Brewers' pitchers look primed for big things

BY foxsports • September 19, 2012

For 26 straight innings, the Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff hadn't allowed a single run. It was a magnificent feat for a pitching staff that struggled at times with its starters and struggled even more times this season with its bullpen.

But for 26 innings, the Brewers had been practically unhittable. It took until the ninth inning of Wednesday night's game against the Pirates to change that, with an NL MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen at the plate and closer John Axford's pitch left up in the zone. He slammed the offering for a solo home run, the only run any team has scored on the Brewers in three straight games.

The bullpen had often taken the blame for much of the Brewers' pitching woes throughout the season, but their resurgence lately has taken away some of the spotlight from Milwaukee's interesting group of starting pitchers — all but two of which didn't start the season in any major league rotation.

And lately, with starters Shaun Marcum and Mike Fiers struggling a bit, Milwaukee's amazing 22-wins-in-28-games resurgence, at least through September, has been anchored by three pitchers in particular: Yovani Gallardo, prospect Wily Peralta, and former long reliever Marco Estrada.

Estrada showed very clearly on Wednesday that he has been a force to be reckoned with — at least since August 21 — putting up seven innings of three-hit ball. His fastball, which many have learned to sit on with Estrada, was dominant on Wednesday, and his breaking pitches were just enough to induce the second-most groundballs he's tallied in a game all season.

But that's been a constant for Estrada over his last six starts, as he's only allowed five earned runs in that span — four of which came in his five-inning loss to Miami on September 6. Scratch that game from the record, and he's been nearly perfect for almost a month, registering four shutouts in that period.

Gallardo, on the other hand, has been a different pitcher since Zack Greinke vacated the No. 1 spot in the rotation after being traded to the Angels. Since then, he's allowed just three or more earned runs in two of his last 10 starts. On Tuesday, he allowed just two hits in a 6.2-inning shutout against the Pirates.

And finally, Wily Peralta — who Ryan Braun said last week had the stuff to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball — has been dynamite since joining the Brewers, having allowed just four earned runs in three starts and blanking the Mets in eight innings in his lat time out.

That trio could be the key to any success down the stretch and possibly into the postseason, and if Marcum and Fiers were able to bounce back, the Brewers may be able to enter October with one of baseball's hottest rotations — something few people would assume by just looking at Milwaukee's rotation on paper.

But as Estrada showed on Wednesday, the Brewers' pitching staff seems to be primed, like the offense, to make a serious run. It's something that has Brewers manager Ron Roenicke very pleased with things on the mound.

"We need the starters to hold these guys down and give our offense a chance," Roenicke said. "And night after night, it seems like they've been doing it. … It has (been an incredible run). The bullpen is doing a great job, but the starters are setting the tone for what's going on. I do think offensively we've been really good, really consistent. And we're going to run against some pitchers sometimes that we're not going to be able to score off of, so it's really important for the starters to keep it down, and they have been."

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