CHICAGO -- Opening Day is a time for overreactions, good and bad. But Brewers manager Craig Counsell was taking a steadier approach after Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“We’re at the start of the marathon,” Counsell said.
While the manager takes the long view, here are three extreme overreactions from a back-and-forth opener:
1. Corbin Burnes is walking guys!
En route to winning the National League Cy Young Award last year, Burnes didn’t walk any of the first 126 batters he faced in the regular season. He set an all-time record with 58 strikeouts before issuing his first walk. On Thursday against the Cubs, Burnes walked the very first man he faced.
Of course, this is a different start to a season than last year, when Brewers pitchers had a full Spring Training to ramp up. This year, Burnes topped out just north of 80 pitches in his third and final Cactus League start, which may help explain the misplaced slider that Nico Hoerner hit for a two-run home run in the fifth to cap the first of the Cubs’ two go-ahead rallies.
“Obviously, throwing from behind all game is tough and three walks is something I'm trying to avoid, but they didn't hurt me,” said Burnes, who was charged with three earned runs on four hits and three walks over five innings and 83 pitches. “They strung a couple of hits together and really, we were one pitch away from [limiting it to] one run in that inning. Obviously, it was unfortunate that I had that one pitch, the backup slider, make things look worse than they were. Command-wise, I have to be better.”
2. The offense picked up where it left off!
Christian Yelich pulled a pitch on the ground in his first at-bat of 2022 for a 97.1 mph groundout. He pulled a pitch on the ground in his second at-bat for a 105.7 mph groundout. Through six innings against Cubs’ Opening Day starter Kyle Hendricks and reliever (and 2021 Brewer) Daniel Norris, the Brewers managed one run and Andrew McCutchen’s second-inning double represented their only extra-base hit.
Milwaukee applied more pressure from the seventh inning on and even forged a brief tie at 3 in the seventh on Willy Adames’ RBI double and Yelich’s sacrifice fly. But the Brewers finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in an unwelcome reminder of the end of last season.
“We kind of dealt with that last year,” said Lorenzo Cain, who was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. “I don’t see that as something we’re dealing with all year long. It’s the first game of the season. Everybody is excited and amped up.”
Newcomer McCutchen was a highlight, delivering hits in each of his first two swings in a Brewers uniform. He insisted on the eve of Opening Day that this group will produce.
“With the amount of talent we have up and down the order,” McCutchen said, “if guys go out and they can be themselves, I think the sky’s the limit for our team.”
3. The bullpen is thin!
The Brewers have the final two innings locked down with Devin Williams and Josh Hader. But it will take more arms to bridge the gap to those innings, especially early in the season, meaning big spots for the likes of slider specialist Jake Cousins. He’s coming off 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 30 games in 2021.
The Brewers called upon Cousins in a big spot Thursday: Two outs, the score tied at 3 and the go-ahead runner at third base. They wanted the matchup against right-handed hitter Willson Contreras but Cousins hit Contreras in the back with a wayward fastball. That brought up switch-hitting Ian Happ, who showed why he is more dangerous batting left-handed by delivering the two-run double that decided the game.
“The Contreras one was the one you needed right there,” Counsell said. “That’s obviously the matchup we brought him in for with two outs, trying to keep the game tied. Unfortunately, the fastball just got away from him. … I’m really proud of Jake, how he came out and threw a really good inning the next inning [in the eighth]. I think that’s important for him. He’s going to be one of our guys we’re going to lean on.”
Cousins made no excuses.
“I just need to make a better pitch to Happ there,” Cousins said. “I had Frank [Schwindel, another righty hitter] on deck, too, and I need to realize that. It was just a bad decision, and I’ve just got to live with it.”