At some point, don’t you have to let someone else try and beat you?
That’s the question Cardinals fans were asking themselves Monday night with reference to Brewers slugger and apparent Cardinal-killer Christian Yelich. In a 10-7 win in Milwaukee, Yelich carried the Brewers with three home runs and seven RBIs, picking up right where he left off in the season’s opening series at Miller Park.
During that initial four-game set against St. Louis, Yelich went 6 for 12 with six walks to pair with four home runs and eight RBIs against Cardinals pitching. That came out to a .500/.667/1.583 batting line in the opening series.
And you mean to tell me he raised his season stats against St. Louis on Monday? Something’s got to give.
“Gotta find out a solution and it starts with me figuring it out for us,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told Fox Sports Midwest post-game regarding Yelich. “I’ve candidly never seen anything like that in my life… It’s almost like he’s psychic.”
One solution proposed by those who would prefer to see Yelich—and call me crazy for suggesting this outcome—not hit a home run virtually every time he comes up to bat against the Cardinals: Don’t pitch to him.
That’s not the approach Shildt elected in the sixth after Mike Mayers had put two men on base via single and a walk. In fact, it wasn’t one Shildt considered at all.
“No, the first guess for me would’ve been having (Andrew) Miller face him,” Shildt said. “We had Mike ready and he’s been throwing the ball really well... As far as thinking about walking him, that wasn’t a consideration at all. You know, he’s a very hot guy against us—he’s been more tempered since we last played him, (though) he’s been on the road. But you’ve still got major league pitchers out there and to his credit, he put a good swing on it.”
Before we discuss the merits of Shildt’s decision (or non-decision) to go after Yelich in a tie game in the sixth—after he had already smacked one three-run home run off Dakota Hudson earlier—let’s touch on Shildt's mention of Andrew Miller.
Miller was the most significant pitching addition to the Cardinals this off-season. The perception was that his role would be flexible, allowing Shildt to deploy him in the most high-leverage spots. As a left-handed hurler, a key component of Miller’s role with St. Louis figured to be his usage in those leverage spots against the impactful left-handed bats found within the NL Central.
In a division that features Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo, Christian Yelich might be the most impactful bat of them all. And yet, when Mayers’ outing began to get away from him, Miller did not enter the game to face Yelich. Based on the above quote, Shildt might be willing to go a different direction if he had it to do over again.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, he likely will have it to do over again the next two days. Yelich just has a knack for arriving in game-changing situations at the plate against the Cardinals, so why should we expect the next two games to be any different? Though Miller is far from guaranteed to vanquish Yelich when those situations arise—Miller gave up a home run and a walk to Yelich the two times he faced him in the opening series in March—he’s been more effective for the Cardinals the last week or so, holding opponents scoreless over his last four outings.
The Cardinals signed Miller for precisely these opportunities; getting gun-shy with him against Yelich based on what happened a few weeks ago wouldn’t speak very highly to the quality of the decision to sign him in the first place. Believing Shildt to be a thoughtful manager, I would be surprised to see a repeat of Monday’s incident—Yelich beating the Cardinals in late-innings while Miller waits in the bullpen.
Based on his post-game comments Monday, it would be equally surprising to see Shildt give Yelich an intentional pass in a similar spot, even if many would contend that’s exactly what he ought to be doing. Though a walk to load the bases is preferable to the Yelich home run that feels all the more inevitable each time he steps to the plate, Shildt isn’t ready to declare Yelich infallible.
As Shildt alluded to, other teams have handled Yelich moderately well this season—he carries a pedestrian .754 OPS against not-the-Cardinals in 2019. But most of that came in road games; the only series the Brewers have played at Miller Park this season against a team besides St. Louis was a three-gamer against the Cubs. In that series, Yelich put up a .333/.400/.667 line with a home run. He’s just plain locked in at home, right now.
Monday night, Travis Shaw hit behind Yelich, as he’s done in five games this season. Shaw’s batting line this year is .173/.306/.250. He struck out after Yelich’s homer in the sixth essentially put Monday’s game on ice. The three-hole hitter behind Yelich in the Brewers' other 12 games this season has been Ryan Braun. His batting line is .204/.218/.407.
For comparison, Yelich’s batting line this year is .354/.449/.785. After Monday’s onslaught, it’s .563/.696/.1.938 against the Cardinals, for an OPS of 2.633.
Yeah, that’s not complicated math; I think I’ll take my chances with literally anyone else.