October 11, 2011
NLCS Game Two: Defensive Doom
Monday night at Miller Park started with a positive vibe. The Kilars, a local family trying to raise funds for a "Field of Dreams" to be built in the memory of their 6-year-old son Treyton, threw out the first pitch. Treyton loved nothing more than the Brewers and Prince Fielder, so it was only fitting that Fielder would catch the ball (and then seemingly tear up while talking with the family). It was a touching and sweet moment to begin the night and earned a healthy round of applause from the crowd. (For more information about the Kilars and the Treyton's Field of Dreams, see this article or visit www.treysfield.org.)
The almost 44,000 in Miller Park wouldn't have much more to cheer for all night. Shaun Marcum, who was a key contributor to the Brewers' 96-win season after coming over in a trade for top prospect Brett Lawrie last winter, continued his string of poor post-season performances. Marcum's biggest strength is his killer changeup, but batters have not been falling for it recently (when he chooses to throw it—his changeup use has plummeted in the last few weeks). In turn, Marcum's other pitches have become much more hittable. Albert Pujols proved that in his first at-bat, pulling one ball about 350 feet foul before taking the next pitch into the left-field bleachers.
Pujols never let up. By the end of the seventh inning, he was 4-for-4 with a home run and three doubles with five runs batted in. Pujols’ weak ground out to second base in the eighth inning elicited one of the most sarcastic rounds of applause you'll hear. For as stacked as the Cardinals lineup is—it was the league's top offense in the regular season—the one guy a team has to worry about more than any other is still Pujols, and Monday's game showed why. The Cards would win the game 12-3.
In all, the Cardinals connected for seven extra-base hits against Marcum and the rest of Milwaukee's relievers. For the Brewers, that is not a formula for winning a game. However, things weren't helped by poor defensive play and bad breaks on the bases. In the third inning, for example, pitcher Edwin Jackson led off with a soft fly ball to center field. Center fielder Nyjer Morgan raced in and dove for the ball. It landed in Morgan's glove, but as he tried to keep the mitt steady while still sliding on the grass, the ball popped out, giving Jackson a hit. Two batters later, Jon Jay grounded a ball to third base. However, Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston was unable to make a play because he had, in response to a hit-and-run attempt by Jackson, moved two steps to his left as the pitch was being thrown. If Hairston had only stayed in his place, the ball would have gone directly to him, possibly setting up a double play.
The biggest gaffe came in Pujols' at-bat. Early in the count, Pujols hit a high pop fly to right field. Corey Hart raced in to make the catch, sliding on his butt in foul territory as the ball landed. Somehow, Hart dropped the ball, and Pujols took advantage of his extra chance. A few pitches later, the slugger lined a ball to the center-field warning track. Morgan appeared to have a bead on the ball but, as he jumped to make the catch, missed it entirely. Pujols had his first double of the day and two runs were in. In case you weren't counting, that was four outs that were botched by the Brewers in just one inning. Anyone watching the game could see that the poor defense wasn't limited to the third inning.
The series moves to St. Louis on Wednesday, with Brewers playoff hero Yovani Gallardo matching up against Cardinals playoff hero Chris Carpenter. Milwaukee will need to take one in St. Louis for the series to return to Miller Park over the weekend. It would be a huge advantage for the Brew Crew, who had a stellar home record during the regular season. Some think a return trip to Wisconsin is impossible, but it is important to remember that Milwaukee finished the season with a 39-42 record on the road. Considering that Monday's game was a perfect storm of Milwaukee's flaws—poor defense, a weak lineup behind Prince/Braun, declining pitching—Brewers fans can take solace in realizing that things will almost certainly go better on Wednesday; they have to, right?