Yovani Gallardo’s emergence as ace helps Brewers advance

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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.

Sean Manaea pitches the first no-hitter of 2018

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Athletics southpaw Sean Manaea delivered his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox in a decisive 3-0 victory on Saturday night. Any thought of a perfect game was banished in the first at-bat, when Mookie Betts drew a leadoff six-pitch walk to open the first inning. From there, Manaea was nearly flawless, holding the Sox to four total baserunners and striking out 10 of 30 batters faced — a career record.

Manaea was gifted a three-run lead thanks to RBI doubles from Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien‘s solo shot off of Chris Sale in the fifth inning. While the Red Sox managed to draw two walks off of Manaea, they didn’t come anywhere close to plating a run. Andrew Benintendi tried to break up the no-no in the sixth inning with an infield hit down the first base line, but strayed out of bounds and later saw his hit reversed on a call of batter interference.

Entering the ninth inning, the 26-year-old lefty was sitting at just 95 pitches through eight frames of no-hit ball. He quickly deposed Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts with a groundout and fly out, then walked Benintendi on seven pitches. Any threat the Red Sox might have posed was soon eliminated, however, as Hanley Ramirez ground into a force out to complete the no-hitter.

Manaea is the first A’s pitcher to toss a no-no since Dallas Braden’s perfect game against the Rays eight years ago. The last time the Red Sox were on the losing end of a no-hitter was also against an AL West rival, when the Mariners’ Chris Bosio clinched a 2-0 no-no on April 22, 1993. Manaea’s feat is even more outstanding given how dominant the Red Sox have looked this season: prior to Saturday’s defeat, they boasted a 17-2 record and had yet to be shut out during the regular season.