You can examine a variety of statistics to see why the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching staff has been so good in leading the club to a 26-15 record. If you want one specific area that’s impacted their success the most, look no further than the top of the opposition’s lineup.
Brewers’ hurlers have been dominant when facing their opponents’ first and second batters in the lineup. Preventing these hitters from getting on base and being in scoring position for the middle of the order has been the biggest contributor to Milwaukee’s pitching success. Against the Brewers, players hitting in the first two spots have a .216 average, .277 OBP, .317 slugging percentage and a .594 OPS. Milwaukee is the top-ranked team in the NL in each of these categories.
Preventing the top of the order from setting the table has allowed the Brewers to keep the team in nearly every contest, despite the woes of their offense. Though the Crew sits in the middle and bottom when it comes to facing the three through six hitters, that damage has been limited thanks to their complete control over the first two batters.
Thursday afternoon’s game is a prime example of how effective this has been as Yovani Gallardo and the relief corps shutdown those two spots. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ batters who occupied the first two holes in the lineup went a combined 1-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts. They failed to score a run or knock one in, Milwaukee’s bullpen held tight and it gave the offense a chance to steal the game, which they did.
Dominating those top two hitters has been Gallardo’s strong suit all season. He’s held them to a .160 average and a .450 OPS, the best among Brewers’ starters.
The entire staff’s numbers against the one and two hitters in the lineup are astounding when compared to the rest of the league. The next closest club in batting average against is .240, a full 24 points higher than Milwaukee’s. The second-best OPS against in the NL is .627 with the third-best mark being .668 against these hitters. That puts the Brewers 33 and 74 points ahead of those clubs, which is an impressive advantage to hold over the rest of the league.
Keep in mind the second spot in the lineup is often seen as the most important on any club, while the leadoff hitter sets the tone and wreaks havoc by being on base. By keeping them off the base paths and limiting the opportunities for the big boys to drive them home, Milwaukee has kept the enemy from putting up crooked numbers. The staff has given up more than four runs in only 11 of its 41 games (27 percent), posted an MLB-best 31 quality starts and gone a phenomenal 22-1 when the Brewers score at least four runs of their own.
All of this is made possible by completely stifling the top two hitters of any lineup, forcing the middle of the order to drive themselves in or have the bottom third produce more offense. Neither of those options consistently work. It’s also part of the reason Milwaukee can rank 11th out of 15 teams in allowing home runs per nine innings but still own the league’s third-best ERA.
Should the Brewers’ pitchers continue to retire the first two hitters at a steady clip, they will continue to limit damage, turn it over to the bullpen with a lead or close and generally ensure the offense has a chance to pull out games in the end – just like Thursday. It’s a valuable way to win ugly over the course of a 162-game season.