Andrew Perna. 1st October, 2011 - 1:17 pm
While the American League playoff field is full of teams with recent playoff success, the National League has one division series with relative newcomers.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have not been to the postseason since 2007 and have just one World Series title (2001), while the Milwaukee Brewers have not appeared in the playoffs since 2008. They are coming off their first division title since 1982 when they were in the American League East.
The clubs were close during the regular season. The Diamondbacks won four of their seven head-to-head games, but Milwaukee earned home-field advantage in the series thanks to two more overall wins.
Both the Diamondbacks and Brewers averaged 4.5 runs per game this season with Arizona scoring 10 more runs than Milwaukee over 162 games. The Brewers have a slight advantage in power hitting, with 13 more home runs and a better OPS (.750 to .736).
The issue with Arizona is their propensity to strike out. They had the most Ks among the eight playoff teams, which can kill many a rally on the road to the World Series.
However, the Diamondbacks can start rallies in other ways as their 133 stolen bases can attest. The Brewers, slightly more reliant on the home run, stole 94 bases. They both had percentages in the low-to-mid seventies.
The one area in which Arizona cannot match Milwaukee is their one-two punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Braun hit .332, narrowly missing out on the National League batting title, with a .397 on-base percentage and .994 OPS. Oh yeah, he also hit 33 home runs and had 111 RBIs. Fielder? He had an outstanding OBP (.415), 38 home runs and 120 RBIs.
Justin Upton is the third-best hitter in the series behind Braun and Fielder. He posted a .369 on-base percentage, 31 home runs, 88 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He is supported by Chris Young, Ryan Roberts, Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra. Roberts and Young hit below .250 and both Young and Upton struck out more than 125 times.
Kirk Gibson is hoping that rookie Paul Goldschmidt can carry over his late-season success into October. He had eight home runs and 26 RBI in just 48 games, while posting a respectable .333 on-base percentage.
The Diamondbacks will go with a one-two punch of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, who started against the Brewers only twice. Kennedy tossed a brilliant seven-inning gem with five strikeouts and no runs allowed, but Hudson struggled. He allowed five runs in four innings.
Kennedy was one of the best starters in the National League this season, going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 33 starts. Hudson, 24, was a revelation in his first full season as a starter with Arizona. He threw three complete games, had a 3.49 ERA in 222 innings.
As a team, Arizona had a 3.80 ERA. Milwaukee had a slightly better mark of 3.63. The Diamondbacks had the third-best save percentage (82%) in baseball this season; the Brewers ranked in the top third (71%) but they fortified at midseason with Francisco Rodriguez.
The Brewers will start Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in Games 1-3, with the possibility of Gallardo going on short rest in a fourth game. In four combined starts, the trio was 2-1 having allowed eight earned runs in a total of 26 innings. They recorded 24 strike outs and issued just four free passes.
John Axford has been a supreme closer for Milwaukee, saving 46 games with 86 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings and a very strong 1.95 ERA.
J.J. Putz, who missed some time with an injury, had 45 saves in 60 appearances. His strikeout rate is lower than that of Axford and his ERA is higher (2.17).
The Brewers have the deeper rotation, giving them an advantage even in a short series.
The Diamondbacks are almost too young to realize how important baseball is in October. Milwaukee has the clearly better roster, but the Giants, Dodgers and Rockies all looked better on paper in the NL West this season.
The Brewers, meanwhile, are playing under the backdrop of Fielder. He is set to become a free agent this winter and all indications point to him signing elsewhere for more money that his current organization will pay him. It may not be the case, but if I am Braun I have to believe that a deep playoff run will help keep the slugging first baseman alongside me.
Brewers in Four