W: Brandon Woodruff (7-1)
L: Zach Eflin (5-5)
HR: PHI - Andrew Knapp (1); MIL - Ben Gamel 2 (3, 4), Yasmani Grandal (10), Christian Yelich (21), Hernan Perez (5)
This spring, the Brewers said it was time to see what Brandon Woodruff could do in the starting rotation, sink or swim.
Not only is Woodruff swimming, he may be the Brewers’ best starting pitcher as we hit the season milestone of Memorial Day.
Woodruff took a perfect game into the 6th inning, allowed just one hit in 8 innings, struck out 10 batters without giving up a walk -- and just for fun, added 2 RBI -- as the Brewers dominated the Philadelphia Phillies 8-1 on Memorial Day Sunday.
As it turns out, this was the first time a Brewers pitcher went 8 innings with 1 hit and 10 strikeouts since a rather famous start in Brewers history:
(It still should have been an error, Pittsburgh)
It was easy to see early that Woodruff’s stuff was a rare kind of electric. Through the first five innings, not only did Woodruff keep a Phillies’ lineup that scored 13 runs in the series’ first two games out of the hit column, but the Phillies never really threatened to have a true base hit.
While forcing lazy fly balls and easy groundouts all afternoon, Woodruff also struck out a batter for the third out in all 8 of the innings his pitched -- a nice bit of statistical minutiae -- including striking out Bryce Harper and Odubel Herrera 3 times and Andrew McCutchen twice.
The lone blemish came in the top of the 6th inning, when backup catcher Andrew Knapp hit a solo home run -- his first home run of the year -- that would prove to be the only hit the Phillies would have all afternoon. It wasn’t even that bad of a pitch, as Knapp hit a low changeup out to right field.
We’ve seen other Brewers pitchers see things fall apart a little after losing a no-hit bid, but Woodruff retired the next 8 straight before being pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 8th after throwing 97 pitches. That included closing out the 7th inning with back-to-back strikeouts of Harper and Rhys Hoskins, and the 8th inning with back-to-back strikeouts of Herrera and Knapp.
Woodruff never had to worry about run support, either, partially through his own doing. His booming RBI double in the bottom of the 4th inning chased Phillies starter Zach Eflin from the game, and his RBI single in the bottom of the 5th capped off the scoring in an inning in which the Brewers batted around.
After a frustrating week offensively, the rest of the Brewers’ bats broke out in a big way Sunday afternoon, clubbing 5 home runs.
That includes 2 home runs from Ben Gamel, who hit all of one home run last year in Seattle. Gamel started the scoring for the Brewers with a solo shot in the bullpen in the bottom of the third inning, and his 2-run homer in the 8th inning capped it.
Yasmani Grandal continued his hot hitting, leading off the 4th inning with a solo home run of his own to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
The Brewers broke the game open in the 5th inning, though, starting with Christian Yelich. Not content with just being the fastest Brewer ever to 20 home runs, Yelich led off the inning with his 21st home run of the year with another opposite-field shot down the left field line off of Vince Velasquez.
Ryan Braun followed with a double and made it to third on a wild pitch before Grandal drove him in with a groundout. Hernan Perez joined the dinger party with his 5th homer of the year -- also to his opposite field. After Woodruff’s RBI single, the Brewers were leading 7-0.
With Woodruff done after 8 innings, Matt Albers pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning with 2 strikeouts to close the door.
While Freddy Peralta threw 8 shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds earlier this year, you could make a strong argument that today’s start by Woodruff was the best by a Brewers pitcher this year, and possibly the best in the past couple of seasons, considering the strength of the opponent and the other circumstances of the start, trying to stop a losing streak and avoid a sweep.
Woodruff’s ERA is now down to 3.22, and he hasn’t walked a batter since the 3rd inning on May 14th, meaning he’s now gone 19 innings without a walk. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 75 while only walking 17 in 64.1 innings. He’s allowed just 4 earned runs in 33 innings this month.
The Brewers now make the drive across the border for a quick two games against the hot-hitting Minnesota Twins, owners of the best record in baseball, on Monday and Tuesday. The Brewers’ 30th win and a loss by the Chicago Cubs to the Cincinnati Reds means the Brewers will be just 1.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central race, and tied in the All-Important Win Column.