The Milwaukee Brewers opened their 2012 regular season campaign against division foe and defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals this past weekend, taking just one of three from the Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa-less Redbirds at Miller Park.
While it wasn’t the most galvanizing performance from the defending NL Central champions, there are a number of positives worth taking away. Fill-in first baseman Mat Gamel performed well, Zack Greinke (finally) pitched up to his capabilities and Corey Hart validated why he could be a dark-horse candidate to take home NL MVP honors this season.
Of course, not everything from opening weekend was worth remembering. Here are the five biggest observations from Milwaukee’s opening weekend series against the Cardinals.
Yovani Gallardo Gets Hammered
You didn’t have to be an expert to recognize that Yovani Gallardo struggled mightily in his first start of the season last Friday.
After pitching well enough in spring training to be named Milwaukee’s opening-day starter, Ron Roenicke’s 26-year-old ace started off his season on a disheartening note against Cardinals hitting. In front of the second-largest crowd in Miller Park history, Gallardo made it through just 3.2 innings of work, conceding six runs on seven hits while striking out just three and walking five.
Gallardo struggled to find his command throughout and didn’t exactly light up the radar-gun (his fastball topped-out at 94 MPH). He was none too happy with his performance, and has this to say to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“Today, I just sucked. That’s all you can say,” said the 26-year-old right-hander. “I haven’t even thought about (his history against the Cards),” said Gallardo. “You can’t think about those things. It could be a whole different story if I was ahead of the hitters. If I was putting the ball where I wanted to, the outcome could have been a lot different.”
Gallardo went 1-3 with an unsightly 5.70 ERA in four starts against St. Louis last season. Even without Albert Pujols, things aren’t off to a much better start in 2012.
Brewers right fielder Corey Hart missed just about all of spring training after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Manager Ron Roenicke still thought it best to start Corey Hart in the starting lineup in each of Milwaukee’s opening weekend contests.
It turned out to be a worthwhile risk for both sides. On opening weekend, Hart crushed Cardinals pitching by going 4-for-9, smashing three home runs for 4 RBI while scoring three of his own. He showed good patience and discipline at the plate, walking twice and striking out just twice.
I wrote a few months back that Hart has what it takes to contend for the NL MVP award this season, and my reasoning was largely based off of his ability to hit for power. If Hart continues his patience at the plate and his power-stroke persists, he could be in for that type of a season.
What Happened to Alex Gonzalez?
New Brewers shortstop Alex Gonzalez teed-off against opposing pitching this spring, and was arguably Milwaukee’s top offensive preseason performer. He posted a .473/.517/.836 line with five home runs and 16 RBI in 22 Cactus League games.
While it’s true that fans weren’t expecting a Silver Slugger-type season from the 35-year-old shortstop, they probably didn’t anticipate such a porous opening-weekend from the batter’s box.
This weekend, Gonzalez went just 1-for-9 with two strikeouts, failing to even draw a walk against Cardinals pitching. He looked lost at the plate in each of the three games and hardly looked comfortable in the box. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played, but it wasn’t an attractive start for Milwaukee’s new shortstop.
Rafael Furcal Will Be a Tough out All Season Long
Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal has been a problem for Milwaukee pitching since he first made his way to St. Louis at the trade deadline last summer. If there’s one thing to be learned from opening weekend, it’s that his unyielding bat will continue to beleaguer Ron Roenicke’s staff.
For a guy who put up a .231/.298/.348 line all of last season, Furcal posted a .286/.345/.612 line against Brewers pitchers, and that’s excluding decent postseason production.
This weekend, Furcal continued his hot-hitting ways against the Brewers, going 7-for-14 with an RBI and two runs scored. He also drew a walk, stole one base and made a number of key plays at shortstop.
If this opening weekend was any indication, then Furcal will be a tough out all season long.
Zack Greinke came into spring training determined to become Milwaukee’s opening-day starter, but while he did garner a 2.82 ERA and 30 strikeouts over just 22.1 innings, he wasn’t able to accomplish his goal.
However, after a stellar first outing of 2012, many feel (this writer included) that Greinke is indeed the best starter on Ron Roenicke’s staff, and that he probably should have been the opening-day starter. On Saturday, the former Cy Young Award winner tossed seven complete innings of four-hit ball, conceding no walks and striking out seven. His fastball consistently sat in the mid-90s and his curveball worked like a charm throughout.
It may be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction this early in the season, but the way Greinke’s has pitched since the All-Star break last summer up until now, I’d say he’s got a slight edge over Yovani Gallardo as Milwaukee’s best starter.