NLDS Preview: Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Diamondbacks and Brewers have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66)

The Matchups

Game 1 Saturday in Milwaukee: Ian Kennedy vs. Yovani Gallardo
Game 2 Sunday in Milwaukee: Daniel Hudson vs. Undecided (likely Shaun Marcum or Zack Greinke)
Game 3 Tuesday in Arizona: Undecided (likely Zack Greinke or Shaun Marcum) vs. Joe Saunders
Game 4 (if necessary) Wednesday in Arizona: Josh Collmenter vs. Randy Wolf
Game 5 (if necessary) Next Friday in Milwaukee: Undecided vs. Undecided

Analysis: The Diamondbacks’ rotation is pretty much set with Kennedy and Hudson at the top, but we still have some moving parts with the Brewers. Yovani Gallardo is a lock to start Game 1, but the Brewers could still go with Zack Greinke on short rest in Game 2, even though he pitched on short rest for just the second time in his career on Wednesday. One thing that could also be a factor in their decision: Shaun Marcum has a 4.81 ERA at home this season compared to a 2.21 ERA on the road. Joe Saunders will get the start in Game 3, which I suppose is a nod to his previous (mixed) playoff experience. There’s certainly an argument to be made that Saunders and Josh Collmenter should be flip-flopped.

The Storylines

  • Arizona took the season series 4-3, even though both teams scored 28 runs over the seven games. Needless to say, my first instinct is to say these teams are pretty evenly matched across the board.
  • Securing homefield advantage Wednesday night was a big deal for the Brewers, as they were a major-league best 57-24 at home this season. It was also a blow to the Diamondbacks, who won 21 out of their final 25 games at Chase Field this season.
  • We all know that Justin Upton is one of the best players in the league, but it’s important that he gets a little protection from cleanup hitter Miguel Montero. While he’s no Prince Fielder, Montero batted .308 with 17 homers and a .904 OPS against right-handed pitching this season.
  • One under the radar factor is that Aaron Hill seems to have found himself since coming over from the Blue Jays in late-August, batting .315 with two homers and 16 RBI over 124 at-bats. He has benefitted from a pretty high batting average on balls in play, but he hit into some pretty bad luck in Toronto. Perhaps things are finally turning around for him.
  • The Brewers’ lineup has the bigger names in Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, but the lack of production and general spotty play from Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt worries me. I imagine we’ll see plenty of Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base.
  • Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson has stressed aggressiveness on the basepaths this season, resulting in 133 stolen bases, up from 86 last year. Of course, they were also caught 30 percent of the time, so it will be interesting to see if they have the same approach with every out so precious during the postseason.
  • Diamondbacks’ general manager Kevin Towers deserves plenty of credit for overhauling the back end of the bullpen by signing J.J. Putz and acquiring David Hernandez in the Mark Reynolds trade, but don’t sleep on the Brewers’ bullpen, either. Francisco Rodriguez has a 1.86 ERA and 33/10 K/BB ratio since coming over from the Mets while John Axford (1.95 ERA) hasn’t allowed a run since August 28 and hasn’t blown a save since mid-April.

Prediction

While this series isn’t going to win any ratings battles, it has the makings of the most competitive first-round matchup. This isn’t easy, but I think the extra home game puts the Brewers over the top. Kennedy and Hudson have had nice seasons and could certainly surprise a few folks, but I ultimately prefer the quality depth of the Brewers’ staff.

BREWERS WIN THE SERIES 3-2

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.