Domingo Santana — against the southpaw. Once Juan Nicasio relieved him, the Brewers got to work. Chris Carter, Santana, and Jake Elmore got on base in the top of the sixth, which brought Jonathan Villar to the plate with two down. He lined a 2-2 heater down the left-field line, squeaking it over the outfield wall and bringing around four runs.
Villar’s grand slam (+.257) gave the Brew Crew a 95.9 percent chance of winning, up from 70.2 percent when Elmore’s walk juiced the bases. From then on out, their odds would never dip below 95 percent, as they tacked on five more runs in the ninth to rub salt in the Bucs’ wounds. Facing an adversary with the fifth-worst bullpen in the majors by DRA, the Brewers capitalized accordingly.
Coincidentally, Villar hit a home run a week ago against the Pirates that was also the biggest play for the Brewers. My reaction to that play applies to this one as well — Villar provides most of his value by reaching base often and running well upon doing so; if he can sprinkle some power on top of that, it’s just gravy. Although he continues to nurse a sore knee, the switch-hitting infielder may have the ability to end his breakout year on a high note.
Worst Play: Through the first five frames, the story looked like the one we’ve seen countless times from the Brewers this season — missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Keon Broxton kicked off the contest with a double against Brault, but he’d soon head back to the dugout. Orlando Arcia, hitting in the 2-hole, lined the second pitch he saw to Josh Harrison at second base, who beat Broxton to the bag to turn two.
The double play (-.099), as the second play of the game, put a significant dent into the Brewers’ win probability. Broxton’s double gave them a 56.3 percent chance of victory, which fell to 46.4 percent after Arcia’s unfortunate liner. While the later outburst would obscure this play, it still went down in the record — as did Broxton’s caught stealing in the third inning.
Prior to Sunday, Broxton had done an exceptional job on the basepaths, earning 2.3 runs there over only 199 plate appearances. The outs he made yesterday were bound to happen sooner or later — I wouldn’t deem either of them a TOOTBLAN. You’d nevertheless like to see him iron out those miscues, and perhaps he will in time. At the end of the day, a couple of bad breaks don’t negate an otherwise successful rookie year.
Trend to Watch: It would be pointless and dumb, however, to focus on the negatives after a 10-run shutout victory. Instead, let’s dive into the best performer from Sunday: Santana. Apparently unsatisfied with his second-inning homer and sixth-inning double, he joined in the fun in the ninth, demolishing another long ball to go back-to-back with Carter. That outburst improved his season line to .241/.349/.411, about in line with his preseason PECOTA projection of .246/.329/438.
Injuries have hampered Santana for much of this year; he went to the DL in May with a shoulder ailment, before problems with his elbow kept him off the diamond for more than two months. Since he returned to the team on August 19th, he’d hit a meager .200/.323/.240 — before Sunday, that is. Through that span, he made hard contact just 17.7 percent of the times he put the ball in play; his three extra-base hits on Sunday helped him put that slump to bed.
Thanks to his platoon split — he’s a lifetime .198/.303/.341 hitter against righties — Santana has limited offensive potential. This explains some of his playing time absence, as Craig Counsell has generally put Santana in the lineup to face southpaws. Each of the taters he knocked on Sunday came against a lefty, so that strategy seems to be working. The right-handed Santana seems to have carved out a role for himself, if a limited one.
Up Next: The Brewers head to Milwaukee for a three-game set against the Cubs. (Side note: Why will they alternate home and road for four straight series? What did they ever do to the schedule makers?) Today, the Labor Day special features Zach Davies and Kyle Hendricks at noon CST in a battle of each team’s de facto ace — emphasis on “de facto” there. After that, it’s Wily Peralta versus Jason Hammel and Matt Garza against John Lackey. If Santana and Villar can maintain their hot hitting against another divisional opponent, the Brewers could net a few more victories.