It was hardly a given that the Brewers should start Yovani Gallardo in Game 1 of their series against the Diamondbacks. The pitching stats of their top three starters were eerily similar:
Yovani Gallardo: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Zack Greinke: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Shaun Marcum: 13-7, 3.54 ERA, 1.16 WHIP
Gallardo, though, was Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter, and he was Ron Roenicke’s choice to match up against 21-game winner Ian Kennedy and potentially start two games against the Diamondbacks. And what a call it was. Gallardo went eight innings and allowed one run in the Game 1 victory, and he recovered from a bumpy start to limit Arizona to one run over six innings in Game 5, which Milwaukee won 3-2 in 10 innings.
Gallardo was something of a disappointment in previous years, in part because his terrific performance as a 21-year-old in 2007 set the bar so high. Gallardo missed most of 2008 following knee surgery, but he did make it back for the postseason to pitch against the Phillies. The Brewers lost that LDS, with Gallardo allowing three unearned runs over four innings in a Game 1 loss (he later pitched three scoreless innings in relief with the Brewers behind in Game 4).
Expectations were that Gallardo would challenge for Cy Young Award as soon as 2009 or 2010, but while he was generally effective, he failed to dominate either year. In 2009, he went 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA and a shockingly high total of 94 walks in 185 2/3 innings. In 2010, he improved to 14-7, but his ERA was 3.84 and his WHIP was a pedestrian 1.37.
Gallardo broke through with 17 wins this year, but he still didn’t put it all together. He gave up 27 homers, which was tied for the fifth-highest total in the NL. His first-inning struggles were particularly frustrating; the league hit .288 with nine homers in 132 at-bats off him then, compared to .236 with 18 homers in 656 at-bats the rest of the time.
So, Gallardo still had some potential to fulfill… some upside left to attain. Fortunately for the Brewers, it looks like it’s happening now. He’ll be Milwaukee’s choice to start Games 3 & 7 in the NLCS, and that’s almost surely just how they want it.