Few pairings are perfect as baseball and optimism. With each spring comes the hope that the filthy but erratic pitcher will harness his nastiness and your second baseman will finally develop his power stroke. These hopes are easy to harbor and oddly fulfilling, but they are not always grounded in reality. Eleven games is all it's taken to turn the optimism of the 2013 season into the impending dread of the 2002 campaign--being 3-8 with an unsightly -26 run differential will do that to you. It's also hard to feel good about losing a series to your most hated rival thanks to two consecutive shutouts, yet from the smoldering wreckage of the weekend emerged a trio of bona fide positives.
1) Outside of one inning, the pitching was very good.
For starters, Kyle Lohse was efficient and democratic in seven innings on Friday. He needed only 82 pitches to complete 7 innings, allowing just 6 hits while striking out 2 and walking none. In two starts this season he'd been everything the Brewers could have hoped for. Even better, his success is more than smoke and mirrors to this point, as evidenced by his 2.91 FIP.
On Sunday Marco Estrada had another solid outing, allowing three runs while striking out seven in six innings. Estrada has always made me nervous because he didn't settle into the majors until 27, doesn't throw hard, and his stuff is not overwhelmingly nasty. I keep waiting for an implosion a la Victor Santos, but I think I'll have to keep waiting. If anything Estrada's results have been worse than what they should be, so provided good health he has the makings of a right handed Chris Capuano.
A tip of the cap must also go to the bullpen which held the Cardinals scoreless for four innings on Sunday. This was especially important after the Brewers squandered a chance to take the lead in the top of the 9th of getaway day, as a loss there would have severely reduced my will to live. John Axford even got into the action by pitching his first clean frame of the season on Saturday. It was a mop-up inning, but it still counts. Hopefully he'll get a few more chances to eat some innings...in the opposite situation, of course.
Brewers pitching was excellent outside of the bottom of the sixth on Saturday. The primary culprit of this meltdown was one Yovani Gallardo. Oddly enough, his struggles provide a nice segue in the next positive takeway from the weekend.
2) Regression can be your friend
Professional athletes have a lot in common with automatons. Assuming good health and normal luck a baseball player will perform pretty much the same every season. Gallardo is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Since becoming a full-time started in 2007, Gallardo has had ERAs of 3.67, 3.73, 3.84, 3.52, and 3.66, respectively.* A mere 0.32 separates his high ERA from his low, which leads me to believe his current 6.61 ERA will regress to the mean. He'll come around and when he does the Brewers will have three reliable starters in their rotation. That said, Ron Roenicke should seriously consider skipping his starts versus St. Louis, against whom he's 1-10 with a 6.84 ERA.
*2008 was not included because he only pitched 24.0 innings due to injury.
3) The way things are going, winning one game in St. Louis is perfectly acceptable.
Had the Brewers' record entering this series been reversed I would have been fine with the series unfolding exactly as it did. Struggles aside, the Cardinals are a mighty fine team that's currently on a tear. They way the Brewers pitching staff performed you would expect them to take 2 of 3 in most series', it just happened the Cardinals' staff collectively became Bob Gibson for a few games.
Also, that the Brewers broke out of a 32-inning scoring drought to tie and win the game on Sunday against said team at the very least demonstrated the same never-say-die attitude that got them to the brink of the playoffs last season.
Looking ahead, the Brewers return home to square off against the defending champion Giants. This will be followed by six games against the Cubs and Padres. Should the Crew take at least one from San Francisco a path to respectability emerges. It all starts tomorrow with Barry Zito versus Wily Peralta.