Woodruff fans 10 but bats stymied by Cards

Counsell believes ‘a big night’ is coming despite magic number stuck at three

September 22nd, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- “We’re in a spot,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on Monday night, “where our pitchers have to be darn near perfect.”

A day later, his point stood. Instead of continuing to cruise to a division title, the Brewers have been reprising their April and May for most of the past week.

Brandon Woodruff continued one of the greatest seasons for a starting pitcher in franchise history and once again went unrewarded in a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals at American Family Field on Tuesday. The Brewers didn’t move a runner past first base until the eighth inning, and for the third straight day, their magic number to clinch the National League Central remained stuck at three.

The Cardinals are not making it easy. They have won 10 in a row.

“We haven’t played great baseball the past few games, and that’s part of the season," Woodruff said. “We talked about it at the beginning of the year when we weren’t playing well and then we got on a run. We’re just in that little stage right now. 

“We know that we have the lead [in the standings]. That’s not a secret. That doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re still trying to play great baseball. It’s a hard game, man. We’re doing everything we can.”

It was Woodruff’s season in a nutshell. He lowered his ERA to 2.52 and became the seventh pitcher in Brewers history -- and the second this season, with Corbin Burnes -- to surpass 200 strikeouts. But he allowed a first-inning run without yielding a hit, didn’t get any run support and saw his record fall to 9-10.

No one is suggesting won-loss record as a way to measure a pitcher, but it is indicative of the Brewers’ lack of support for their Opening Day starter. Woodruff has been given 2.82 runs of support per nine innings on the mound, worst in the Majors among qualifiers.

As a result, the team is 16-13 in Woodruff’s starts while he puts up a phenomenal season for Milwaukee. Entering this season, here are the best ERAs ever for Brewers pitchers who qualified for the league ERA title by pitching at least one inning per team game:  

1. Mike Caldwell 2.36 (1978) 
2. Teddy Higuera 2.45 (1988) 
3. Ben Sheets 2.70 (2004) 
4. Higuera 2.79 (1986) 
5. Bill Travers 2.81 (1976) 

Burnes and Woodruff are poised to join that top echelon, with Burnes sitting at a 2.34 ERA at the moment and Woodruff at 2.52 after allowing a run on two hits in six innings with one costly walk and 10 strikeouts. It was his 11th career double-digit strikeout game and fifth this season.  

“I told him to bottle that up,” Counsell said.  

As for Woodruff’s lack of run support, Counsell said, “I don’t think it affects him one bit.” 

“The whole season, I feel like when he’s pitching, we don’t execute as hitters. We don’t score runs for him,” Brewers shortstop Willy Adames said. “It’s tough, because I would say he’s having a career year, an unbelievable year, and has a losing record. That’s crazy.”

Too many of the Brewers’ nights over the past week have looked like a flashback to earlier in the season before Adames’ May 21 arrival in a trade -- inspired pitching. Little in the way of hitting. 

The Brewers did come alive late on Tuesday to make it interesting. In the eighth, Christian Yelich pinch-hit and smashed a 106.2-mph lineout that stood as a huge out for the Cardinals when the Brewers put together their first threat all night, with Kolten Wong missing a tying, two-run home run by mere feet (he settled for a double off the wall) before Adames lifted a sacrifice fly.  

But that rally stalled there and another threat in the ninth came up empty. Against Cardinals reliever Geovanny Gallegos, the Brewers loaded the bases when St. Louis opted to intentionally walk Yelich with two outs to face pinch-hitter Pablo Reyes instead. Reyes struck out, and the Brewers were saddled with their third straight loss and their fifth loss in seven games.

“It’s been a quiet week,” Counsell said. “I think we’re going to have a big night one of these nights. We’re going to put a really big number on the board and bust out of it. We didn’t do it tonight, but it’s coming. I believe that. I think our guys believe that.” 

The Brewers will try again on Wednesday. If they can come back to split the four-game series, the division is theirs. 

"You just have to credit their side,” Woodruff said of the streaking Cardinals. “Those guys are making pitches but the thing is, you come back and know that we have an awesome opportunity to take these two games and wrap up this division.”