Brewers know they need better play behind Burnes

May 8th, 2022

ATLANTA -- The lack of run support for Corbin Burnes was not new. 

The lack of defensive support, now that was an unfortunate development. 

The Brewers were charged with two errors behind Burnes, but it could have been more. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner lowered his already-stellar ERA from 1.93 to 1.86 and yet was the pitcher of record in the team’s 3-2 loss to the Braves at Truist Park on Saturday. 

As usual, Burnes was his own harshest critic. 

“When you’re matching up against some of the other pitchers in the game, you have to be on top of everything,” he said. “Today was not [that]. Today was definitely a step in the wrong direction as far as stuff goes, and we were grinding out there to get strikes and get outs. They played better baseball than us tonight.” 

Burnes surrendered a two-out, two-strike home run to Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fifth inning on a slider below the strike zone, and then was let down by the defense in the sixth. Lorenzo Cain missed Marcell Ozuna’s base hit as it snaked toward the wall in center field and saw that error lead to a critical unearned run when Ozzie Albies rocketed a single off first baseman Rowdy Tellez’s glove.

“Defensively, we weren’t the best tonight,” right fielder Hunter Renfroe said. “We have to clean that up a little bit. We’ll learn from it and get better.”

Renfroe homered off Braves starter Max Fried in the seventh inning, but Fried continued his recent run of success by allowing that single run on four hits over seven innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts. Add him to a list of pitchers who have dueled with Burnes next to the Cubs’ Marcus Stroman, who started Chicago’s 2-0 win over the Brewers at American Family Field last week.

Among qualifying NL starters, only three have lower run support per nine innings than Burnes’ 2.33: Miami’s Sandy Alcantra (2.02), Atlanta’s Kyle Wright (2.03) and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler (2.05).

Or, put it this way: In Burnes’ last three starts, he has a 1.37 ERA and 28 strikeouts versus four walks in 19 2/3 innings -- and the Brewers have lost all three games. Two of those losses were hung on Burnes’ record.

Or, like this: During the last two turns through the Brewers’ starting rotation, the team scored 78 runs in the nine games Burnes didn’t start, an average of 8.67 runs per game. They scored two runs over the entirety of the two games he did start.

“That’s just baseball, that’s part of it,” Renfroe said. “The Atlanta Braves are good. This is not some pushover, they’re the reigning champions. Their team is a lot better than their record shows.”

Said Cain: “It’s been rough for Burnes out of the gate. But we’ll start stringing up some runs for him because he’s definitely pitching his [backside] off. That guy has been dominant out there. We have to find a way to get runs for him.”

As for the wobbly defense, Cain and Renfroe both described the difficulty playing the field at Truist Park, where the turf looks beautiful but tends to produce grounders that snake their way along the grass. There was also a light rain falling during much of the night, which Renfroe said made the baseball skip in unexpected ways, like it may have done to Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong on an in-between hop in the fourth inning that was ruled a base hit for Albies, and on a Matt Olson grounder in the fifth on which Wong lost his handle of the baseball.

The Braves had a different kind of night on defense. Atlanta left fielder Travis Demeritte charged and made a diving catch of Christian Yelich’s shallow fly ball in the sixth inning to deny the Brewers two runs, and closer Kenley Jansen, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and shortstop Dansby Swanson combined on a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play to end the game after the Brewers scored one run and put the tying runner on base.

None of his explanation was meant to be an excuse, Renfroe said.

“We have to play better than that,” he said. “It’s kind of one of those deals where you get it out of your system now and learn from it and be better. Corbin pitched perfectly fine tonight. He induced ground balls, he induced soft contact. It just so happened to not be his night.”