Nice! It's a cliche to say that this is a new year and a new team and all that jazz, but that's the first thing that comes to mind every time the Brewers take a series on the road. I certainly didn't expect the Crew to be 2006-pathetic away from Miller Park, but I would never have guessed we'd be so dominant away from home in April.
Somehow, with the Sunday lineup and a rather ugly outing from Claudio Vargas, we won a low-scoring game. Vargas threw five innings of shutout ball, which is nearly unbelievable if you watched any of the last three innings he pitched. He straned a total of twelve runners, including the bases loaded in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. He helped those runners get there with five walks.
Granted, Vargas got out of those jams by looking pretty darn good: he got a strikeout per inning (as is becoming his routine), but even with the bases juiced, he got behind 2-0 on a regular basis. I can't imagine Mike Maddux is happy about that, though it would be hard to promote Yovani Gallardo into the rotation over someone who's getting results, as Vargas somehow is.
Looking much better today was Carlos Villanueva, who Ned let pitch two and a third innings of relief. I love Yost's decision to skip Wise and Shouse in favor of Villy, who was rolling after a fairly clean sixth inning. After Carlos gave up a homer in the eighth to Mike Lamb, he was instantly out of the game--Turnbow came in just an out later than usual--but it's always encouraging when Ned is thinking outside of the box, especially when what's outside the box isn't named Aquino or Spurling.
So, we're a day away from the end of the first month (and the DVD giveaway), with the Brewers in what's really a commanding division lead for this time of year. The Crew is still the only team above .500, a solid three games up on the Reds and at least four games up on everybody else. We've gotten there with a little bit of luck--due to last night's debacle, we've given up more runs than we've scored--but a hallmark of teams who outperform their pythagorean record is a strong bullpen, and we've got that. Add in the ways in which we can expect this team to get stronger (Ryan Braun, anyone?), and this is easily the most encouraging month of Milwaukee baseball in the 21st century.