In a 60-game season, every loss feels more like three would over the course of 162 games. That makes the Milwaukee Brewers' second game of 2020 a lot more critical than usual.
Coming off a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Chicago Cubs' Kyle Hendricks in Friday night's season opener, Milwaukee aims to square up the series in a Saturday matinee at Wrigley Field under less than optimal circumstances.
Left-hander Brett Anderson was scheduled to start for the Brewers, but he landed on the 10-day injured list due to a finger blister. Replacing him is hard-throwing right-hander Corbin Burnes, who is hoping this turn in the rotation goes much better than his stint last April.
As a rookie in 2018, Burnes was outstanding. He went 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 30 games out of the bullpen, helping Milwaukee come within a game of qualifying for its first World Series since 1982.
Last year, Burnes was part of the team's rotation coming out of spring training. He lasted four starts, enough time for him to allow 11 homers and post an ERA (10.70) that doubles as an AM radio station frequency.
A 1-5, 8.82 season stat line was a major disappointment, but Burnes has a chance to start a turnaround thanks to Anderson's misfortune.
"They were able to keep me stretched out through most of camp, whether it be for the fifth spot or if something did happen with COVID or injuries," Burnes said. "It was definitely something I had prepared for throughout the offseason and quarantine."
In six career games against Chicago, Burnes is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA over 11 innings, permitting five homers. Fourteen strikeouts is an indication of his stuff, but the Cubs have slugged a whopping .595 in the small sample size.
That suggests the Brewers could make ample use of their bullpen, but so could Chicago, depending on which version of Yu Darvish takes the mound. The good version could baffle Milwaukee as Hendricks did, only with more power.
The bad version could force new Cubs skipper David Ross to heavily employ a question mark of the team that never got taxed for a pitch in the opener. Ross is hoping for the Darvish who racked up 124 strikeouts against just seven walks in his last 14 starts of 2019.
"That's the guy we're counting on," Ross said to MLB.com. "He's been around a long time now. He's a veteran presence on the mound."
Darvish owns a sterling track record in five career starts against the Brewers, going 1-1 with a 1.67 ERA and collecting 39 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Chicago is likely to use Victor Caratini, who became Darvish's personal catcher in his dominant ending to last year, behind the plate. Normal starter Willson Contreras probably will stay in the lineup as the designated hitter, a new luxury for National League teams.
The Cubs' Opening Day offense all came in the form of two swings of the bat: Ian Happ's two-run homer in the third inning and Anthony Rizzo's solo shot in the eighth. The Brewers, meanwhile, managed just three hits, all by No. 9 batter Orlando Arcia.
--Field Level Media