Maybe it’s a bit of an overdramatization to say Randy Wolf pitched the “game of his life” on Thursday, like so many have already said. Maybe it isn’t. All that really matters, though, is that the Brewers won Game 4, 4-2, on 7 strong innings from Wolf. The only blemishes on his line were two solo home runs that weren’t really his fault — he made a pair of good pitches, but Matt Holliday and Allen Craig were able to catch the jet stream flowing out to right field.
Wolf had one of the worst playoff starts of his career in his first appearance this postseason, but followed it up with his best. What was the difference between the two starts?
Let’s start with his release point. Against the Diamondbacks, Wolf struggled to find a consistent release point as he was trying to figure out where any of his pitches were going. He never quite figured it out, which is clear when you look at the plot of his release points from Brooks Baseball.
Against the Cards, Wolf was much more consistent in his release points from the start. He was able to find a groove early — he became the first non-Gallardo starter to get through the first inning unscathed since Zack Greinke in Game 2 of the NLDS — and never really changed his process even as he tiptoed out of trouble.
The consistent release points yieled much better results when it came to location on Thursday night. Against the Diamondbacks, not only did Wolf have trouble finding the zone, but when he did it was up in the zone. Arizona was able to wait for him to work himself into trouble, then pounce when they got a pitch they could drive.
Thursday, Wolf didn’t give the Cardinals much to drive — only a handful of pitches above the belt were actually in the strike zone, and nearly everything was down. No wonder Wolf was able to force 8 groundouts to go with his 6 strikeouts and 7 flyouts. And he did it without many of the favorable calls Kyle Lohse got (at least early in the game).
All told, it wasn’t Wolf’s quite best start of the season — in terms of results, it probably finishes somewhere in the middle of the pack — but it came in a big spot. The Brewers needed a strong start from somebody other than Yovani Gallardo if they were going to make this series as long as everyone thought it would be. They got it on Thursday, and they now have Zack Greinke on the mound with a chance to take a 3-2 lead back home.
I wrote a couple days ago after the Brewers split the first two at home that it was suddenly a best-of-five series, and they no longer had homefield advantage. Now, it’s a best-of-three, and the final two will be in Milwaukee. For a team with the best home record in baseball, that means quite a bit.