Snap Throw: What does a contending team owe a struggling starter?

Snap Throw is a recurring feature on BtB taking a deeper look at the pivotal moments in games. Have an idea for a snap throw? Tweet us @Bronx2Bushville #SnapThrow and a link to a video.

As readers may no doubt have already gathered, some of us here at BtB are understandably excited about the Milwaukee Brewers’ accelerated rebuild and their unexpected contention for the National League Central division.

Much has been made amongst members of the Wisconsin sports media and various talking heads of their successful west coast road trip–including stealing a series from the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers–and the Brewers have responded with a new ad campaign.

Coming back as world-beaters, one might think the Brewers and manager Craig Counsell would switch strategic gears and begin playing postseason-minded baseball.

Looking at Tuesday night’s box against the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s clear they, ummm, didn’t. And that was evident the moment they confirmed Matt Garza would start Tuesday.

The record should be clear: when many were clamoring for the Brewers to be big deadline buyers, this writer maintained on multiple outlets that the course should be stayed. This remains a gravy season for the Brew Crew and their fans, and what they learn now ought to yield dividends when the window legitimately opens in 2018.

That said, staying the course does not mean that the Brewers do nothing at all, but that they shouldn’t go crazy in a season where everyone’s expectations have been surpassed and surpassed again. That means working with the considerable assets the Brewers have to maximize chances for success. And that means Garza should have been scratched the moment the Brewers left Dodger Stadium as series victors Sunday afternoon.

Let’s grant that with expanding rosters September 1, there is little interest in needlessly using options or otherwise shuttling players up or down. Let’s further grant that the Brewers pitching staff is already short-handed with the versatile Brent Suter on the shelf and Junior Guerra lost in Triple-A. Was Garza the only option the Brewers had?

Coming off an off-day, the Brewers could have gone with Josh Hader in a spot-start, or started Chase Anderson on short rest with Hader stretching for today’s Miller Park matinée. While Anderson hasn’t been as effective as he was prior to succumbing to an oblique injury, and while anything can happen on the diamond, the Brewers–well within striking distance of both first place in the division and one of two wild card spots–have to put the team in the best position to win.

Garza, a 12-year veteran signed in 2014 to a five-year-max contract, frankly hasn’t met expectations and is only a part of this team because removing him would represent a sunk cost to the organization. This is what seems to be a poorly-kept secret in Milwaukee and around baseball. Garza’s stats since joining the Brewers: a 26-38 record, 4.61 ERA, 1.407 WHIP and over three walks per nine innings.

In the last month, prior to Tuesday: 2-4, 6.91 ERA, a WHIP near 1.8 and opposing hitters have an OPS over 1.000. BABIP is an astonishing .315, which could mean any combination of the following: the scouting report is well-established on Garza, or the defense has betrayed him at a level not seen since the assassination of Caesar. Or, it could mean that Garza, the cagey veteran, is no longer effective as a starting pitcher and should not be starting, much less starting for a team with October aspirations.

Garza and Ryan Braun called a players-only meeting after a drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, urging the team to get back to having fun and playing loose. While the Brewers have gone 9-5 since the meeting, Garza is 1-2 with a no decision in four starts since, including Tuesday’s implosion. The team apparently isn’t responding to him, while opposing hitters are.

After Los Angeles, the Brewers should have shifted into playoff mode and cut deadweight. Of course, while starting Anderson Tuesday instead of Garza wouldn’t guarantee a win, there is almost certainly a stronger probability the Brewers might have emerged victorious. Every win now is a win the Brewers don’t need later; every loss now allows four other teams to potentially gain ground or extend their lead.

By way of historical comparison, a Brewers starter’s stats from his final six starts: 1-4, 6.40 ERA, a 1.807 WHIP and an opposing OPS of .973. That pitcher was Kyle Lohse and after August 2, 2015, he never started for Milwaukee again.

Opportunity awaits, indeed. For the Brewers, last night, and every contest where Garza starts, was and is an opportunity wasted.

Stats courtesy baseball-reference.com.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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