Game 156 Recap: Reds 4, Brewers 2

The Brewers blew a bunch of opportunities on offense and couldn’t make up for it pitching-wise; as the result, they lost their final home game — and final home series  of 2016, to the worst team in the National League. Yeah, that encapsulates 2016 pretty well.

Best Play: Don’t say the Brew Crew didn’t put up a fight, because they did. After pitching five shutout frames, Brandon Finnegan gave way to Josh Smith. Cincinnati’s starter had limited Milwaukee to three hits, which its reliever came close to matching. Jake Elmore poked a single through the infield to kick things off, and on a 3-1 count, Villar walloped an 89-mph fastball to deep center field, putting runners on second and third with no one down.

Villar’s double (+.133) inflated the Brewers’ win probability to 33.7 percent, the highest level since the second inning. But they wouldn’t get any higher from there. Domingo Santana struck out after working the count to 3-0, Ryan Braun popped up to hold the runners in place, and Chris Carter went down swinging to end the threat. The Brewers would manage to tack on two runs in the following inning off Jumbo Diaz, but by then it was too late.

Perhaps other fans feel differently, but for me Villar’s 2016 season has always seemed surreal. I kept thinking that the hitter who came to Milwaukee with a lifetime triple-slash of .236/.300/.353 would fall back to Earth eventually, yet he never really did. Entering the final week of the year, Villar has a .280/.365/.437 line, good for a .286 TAv and 4.2 WARP. While Orlando Arcia remains the Brewers shortstop of the future, the club can’t — and won’t — overlook Villar’s breakout. Whether he remains at third base or returns to his natural position for another team, Villar has a future in the big leagues, which is more than I could say at this time last year.

Worst Play: Before the Brewers fell short in their comeback attempt, they had to fall behind in the first place. Wily Peralta was happy to oblige. He retired the leadoff man in the top of the first, but the Reds went to work after that. Scott Schebler and Joey Votto reached base, setting the table for Adam Duvall. The 2016 All-Star (hey, it’s true) launched a 1-2 heater over the head of Ryan Braun in left, bringing around the first of his team’s four runs.

Duvall’s double (-.137) dropped the Brewers’ chances from 46.2 percent to 32.6 percent; they wouldn’t rise above 40 percent for the remainder of the afternoon. The Reds notched another run in the first inning, when Brandon Phillips hit into a fielder’s choice; one more in the third, when Schebler capitalized on a Martin Maldonado throwing error with an RBI single; and one more in the seventh, when a bunch of slap hitters manufactured a run off Jhan Marinez.

With Peralta, my feelings are similar to Villar: After as putrid a first half as he had, I didn’t expect him to make it back to the majors, much less excel. But he’s soared past my expectations — and those of pretty much everyone, I suppose — with a 3.23 ERA since the All-Star Break. On Sunday, he had the Reds coming up empty, tallying one whiff for every seven pitches he threw; that kept the game in reach, although the offense ultimately couldn’t capitalize. If he sustains his hot streak into next year, Peralta could solidify a slot in the Brewers rotation for the long term.

Trend to Watch: Peralta’s had some trouble with holding runners this year. (He’s had some trouble with a number of other things as well, but those depress me, so let’s zero in on this one.) Per Baseball-Reference, baserunners have tried to steal in 20 of their 202 chances, a 9.9 percent clip that’s far above the 5.7 percent NL average. But on Sunday, the two Reds who took off against him didn’t make it in safely. That’s because of Maldonado: He made phenomenal throws to nab Schebler in the third and Phillips in the sixth.

With Lucroy out of town, Maldonado has seen more action behind the plate for the Brewers. We’ve known him for six seasons as the human incarnation of Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense: He’s combined a .229 career TAv with 34.7 FRAA. That’s made him worth 5.0 WARP over 1,078 plate appearances. While most of his strength with the glove has come from framing — he’s racked up 31.8 CSAA in that span — we shouldn’t write off his arm. He’s gunned down 17 of 46, or 37.0 percent, of would-be base stealers this season, one of the best marks among all catchers. 

Those caught-stealings have come at a bit of a cost: Maldonado’s also recorded six throwing errors on the year, including the aforementioned one from Sunday that led to a run. But on a fundamental level, he displays everything you want out of a backstop — a smooth glove-hand transfer, a quick pop time, and a laser-accurate arm. He won’t remain the club’s catcher for 2017, with Andrew Susac waiting in the wings. Still, with an arm that deadly, and that receiving ability to back it up, Maldonado may continue to stick around, no matter how low his bat sinks.

Up Next: Because the Astros moved to the AL in 2013, the Brewers will head to Texas to face the Rangers. Matt Garza and Martin Perez kick things off at 7:05 CST tonight, Jimmy Nelson and A.J. Griffin face off on Tuesday, and Chase Anderson will duel (if you can call it that) Cole Hamels on Wednesday. The jump from the Reds to the Rangers is…large, to say the least. Hopefully, the Brew Crew can make the leap; with a .500 record over their final six, they’d avoid a 90-loss season, which is always a solid goal.

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