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

Dodgers look to join the Red Sox in the World Series

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One team has punched its ticket to the Fall Classic. Two teams are looking to join them, with the Dodgers carrying the distinct advantage. Los Angeles needs only a split in the final two games of the NLCS while Milwaukee needing to win both games at home. Doable? Absolutely. But to do it, the Brewers are going to have to wake up their sleepy bats.

NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Hyun-Jin Ryu vs Wade Miley
Breakdown:

The Dodgers will give the ball to left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who tossed seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but allowed two runs and tossed 72 pitches, failing to get out of the fifth inning, in Game 2 against Milwaukee. Even if he again turns in a short outing Dave Roberts should feel pretty confident, however, as the Dodgers’ bullpen — considered a question mark coming into this series — has allowed only three runs in in 21 and two-thirds innings of work.

For Milwaukee it’s once again Wade Miley, who was the Game 5 “starter,” but who pitched to only one batter. I suppose it’s possible that Craig Counsell will burn him like that again, but it seems more likely that Miley will actually pitch in this game rather than be used as a decoy.

As I noted the other day, though, the Brewers’ pitching gamesmanship has not really been a factor in this series. The real problem for them has been their offense. They’ve scored only 16 runs in five games while batting .219. That’s actually identical to the Dodgers’ run total and average overall, but L.A. has been better at distributing that meager offense. Milwaukee has been cold at the worst times, too, going 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position in the series, including one for their last 11. If that doesn’t change, their season ends tonight.