Baseball’s division series kicked off with Game 1 of Rockies-Brewers on Thursday. Though Milwaukee's bullpen held strong for eight innings as the team took a 2-0 lead into the ninth, Colorado came roaring back against closer Jeremy Jeffress to send it to extras. Mike Moustakas still managed to rescue the Brewers with a walk-off single in the 10th. Here are three thoughts on Milwaukee's victory in Game 1:
A Bullpen Game Gone (Almost) Wrong
The opener has been one of the most dominant themes of this season’s discourse, and that’s lately turned to questions of what the strategy might look like in the playoffs. What Milwaukee did here in Game 1 might seem like an example of that. Ultimately, though, it felt like something much more conventional—a classic bullpen game. The “starter” was a reliever, sure. But Brandon Woodruff frequently works long relief (14 of his 19 appearances this year lasted more than one inning), and that type of performance is just what he offered tonight. He pitched three innings, allowing no hits, before being pulled. He was replaced by rookie Corbin Burnes, who went two innings, and then, starting in the sixth, the team turned to the meat of their impressive bullpen.
After 1 2/3 innings from Corey Knebel, they went to elite fireman Josh Hader, who faced four batters and struck out three of them. For the ninth, Milwaukee trusted Jeffress, their All-Star closer, to lock down their 2-0 lead. That’s where the trouble began. Jeffress started the inning by allowing three straight singles, with the last one scoring the lead runner. The next hitter, DJ LeMahieu, reached on an error; after that, Nolan Arenado hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Jeffress’s nightmare finally ended there as he was able to get out of the inning without further incident. Had another one of the team’s top relievers been available, though, it might have ended sooner—but there typically aren’t top relievers left in the ninth inning of a bullpen game. Milwaukee’s strategy worked perfectly, until it didn’t. The Brewers ultimately managed to prevail (Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless 10th), but first, they backed themselves into a bit of a corner.
Yelich Comes Up Big (Again)
Christian Yelich didn’t need to do anything to let everyone know that he’s the best player on the field. After all, that’s how he spent the entirety of September. In his final month of the season, Yelich posted a 1.313 OPS with 10 home runs, effectively sealing his case for MVP. But he gave the crowd a little reminder in Game 1, anyway. The 26-year-old outfielder provided all of tonight’s regulation scoring for Milwaukee, courtesy of a two-run homer in the third inning. Yelich attacked the first pitch of the at-bat, a changeup from Antonio Senzatela, and he took it straight away past center field.
Senzatela uses the changeup less frequently than anything else in his arsenal, and he hadn’t allowed a home run on it all year. He didn’t pick a great time to give up his first one.
Yelich also scored the game’s winning run. He drew a walk to lead off the 10th inning, and Moustakas brought him home with a single.
Colorado’s Offense Woes on the Road
The Rockies’ bats have been fairly quiet this week, scoring just two runs in both Monday’s tiebreaker and Tuesday’s wild-card game. For most of today, they were downright silent. Colorado didn’t log its first hit until the fifth inning, a two-out triple from Carlos González. (He was stranded, as the next batter, Ian Desmond, grounded out on the first pitch of his at-bat.) They didn’t pick things up again until the ninth, when they jumped all over Jeffress.
Now, one hit in eight innings is a credit to Milwaukee’s pitching, which was outstanding until the ninth frame. But it should also be cause for concern from the Rockies. All season, their offense has looked dramatically different at home and on the road—which, to a certain extent, is going to be expected from any team that plays in Coors Field. The 2018 Rockies, though, have taken that to the extreme. Their .852 OPS at home was the best in MLB. On the road? Their .665 OPS ranked 27th in baseball, second-to-last in the National League. Their recent schedule would have been grueling for anyone, with four games in four cities in five days, but it’s especially looked bad for their road-averse bats.