In a big Saturday night matchup for the leaders of the NL Central, we saw two struggling aces in Chris Carpenter and Zack Greinke go toe to toe. The Milwaukee Brewers have been waiting patiently for their newly acquired starter to take over. After he started the season on the DL and then posted an ERA of 4.83 in his first seven starts, everyone from general manager Doug Melvin on down may be starting to wonder if they made the right choice.
Happily for folks in Milwaukee, Greinke was there to answer the call Saturday in a 5-3 win to give the Brewers a chance to take over first place Sunday. With just three earned runs allowed over seven innings, he dominated the St. Louis Cardinals hitters with nine strikeouts. He also showed great control with no walks. The Cardinals totaled seven hits off Greinke, one a Lance Berkman home run.
Greinke was able to lower his ERA to only 4.69 with the win, but the Brewers should not be wondering whether the ace they traded for has finally turned up. From start to finish, he has dominated NL hitters this season by striking out 11.3 every nine innings. That leads all pitchers in baseball with at least 40 innings pitched.
In Saturday night's game, Greinke struck out Berkman and Ryan Theriot two times each, and limited Albert Pujols to a bases-empty double in the first inning. He did allow four doubles in the game, but only three players touched third base all night -- and those were the eventual runs scored. If any team should put a few runs up on Greinke, it’s the Cardinals, who easily stand apart as the best offense in the NL so far this season with 4.9 runs per game.
In not allowing any walks against such a patient team, Greinke was especially impressive. The right-hander has allowed just seven walks so far this season. He’s always been very good at controlling his free passes, but for his career, this is his best rate so far. Showing this well against the team with the second-most walks in baseball -- behind only the New York Yankees’ powerhouse lineup -- was quite impressive.
Although Greinke’s ERA has been off so far this year, the Brewers have supported him early with plenty of runs. In his first seven starts, the Brewers have given him 7.4 runs per start. This support helped him get his sixth win on Saturday in just eight starts. Being backed by booming homers off the bats of Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks -- as Greinke was on Saturday -- makes any starter's life a bit easier. They should not need to be that good for Greinke going forward, though. Based on his numbers so far, his SIERA -- a slightly better choice to FIP or xFIP for anticipating what a pitcher’s ERA should be -- is an impressive 2.24, and it looks like the National League is going to be a welcomed move for Greinke.
While Greinke’s DL stint is now behind him, the Brewers should be a bit cautious, as there is one cause for concern that they should notice in all this good news. Greinke’s velocity has been down since his return. So far, his fastball has averaged 92.1 mph, which is down a mile per hour from last year. That isn’t the only bad news on this score: His fastest fastball is 95 mph this year, when he had been able to reach the high 90s with his heat back in Kansas City.
We’ll see if this is just Greinke working to get back his arm strength, or whether this is the new velocity to expect from him. It isn’t quite enough to be overly concerned about, and if he’s healthy, his strikeouts and walks support his ability to work at this level. But for the time being, the Brewers have their ace going, and after their win Saturday night, they’re only a half-game out of first in the NL Central, while looking very interesting again in 2011.
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