Can’t Hang Opening Day Loss Solely on Axford

It’s easy to fault John Axford for blowing what probably should have been an Opening Day win for the Brewers, but hopefully a day off will help Brewers fans realize he was far from the only Brewer to blame.

Yes, Axford was bad — of his 21 pitches, 13 were strikes, and only one of those strikes was swinging. That one swinging strike was also the only curveball he threw. He only threw two sliders, one of which was a strike (although if pitch f/x is to be believed, it should have been called a ball). The reluctance to throw breaking stuff is a concern because it allows hitters to sit on the fastball, and that’s exactly what Ramon Hernandez did when he hit the game-winning home run. When hitters are expecting a fastball and they get it, they’re not going to swing through it. Especially when it’s so straight, as Jim Breen noted at Bernie’s Crew.

But Axford never should have had to pitch to Hernandez.

Axford struggled, but the Brewers nearly survived the shaky outing. Unfortunately, Casey McGehee made Axford get four outs in that 9th inning. Eric Johnson of Brewerfan.net pointed out that McGehee’s decision to go for a tag on the baserunner wasn’t a bad one — he just failed to commit to getting an out one way or another. While this is true — all he had to do is either make sure he actually tagged the runner or ignored him while throwing to first — it could be argued that trying for a double play was the bad decision. A double play in that situation is great, but in the 9th inning you should be trying to get sure outs above anything else.

There were a few other little things that didn’t help the Brewers’ cause — Kam Loe missing a spot against Joey Votto, leading to a solo home run; Ron Roenicke giving up outs on plays like trying to get Yovani Gallardo to bunt Wil Nieves over to third after a leadoff double, even with two strikes; the blown call by Larry Vanover on the Kotsay catch that cost Gallardo a few more pitches.

Still, chances are if the Brewers miss the playoffs by a game, a lot of people are going to remember this game and blame John Axford, much like how many fans still blame Francisco Cordero for giving up a walkoff home run to Aramis Ramirez during the 2007 June collapse. Both are unfair, and unfortunately for Axford, his presence on Facebook and Twitter makes him an even easier target.

Axford is going to have games like he had on Thursday. Anyone who’s taken a look at his career numbers can tell you that. He’ll ultimately shake it off, and so will the Brewers. The extra day off will be hell for fans that have to deal with the bad taste of a loss for another day, but it may be best for the players in terms of shaking it off.

The Brewers ultimately played 8 very good innings yesterday…and one bad one. As Jack Moore said, if the Brewers play every game like they played the opener, they’ll win 90 games this year. There’s still a lot to be excited about.

And hey, at least the Brewers didn’t blow a 9th inning lead at home to the Padres.

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