2011 NLDS Preview - Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

2011 NLDS Preview - Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers won their first division title in 29 years. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a .424 winning percentage in their last 465 games before winning a division title this season. Clearly, this is a matchup of two of the more unlikely division champs in the annals of baseball. So who the heck comes out on top?

Both the Arizona Dimaondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers have a good balance of offense versus defense.  Both teams have been incredibly good in one-run games.  Both teams benefit greatly from having their fifth starter made irrelevant by a five-game series. Both teams have a dominant back-end of their bullpen.  Neither team has a wealth of postseason experience. 

Pitching Probables
Game D-backs Brewers
1@Mil Ian Kennedy
(21-4 2.88)
Yovanni Gallardo
(17-10 3.52)
2@Mil Daniel Hudson
(16-12 3.49)
Zack Greinke
(16-6 3.83)
3@Az Joe Saunders
(12-13 3.69)
Shawn Marcum
(13-7 3.54)
4@Az Josh Collmenter
(10-10 3.38)
Randy Wolf
(13-10 3.69)
5@Mil Ian Kennedy
(21-4 2.88)
Yovanni Gallardo
(17-10 3.52)

Records -
D-backs 94-68,
Brewers  96-66
Runs Scored
-
D-backs 731 (4th), Brewers  721 (5th)
Runs Allowed -
D-backs 662 (8th), Brewers  638 (6th)
Head-to-Head -
Diamondbacks 4-3

The Diamondbacks

The most important thing to realize about the Arizona Diamondbacks is that they are a much better team now than they were at the start of the season.  They began the year 15-22 (.405) and have gone 79-46 (.632) since.  Offensive liabilities such as Juan Miranda, Kelly Johnson, Melvin Mora, and Xavier Nady have been replaced by the gargantuan Paul Goldschmidt, the resurgent Aaron Hill, rowdy Ryan Roberts, and the nostalgic Lyle Overbay.  Pitching disasters Armando Galarraga, Barry Enright, Juan Gutierrez, and Aaron Heilman are gone, replaced by the crafty Josh Collmenter,  Micah Owings the vulture, submarining Brad Ziegler, and Long Beach Bryan Shaw.  Losing Stephen Drew to a broken ankle in July hurt, but John McDonald actually provides a defensive upgrade at shortstop despite his sub-Mendoza batting average.

Apart from shoring up their weaknesses, the D-backs have ridden some star power all year long.  Justin Upton was a serious MVP candidate before tailing off to merely really good in August and September.  Miguel Montero is arguably the best all-around backstop in the game, and is at the very least among the top five.  Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson form as good of a 1-2 punch as you'll see outside of Philadelphia, Anaheim or San Francisco.  J.J. Putz quietly finished fourth in baseball with 45 saves and converted an impressive 92% of his chances.  These are the kinds of players that can carry a team in a short series, provided their supporting cast is strong.  Since mid-May, the supporting cast has been just fine.

Some important players to note are Hudson, who is 15-8 with a 3.14 ERA since the end of April; Collmenter, who hasn't allowed a run in two starts against Milwaukee; Gerardo Parra, who's been a .304 hitter since July 4th; and Joe Patterson, who has held left-handed batters to a .205 batting average and fanned Prince Fielder three times in four at-bats.  Patterson is the D-backs only southpaw reliever, but Shaw, Ziegler, Owings, David Hernandez, and Jarrod Parker give them a very strong right-handed presence in the later innings.

The Brewers


 

The most important thing to realize about the Milwaukee Brewers is that if you can get past the first five hitters in their lineup, they aren't going to score.  Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks form the best 1-thru-5 in baseball, but that is all they have, offensively.  They don't even have a good pinch-hitting option if one of their 6-thru-9 hitters comes up in a key situation, unless you think Mark Kotsay's .293 batting average as a pinch-hitter this season is more indicative of his abilities than his .317 slugging in such situations.

Their starting pitching is interesting.  The four starters Milwaukee plans to use each have earned run averages between 3.52 and 3.83, but their actual ability level spread is far wider.  In fact, there's little doubt that Zack Greinke - he of the 3.83 ERA - is the class of the quartet.  He's struck out four-and-a-half betters for every walk he's issued, leading to the best Fielding Independent Pitching ERA in all of baseball (xFIP=2.56).  Creating even more intrigue, the Brewers had to pitch Greinke on the final day of the regular season in order to secure homefield advantage over Arizona.  By doing so, they need to pitch him on just three days of rest to use in in Game 2 at Miller Park, where he's 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA.  The Brewers have won all 15 of his home starts.

Yovani Gallardo is certainly a deserving ace, however, as his 207 strikeouts ranked 10th in baseball.  Shaun Marcum is one of the better #3 starters around, as he's fanned nearly three batters per walk.  Randy Wolf is not as dominant as he once was at just a 2:1 K/BB ratio, but the Diamondbacks are just a .500 team when southpaws start against them, for reasons that aren't altogether clear as they have a right-hand-dominant lineup.

The Milwaukee bullpen's only left-handed presence, however, will be starter Chris Narveson.  Montero, Parra, and Overbay are the D-backs' only left-handed threats, so this may not hurt the Brewers too badly, particularly given how dominant the rest of their bullpen is.  They ranked 6th among the 30 teams in bullpen ERA, and essentially have two dominant closers with John Axeford and Francisco RodriguezTakashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins would be good enough to close on some teams, but for the Brewers, they are clearly the third fourth best options, and that says quite a bit about their relief corps.

The Matchup

The Greinke maneuver speaks to a larger issue - Milwaukee's incredible homefield advantage.  Their 57-29 home record was the best in baseball.  On the road, they were three games under .500.  As evenly as these two teams match up in every other way, their having three games on their home turf figures to prove huge.  I see the D-backs winning Games Two and Four behind Hudson and Collmenter, but Milwaukee's home advantage proving too tough to overcome in Game Five.

Of course, that scenario assumes that Arizona loses both of Kennedy's starts.  Given that they went 25-8 when he pitches this year, that hardly seems like a sure thing.

Prediction: Brewers in Five

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