February 2, 2023

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Crew's win caps best 40-game start in team history

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Woodruff tallies six strikeouts as McCutchen and Urías homer
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MILWAUKEE — Baseball’s 162-game schedule doesn’t break evenly into quarters, but with a wire-to-wire, 5-1 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at American Family Field, the Brewers are 40 games down, 122 to go. Essentially, a quarter of their season is in the books. And at 26-14, this Brewers team is off to their best 40-game start in franchise history.

“Man, only a quarter?” said Brandon Woodruff after Andrew McCutchen’s leadoff home run provided an early edge in the Brewers’ fourth consecutive victory. “No, it’s good. We’ve been playing good baseball. I know we have our spurts sometimes early in the season, but we’ve been playing good and we have to keep it going.” 

Here are three observations from Saturday’s win with implications for the three-quarters of the season remaining:

1. Woodruff is stacking solid starts
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Woodruff lost a start in Cincinnati and opened up about how frustrated he was feeling about an uneven start to the season? Since then, he’s pitched more up to par, allowing two earned runs over 11 innings in back-to-back victories over the Marlins and Nationals.

On Saturday, his fastball topped out at 97.3 mph and his spin rates were up across the board. He held the Nationals to one run — a homer by Lane Thomas in an 0-2 count in the third inning — on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts. His ERA, which was up to 5.97 after six starts, is back to 4.76 after eight starts. 

“I thought he found some things tonight,” manager Craig Counsell said. “The velocity was great, like, the whole game. He held it through pitch 100. I thought his last inning was excellent. Very good start.”

2. McCutchen’s bat makes an impact
It was just a couple of days ago that the Brewers were shut down for five innings by Braves rookie Tucker Davidson in a loss that dropped them to 4-8 in games started by left-handers. It was feeling like 2020 all over again. But since then, the Brewers have outlasted lefty Max Fried in an extra-inning win over the Braves on Thursday, and then took it to Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin on Saturday, when Corbin was charged with five runs on eight hits and one walk in five innings. 

Just like they drew it up, it was the Brewers’ right-handed hitters doing damage. That started with McCutchen hitting Corbin’s first pitch for leadoff home run No. 20 in his career.

“There’s no point in waiting around,” McCutchen said. “The game has changed from the point of those leadoff guys being the type to see pitches or take a strike. The game’s not like that anymore. It’s, ‘Be ready to hit from pitch one. Get on the board early, get on him quick and be able to create some momentum.’”

McCutchen’s three hits were a positive development, considering he’s only two games removed from an extended stint on the COVID-19 IL. Most of his two weeks away from the team were spent quarantined in an Atlanta hotel room, so McCutchen has been eager to see live pitching again. 

“I’m not surprised,” Counsell said. “I think Andrew was capable of that. I think the first night was just seeing a live arm again. That’s why I led him off tonight. I was confident that he was going to be back on it after getting four at-bats the night before. He’s just doing his thing and we’re going to count on him.”

3. Luis Urías is critical with Willy Adames down
Urías tallied two hits, including a two-out home run off Corbin in what became a three-run fifth inning for the Brewers. He also made a couple of highlight-reel plays at shortstop, an important development considering Urías’ early-season struggles at the position last year, and that Adames is on the 10-day IL with a left ankle injury.

Urías’ most impactful contribution may have been on defense. With a runner aboard and two outs in the first, he made an over-the-shoulder sliding catch in center field to get Woodruff back to the dugout with a zero on the scoreboard.

“The play in the first was brilliant,” Counsell said. “When you lose Willy, it’s obviously big, and ‘Wicho’ is the next man up there. He’s going to be the shortstop and for him to play well and gain confidence at the position is important.”

“He’s a guy who can do it all,” McCutchen said, “and is capable of being able to do that consistently. Hopefully he’s able to continue to do that over the course of the season.”

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