by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 1, 2011
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.
Both teams 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. So who the heck comes out on top?
Records - D-backs 94-68,
Runs Scored - D-backs 731 (4th),
Brewers 721 (5th)
Runs Allowed - D-backs 662 (8th),
Brewers 638 (6th)
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Xavier Nady have been replaced by the gargantuan Paul Goldschmidt, the resurgent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 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
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 Rodriguez. Takashi 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 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
Prediction: Brewers in Five
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.