Zack Greinke: Star Pitcher's Time with Brewers Was Short but Sweet

Alex SchuhartCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2012

Zach Greinke
Zach GreinkeDrew Hallowell/Getty Images

It’s sad and it’s a shame, but that’s the nature of baseball: Milwaukee Brewers ace starting pitcher Zack Greinke has been traded to the Los Angeles Angels in a four-player deal that nets the Brew Crew a trio of prospects.

As the struggling Brewers look to build for the future with this transaction, let’s take a look into the past at Greinke’s short, but fantastic, career with the team.

His sojourn with the squad began on December 19, 2010, when he was traded from the Kansas City Royals with middle infielder Yuniesky Betancourt for three players, including shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Wracked with depression earlier in his career, Greinke had overcome the ailment, at least on the playing field, to become one of the best young pitchers in the game. In 2009, he won the Cy Young Award and in 2010, he struck out 181 batters. Now, he was taking his acumen up north.

Skip ahead to April, when the season began and what really mattered kicked off. Greinke wasn’t there. In fact, he missed the first month of the season with a rib injury and did not return until early May, when he made his first start.

It was a struggle, that initial start. The right-hander struck out six Atlanta Braves batsman on that brisk May 4 evening, but they struck him even harder, knocking him out of the game after just four innings.

Brewers pitchers gave up eight runs, and he took the loss.

His next start showcased what the Brewers had traded for—an intrinsic dominance and mastery of the pitches he throws. In six innings, he allowed only two earned runs against the San Diego Padres, while striking out nine and walking none. The Brewers won the game 4-3 and Greinke notched the first victory with his new team.

That’s how his first month with the club would go—up and down, dominance and mediocrity battling it out to see which would define his season. Though he went 4-1, his ERA for the month was an undesirable 5.29. He allowed more than a hit per inning, but he struck out more than a batter per frame as well.

Both good and bad, his rocky first 30 days were followed by an even bumpier June. He made five starts that month and went 3-2, but his winning ways were more a reflection of the solid offense around him than sheer dominance coming from the pitcher’s mound. He allowed 19 runs in 28.1 innings, posting a June ERA of 6.04.

Thankfully that was the last of the bad Zack Greinke that Brewers fans would have to see. Come July, he began a three month stretch of Cy Young-quality pitching. Despite earning only one “W” that month (three of his five starts ended in no-decisions) the lights out hurler posted a 2.27 ERA while striking out no less than seven batters in each start. He even reached double digit Ks in one of his July showdowns—for the fourth time that season!

August, just about as stellar as July, rewarded him in the win-loss column, as he once again dominated each of his starts, save for a single rough outing toward the end of the month. He went 5-1 with a 3.02 ERA, never walking more than three batters in a game. That was one of his calling cards all year—his incredible control didn’t let too many matches get away.

September rolled around and it was August 2.0. He went 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 36 innings of work. On September 18 against the Cincinnati Reds, he Ked 10 batters for the fifth and final time that season. He earned the win, his 15th of the season, after allowing only two hits and one run in seven innings of work.

From the beginning of July to the end of the regular season, Greinke experienced a run of dominance that rivaled any pitcher in the league. In 17 starts, he went 9-3 with a 2.80 ERA, while striking out 121 batters in 109.1 innings of work. He allowed only 95 hits and 33 walks, to boot.

Overall, he went 16-6 on the season with an ERA of 3.83—a number that seems slightly elevated, only because of his rocky first couple months with the team. In 171.2 innings, he struck out 201 batters, leading the league in strikeouts-per-nine innings pitched, and walked only 45. And to think—he did all this even after missing the first month of the season!

His incredible performance down the stretch helped usher the Brewers into the postseason for only the second time in the past 29 years. Unfortunately for the Crew, however, his reign of supremacy ended with the regular season.

Facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series on October 2, Greinke made his first start of the playoffs, allowing eight hits and four runs in five innings pitched. Luckily, Milwaukee roughed up the opposition’s pitchers even worse, and Greinke slunk away with a no-decision.

The Brewers won the Series, three games to one.

Come the Championship Series, the ever-curious hands of fate would wring a duo of games most peculiar for the young star pitcher, a pair in which the game he lost he should have won, and the game he won he should have lost.

In his first start of the NLCS, on October 9, Greinke allowed six earned runs in six innings pitched after allowing eight hits and two walks against the St. Louis Cardinals. Such a mediocre performance does not merit a victory, but that is exactly what Greinke earned as the Brewers triumphed by scoring nine runs themselves.

Five days later, the ace allowed only two earned runs in 5.2 innings of work for a respectable game ERA of 3.17. Alas, behind him his defense failed and he surrendered three unearned runs as well. The Brewers lost the game 7-1 and the Series 4-2, with Greinke taking the “L” in that match.

It was a rough and disheartening way for Greinke to end his campaign, that bumpy postseason he pitched. In three starts, he went 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA, while allowing 23 hits in 16.2 innings.

This may have worried Brewers fans some. Was his postseason a portent of things to come? Would the October Greinke be joining them when 2012 rolled around, or would the July through September Greinke be the man on the mound during the season?

As everyone would soon find out, there was very little reason to worry.

Starting the team’s second game of the season, Greinke pitched seven scoreless innings, dumbfounding Cardinals batters in a rematch from last year’s playoffs. He struck out seven batters, walked zero and allowed only four hits—all in all, it had the makings of another incredible season.

Though he did a complete 180 in his next start, allowing eight earned runs in just 3.2 innings of work, the hurler quickly righted the ship and finished the first month of the season 3-1, with 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.

May was like April—lights out save for one poor start. He went 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA, but that does not do justice to just how unhittable he was most of the month. In four of his six starts, he allowed one run or less. At one point, he went two starts without allowing a single earned run, pitching 15 innings and striking out 18 batters while allowing only seven hits in that span.

The first game of that incredible two-game stretch was one for the ages. Facing the Cincinnati Reds, he tossed eight superhuman innings, surrendering only two hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts. Following up such a performance would be difficult for anyone else, but he managed to do so by dominating in his next two starts.

ERA-wise, June 2012 was the best month of Greinke’s short career with the Brewers. He went 3-0 with a 1.70 mark, aided in part by a game he almost completed, but not quite. On June 22, he pitched nine innings of scoreless ball, allowing only three hits overall.

Almost any other time, he would have been credited with a complete game shutout, but it was a pitcher’s duel, a game that remained tied at zero into the tenth inning. Though the Brewers scored at the top of the first extra inning frame and Greinke earned the win, he did not get the coveted CG-SHO—something that would elude him during his entire tenure with Milwaukee.

Nevertheless, it was an incredible June and a great way to showcase his talents as the team chugged toward the trading deadline. He’d need that June to bolster his statistics, too—the weather was sweltering, but his July wasn’t too hot.

Everything in life has a way of coming full circle, and Greinke’s Brewers career did just that. In his final month with the team before his July 27 trade to the Angels, the pitcher finished just as he had started—unimpressively, with glimmers of superiority mixed in. He went 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA with the Crew in July, allowing more than a hit per inning.

And so ends his Brewers career. After going 16-6 in his first campaign with the team, he went 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his next, en route to a 25-9 record and a 3.67 ERA overall. In 294.2 innings, he allowed only 281 hits and 73 walks, while striking out a whopping 323 batsmen.

Though the Brewers are floundering and they need to make changes for the future, the loss of Greinke hurts an otherwise solid core of starting pitchers. Yovani Gallardo continues to strikeout batters with aplomb, while Shaun Marcum, though currently injured, remains as steady and consistent as can be. Rookie Mike Fiers is in his own reign of dominance as we speak and even Randy Wolf has begun to rebound.

The triumvirate of youngsters they get in return for Greinke, shortstop Jean Segura and minor league starting pitchers Ariel Pina and John Hellweg, each have their own upsides and the potential to be solid contributors at the big league level.

Greinke was more than solid, however. He was, for the most part, lights out. He was dominant.

Alas, that’s how the game works. He is a free-agent following this season and will no doubt command top-dollar for his services—a fee the Brewers would be unable or unwilling to pay. That’s fine and that’s understandable, but it still hurts to lose such an exciting player.

But now Greinke forges ahead with his shimmering past to start a new future in Los Angeles, bolstering an already incredible staff for its stretch run towards October. A run the likes of which he brought to the Brewers just a couple years ago.


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