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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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What will Game 6 bring?

If a sharp, crisp Game 4 restored hope for Brewers fans in the NLCS, it's probably safe to say Game 5 put them back into a state of panic.

Many will point toward the team's four errors when talking about the Game 5 loss, but Zack Greinke wasn't very good, either. To his credit, he said as much after the game when he easily could have thrown Yuniesky Betancourt, Rickie Weeks, and Jerry Hairston (and maybe even Corey Hart) under the bus. Nobody would have blamed him.

Not only did Greinke fail to record a strikeout in 5.2 innings -- the longest he's ever made it into a game without notching a K -- but he only managed to get the Cardinals to swing-and-miss twice the entire game, and those didn't even come until the last couple innings he threw on Friday night. That's unusual for any pitcher that struck out 200 batters over the course of the regular season. For Greinke, who always managed to rack up the strikeout numbers even when he was struggling, it's even more unusual.

Only twice this year has Greinke generated less whiffs in a start. The first probably isn't that hard to guess: the disaster outing in the Bronx against the Yankees, when he failed to record a strikeout in a 2+ inning start. There wasn't a single Yankee that swung and missed against him in those 15 plate appearances.

The only other start in which Greinke had a harder time getting batters to chase? The season finale against Pittsburgh, when he threw 74 pitches on short rest and only one Buc whiffed. Greinke got the win in that start after allowing two runs on five hits, but he only struck out four. Like his Game 5 start, the results that weren't all that bad, but something wasn't quite right.

For whatever reason, Pittsburgh was a team that seemed to lock onto Greinke well this season. They roughed him up for 7 runs on August 22nd, and were able to chase him after just 5 innings on May 15 after batting around. St. Louis is another team that hasn't had much of a problem hitting Greinke.

In Game 1 of…

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If the series goes long enough for Greinke to get another start, he and Jonathan Lucroy may have to figure out a different game plan.
If the series goes long enough for Greinke to get another start, he and Jonathan Lucroy may have to figure out a different game plan. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Breaking down Greinke's breaking ball

It would be an understatement to say Zack Greinke did not pitch well in Game 1 of the NLCS. His final line of 6+ IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, and 6 K probably looks worse than he actually pitched, but no one in their right mind would say he had a good outing. If you want to rate him using Bill James' Game Score, Greinke's mark of 36 ranks as the 6th-worst start in Brewers postseason history, and the worst since CC Sabathia's flop in the 2008 NLDS.

Most of the damage was done on David Freese's three-run home run in the 4th inning, a ball that looked like a pop fly off the bat but kept carrying until it cleared the fence. The homer came on a first-pitch curveball that was poorly located (about as close to down-the-middle as you can get) and dropped right into Freese's swing. Greinke's curveball isn't typically a bad pitch, but it is one that opponents can lock onto if it's overused. As the season has worn on, it appears Greinke has started to toe that line.

According to the pitch f/x data at FanGraphs, Greinke used his curveball 16.7% of the time this season -- his third-most used pitch this year, behind his fastball (55.9%) and slider (18.8%). If that seems low, it's because the average is thrown off a bit by his early-season outings, when he wasn't throwing it nearly as much. In August and September, that rate has climbed closer to 25%.

On Sunday, though, 36 of Greinke's 107 pitches (33.6%) were curves. That's the most he's thrown in a single start since June 6 at Florida, when he threw 38 in 111 pitches (34.2%). On that day, Greinke was leaning heavy on his breaking stuff overall, as he also threw 17 sliders. On Sunday against St. Louis, Greinke seemed to abandon the slider (statistically his most effective pitch this year), only throwing it eight times.

Earlier in the year, the worry was that when Greinke was throwing so many fastballs, opponents were waiting back for him to make a mistake with it. Now, as Greinke has mixed in more breaking stuff, it looks like teams …

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Zack Greinke is just the fifth Brewers starter to ever reach the 200-strikeout mark.
Zack Greinke is just the fifth Brewers starter to ever reach the 200-strikeout mark. (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Greinke's ridiculous strikeout numbers

There weren't many believers in Zack Greinke when the New York Yankees shelled him for seven runs in two innings on June 28. His ERA ballooned to 5.63, and for the first time in his career, he failed to strike out a single batter.

The traditional numbers were ugly, and while advanced statistics pointed to an eventual turnaround, you would have had a hard time convincing people that his first two months as a Brewer were anything but a disappointment.

Greinke did turn it around, though, and since that start in New York has looked like the guy the Brewers thought they were getting. In 17 starts following that nightmare against the Yankees, Greinke put up an ERA of 2.80, struck out 121, and only walked 33.

When the Brewers needed a strong start to help clinch homefield advantage in the NLDS, Greinke threw six innings on short rest and struck out four to surpass the 200-strikeout milestone.

For a Brewers pitcher, that's rare territory. Greinke became just the fifth Brewers starter to ever reach that mark, joining Yovani Gallardo, Ben Sheets, Doug Davis and Teddy Higuera. The fact that Greinke reached that mark despite not making his first start until May 4 makes the feat even more impressive.

Of everyone in the 200-K club, Greinke needed the fewest innings pitched to do it, only throwing 171.2 innings this year (Gallardo held the previous low of 185.0 innings when he struck out an even 200 last year).

With so many strikeouts and so few innings pitched, it shouldn't be a surprise that Greinke led the majors by averaging 10.538 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9). The only other pitcher in the majors to crack the 10 K/9 mark was Toronto's Brandon Morrow, who struck out 10.19 per nine innings.

Greinke's mark is a new Brewers record, beating the 10.025 K/9 Ben Sheets posted in his dominant 2004 season. In fact, Greinke's K/9 this year ranks in the Top 30 of all-time, just behind names like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.

I would say that's an impres…

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It's entirely possible that we'll remember Ryan Braun's 2011 as the greatest single-season performance in Brewers history.
It's entirely possible that we'll remember Ryan Braun's 2011 as the greatest single-season performance in Brewers history. (Photo: MLBphotos.com)

Braun's season a Brewers' best?

Over the weekend, Ryan Braun became just the second Brewers player ever to compile 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season. Even if you don't put much stock into counting statistics, the fact that it's been over 40 years since the last time put up a 30-30 season makes it noteworthy.

To put what Braun has done in perspective, compare this season to some of the best in Brewers history. Robin Yount is generally regarded as the greatest Brewers player ever, but he never hit 30 home runs in a season.

His career high was 29 in his 1982 MVP season, but that year he only stole 14 bases (to his credit, he did hit 46 doubles that year...but Braun is at 36 and counting this year). Yount never came close to the 30 SB mark, with his career high in that category coming in 1988, when he stole 22.

Historically, the Brewers don't run much. Ken Macha took the reluctance to steal to new heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint), but part of the reason Braun is just the second Brewer to have a 30-30 season is the fact that the franchise just hasn't had that many prolific base stealers.

Only nine players in Brewers history have even hit the 30-steal mark: Harper, Braun, Scott Podsednik, Pat Listach, Paul Molitor, Darryl Hamilton, Alex Sanchez, Mike Felder and Eric Young. That's it, and it goes without saying that many of those guys would have been lucky to crack double digits in home runs most years.

The list of Brewers who have hit at least 30 home runs is quite a bit longer, but the number of guys who were capable of also stealing 30 bases is also small – Gorman Thomas wasn't good for more than a few a season, for example, and Geoff Jenkins actually had two seasons of at least 25 HRs and zero stolen base attempts.

With that in mind, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that the Brewers have only had two players put up 30-30 years. In fact, there aren't even that many narrow misses in Brewers history. In 2009, Braun hit 32 home runs, but only stole 20 bases. In …

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