1-21-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Each time the Pittsburgh Pirates travel to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers I get this knot in the pit of stomach; probably due to the trauma experienced from watching the Pirates immense struggles in the Brew City during the late 2000’s through the early 2010’s. From 2007 to 2010 Pittsburgh held an overall 13-37 record against the Brewers, including a 22 game losing streak in then Miller Park; which was almost extended to 23 if it had not been for a Ryan Doumit grand slam and a Ronny Cedeno solo homer in the top of the 9th in late April 2010.
Even when the Pirates were at their best from 2013 through 2015, they were 10-17 in Milwaukee; and, since 2019-the lean years-Pittsburgh is a combined 5-20 against the Brewers at now American Family Field. You could call it Puppies Rainbows and Lollipops Park, but things probably still would change. So, it was no surprise-in what has become somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy-the Pirates were swept out out Milwaukee yesterday in a 4-2 loss at the hands of the Brew Crew.
Now, when you think of a sweep, it may be hard to imagine that there was any good mixed in with the bad and the ugly; however, in this series there were some good things that took place. This is where I want to start before I get to the obvious bad and ugly of the Pirates time in Milwaukee.
- Roansy Contreras followed up his 3 inning, 5 strike out, 1 walk and hit performance against the Nationals on Thursday April 14th with another solid 3 inning performance in the second game of the Brewers series. The lone blemish coming when he hung one for Hunter Renfroe to deposit in the second level of the left field seats. Outside of that, he struck out 5 more batters and didn’t walk any. At the time I thought that if this continued on a consistent basis it was very possible that Contreras could find himself on the front end of a piggyback situation sooner rather than later. Yet, after him being optioned back to Triple-A within the last hour, this will obviously have to wait.
- Daniel Vogelbach continued his hot start to the season by going 4 for 10 with a homer and a couple of patented walks to raise his average to .324 with a more than above average .924 OPS. Sure, I still shake my head when I see a 270 lb leadoff man make his way to the plate, but you can’t really question the decision to have him in the lineup.
- Mitch Keller put together his first quality start of the 2022 season; and, for the most part, something definitely looked different. In 5.1 innings of work Keller struck out 7, allowed a run on a well placed-but well struck-pitch to Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the second and didn’t walk a single Brewers hitter. As I was trying to figure out what was distinctive about this outing compared to the other two on the season, I found myself looking all the way back to his last official quality start against the Cubs on September 2nd; as well as blog post from last season when I examined Keller’s fastball control. At the time it seemed as if he was more likely to have a solid performance when his 4-seamer was operating in the zone more. However, in this years three outings the fastball has stayed fairly consistent, leaving the command of his slider as more of outlier in yesterday’s performance. Over his first two starts Keller’s slider had been something that opposing batters could potentially spit on, as they had no real chance of finding their way near the zone. However, yesterday was different in that his sliders-which average almost 8 mph less than the 4-seamer were almost impossible to distinguish because of their location. Maybe it’s something, maybe it’s nothing; but, it’s definitely an aspect of Keller’s overall pitch mix that I will be keeping an eye on.
- Miguel Yajure earned his first career win in his first appearance of the season back on April 10th in St. Louis, then in yesterday’s contest he gave up what would be the decisive 3-run homer to Keston Hiura in the bottom of the 7th. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was 2019 or 2020 Keston Hiura, but 2022 Keston Hiura is a player that hasn’t put one over the wall since June 28th of last season.
- Bryan Reynolds managed only 1 hit during the 3 game series in Milwaukee, while striking out 6 times in only 11 at bats. I am obviously not panicking by any stretch of the imagination, still it isn’t an ideal scenario either.
- Ben Gamel has continued to dive all over the place in the outfield to make a play, but has also been lunging all over the place at the plate as well. In 7 at bats during the series Gamel struck out 3 times and didn’t manage a single hit. On the year he has a .182/.308/.303 slash line with one bomb; looking more like the player the Guardians let go than the one the Pirates picked up last season. Hopefully, this comes full circle again.
- Zach Thompson allowed 6 runs on 6 hits, including a Christian Yelich grand slam. He also walked 4 while using 89 pitches to get through 4 innings. It’s early in the season, but it’s also hard to look at a 9.00 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP and be optimistic.
- JT Brubaker can’t seem to go even one game without an absolutely ugly inning. This time around it was the second inning. A walk followed by a homer and a walk followed by a double was all that was needed to ruin a potentially solid outing from Brubaker.
- The Pirates were 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position during the series, struck out 32 times and walked only 6 times. Nothing like playing a team of the Brewers caliber to remind us just how far away Pittsburgh is away from competing.
Luckily the Pirates don’t have to return to Milwaukee until the beginning of July, so fans-including myself-can breathe a sigh of relief momentarily. Nevertheless, it’s not like there won’t be any other challenges for the team to face between now and then. My biggest hope is that when they do, they don’t take it on the chin as squarely as the did the past three days.