We got baseball back this past weekend, but the game could be facing larger issues.
It took all of just one weekend.
An already shortened 2020 season came under threat Monday when reports surfaced that a coronavirus outbreak had spread through the Marlins clubhouse. Following the news, the Marlins immediately postponed their series opener against the Orioles. The Phillies, who hosted the Marlins on opening weekend, did the same with their game against the Yankees.
Nonetheless, a league-wide conference call to address the outbreak Monday morning yielded apparently no plans to cancel the season.
Hence, the remaining 24 teams will soldier on, for better or worse.
Where’s the Offense?
That includes, of course, the Milwaukee Brewers, who shift to Pittsburgh to open up a three-game series. The focus for the Brew Crew will certainly be on finding consistent offense and getting production out of the heart of their lineup after a dismal showing in Chicago.
The Brewers’ eight run outburst in game two of that series seemed almost an anomaly of sorts. There were shut out, 3-0, in Kyle Hendricks’ complete game gem on Opening Day and bewildered by Tyler Chatwood (8 Ks) on Sunday.
Superstarts Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura were at the center of the struggles. The normally prodigious sluggers combined to go just 2-for-25 at the plate with five strikeouts apiece in the series.
However, there’s room for optimism. Both have had considerable success against the Pirates in their careers. Yelich owns a .332/.405/.592 lifetime slash line with 14 homers off Pittsburgh pitching. Hiura, meanwhile, already has six homers against the Bucs in his short career.
Ryan Braun was noticeably absent from the lineup in games two and three versus the Cubs. This was after an 0-for-3 outing on Opening Day. Look for him to at least occupy the DH spot in games one and two to counter two Pirate lefty starters.
Similarly, Craig Counsell indicated in his post-game comments Sunday that the righty bats of third baseman Jedd Gyorko and catcher Manny Piña would be in line for their first starts. Expect Josh Hader to make his first appearance of the year as well, save situation or not. He was not needed in the Brewers’ 8-3 victory on Saturday.
The Pirates enter the series having dropped two of three on opening weekend to the Cardinals. They likewise took their fair share of lumps at the plate to open the season and ranked third-to-last in team OPS after three games.
Despite their struggles, they stole game three from the Cards to give rookie manager Derek Shelton his first career victory.
Game 1: Adrian Houser, RHP (first start) vs Steven Brault (first start)
Houser posted a 3.28 ERA in 12 starts in 2019 after moving into the rotation full time in July. He was impressive facing the White Sox in the Brewers’ lone exhibition tune up last Wednesday, limiting the Sox to one run in 4.1 innings.
Brault sat out of Spring Training with a strained shoulder but is healthy now and will get the start for the Pirates. However, expectations are that he will pitch only three innings before handing the ball to righty Chad Kuhl. Brault went 4-6 last season in 25 appearances (19 starts) with a 5.16 ERA.
Game 2: Josh Lindblom (first start) vs Derek Holland (first start)
GM David Stearns hopes to catch lightning in a bottle again with another import from overseas, a la the Eric Thames signing three years ago. The 33-year-old Lindblom saw limited success early in his career as a journeyman reliever, after which he transitioned to the KBO. In 2019, he won the KBO’s equivalent of the MVP, posting a 20-3 record with a 2.50 ERA in 30 starts.
Holland has been straight awful last season, finishing with a 6.08 ERA in 51 combined appearances with the Giants and Cubs and even worse in his eight starts (1-5, 8.10 ERA). He also was somehow ejected from Sunday’s game while he was sitting in the stands.
Game 3: Brandon Woodruff (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs Joe Musgrove (0-1, 4.76 ERA)
Woodruff took a tough luck loss on Opening Day. Ian Happ planted Woodruff’s lone mistake pitch in the right-center bleachers, while the offense scuffled to solve Hendricks.
The report from Pittsburgh is that Musgrove’s fastball velocity was down nearly 3 mph in his Opening Day start. However, he still managed to strike out seven batters in just 5.2 IP on 99 pitches.
Something to Watch with Milwaukee
Craig Counsell continued to possess a quick hook with his starting pitchers in the opening series. His classically out-of-the-box approach to his staff garnered praise for having been instrumental in the team’s back-to-back playoff appearances in 2018-19. But to start this season, it has been perhaps quicker than normal.
Counsell pulled Woodruff after 85 pitches and 5 effective innings. Corbin Burnes got the hook after just 75 pitches. Freddy Peralta’s performance warranted the early exit, though he was still only at 66 pitches.
It’s possible Counsell wants the Brewers starters some extra time to stretch out their arms. It could also be a testament to the depth of his staff and possibly a chance to get a look at his expanded roster. Or it be a byproduct of some urgency felt in this shortened season. Whatever the reason, this is probably worth paying attention to.