Andrew Perna. 8th October, 2011 - 9:51 pm
The National League is down to two teams and they both come from the same division. The NL Central, home to the worst team in baseball (the Houston Astros), will be represented in the World Series by either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers.
With apologies to St. Louis, this series was supposed to pit the Brewers against the Philadelphia Phillies, who had the best record in baseball and a heralded rotation with at least one future Hall of Famer.
Instead, we will be happy to settle for a battle between a pair of teams that despise one another. They faced off eighteen times this season and more often than not it ended with bad feelings on both sides. Late in the season, Nyjer Morgan got into a heated confrontation with Chris Carpenter.
The two teams split their season series right down the middle, but the Cardinals took six of the last seven contests.
Neither team made the postseason last year. Milwaukee is still looking for their first World Series title, while St. Louis already has ten to their credit.
The Cardinals and Brewers have arguably the two best offenses in the NL. St. Louis led the league in OPS (.766) and Milwaukee came in second (.750) as only the Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees and Tigers had higher numbers during the regular season.
St. Louis averaged the most runs per game in the NL (4.7) and fifth in all of baseball, while Milwaukee (4.5) ranked eleventh overall and fifth in the league.
In terms of power hitting, the Brewers had the edge. Milwaukee hit 185 home runs, tops in the NL and 23 more than St. Louis. However, the Cardinals had the edge in doubles (308 to 276).
Tony La Russa has managed his crew into a more patience unit, with a .341 on-base percentage, sixteen percentage points better than Milwaukee.
Ron Roenicke features the better one-two punch in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, a combination that is better than any other tandem in the senior circuit. With that said, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Albert Pujols and a healthy Matt Holliday could produce just as much (if not more) on any given night.
Braun and Fielder combined for 71 home runs and 231 RBI during the regular season as both flirted with an OPS of 1.000. Pujols and Holliday had 59 homers and 174 RBI while posting OPS numbers just over .900.
Pujols abused Milwaukee pitching with four home runs in 68 at-bats, but he hit just .250 and had a .303 on-base percentage. Holliday had similar numbers against the Brewers with four long balls and a .321 OBP.
Lance Berkman, who in the first third of the season was the best hitter on the team, was tamed by Milwaukee pitching (.196 average and 18 strikeouts in 56 at-bats.)
Braun and Fielder had some issues with St. Louis pitching, but Corey Hart made up for it. The rightfielder hit .313 with five home runs and 15 RBI in 16 games. He got on base 34.3 percent of the time, considerably better than the numbers of Braun in the head-to-head games.
Fielder did not hit very well (.233), but he smacked three home runs and drew 13 walks, giving him an on-base percentage of .377 in 73 plate appearances.
The Brewers averaged four runs per game in the NLDS, while the Cardinals scored 3.6 runs per game against Philadelphia.
The Brewers had a slightly lower ERA (3.63) than the Cardinals (3.74), more strikeouts (1,257 to 1,098), more quality starts and fewer stolen bases allowed. Milwaukee also had the edge in WHIP (1.24 to 1.31) and strikeouts-per-walk (2.86 to 2.45).
Those numbers, however, do not account for a playoff performance like what we saw from Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS against Philadelphia. He dominated a lineup that underachieved, but still had a host of dangerous hitters.
The right-hander will not pitch until Game 3 of the series, but he could return to the mound in a potential decisive seventh game if the NLCS goes that far.
Pitching depth will determine the winner of this series.
Milwaukee will start Zack Greinke, a former AL Cy Young winner, then either Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf, Yovani Gallardo in Game 3 and then either Marcum or Wolf in the fourth game. That sets up Greinke for a potentially pivotal Game 5, the better of Marcum/Wolf in the sixth game and Gallardo in Game 7.
St. Louis will send out Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Carpenter and Kyle Lohse, setting up Garcia-Jackson for the fifth and sixth games and likely Carpenter in a potential decisive elimination game.
The best starter in the series at this point appears to be Carpenter, although at times this season it could have been Greinke, Gallardo, Garcia or even Lohse.
Wolf went 3-2 with a 5.34 ERA in five starts against the Cardinals, but his two losses (12 earned runs) skewed his numbers. Marcum was a little better, going 1-1 in four appearances with a 4.15 ERA and 17 strikeouts. He had one bad start against St. Louis on Aug. 2 when he allowed six earned runs in six innings. The right-hander tossed seven shutout innings against the division rival on Aug. 30.
The concern for Milwaukee is Gallardo, who had a 5.70 ERA and allowed 15 earned runs in less than 24 innings against the Cardinals in four starts (1-3). He issued nine walks and struck out just eight batters. In his lone victory, he pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, but labored through his other three starts.
Closer John Axford was perfect, though, allowing just two hits in seven innings and no runs. He had four saves against St. Louis and just a 0.43 WHIP.
How did St. Louis starters fare against Milwaukee this season?
In short, significantly better.
Carpenter went 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 28 innings, which is solid, but Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia were actually better against the Brewers.
Lohse was 1-2 in three starts, but had a 2.37 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 19 innings. He allowed one run over eight innings against Milwaukee in May, four runs in five innings in June and then no runs over six frames in September.
Garcia, 25, won once in his two starts. He allowed just three runs in 14 innings and had an amazing 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The lefty pitched a complete-game shutout in May (eight Ks) and allowed three runs in five innings (Aug. 2) with six more strikeouts in an eventual 8-7 win for the Cardinals.
The trouble spot for La Russa?
Jackson, acquired from the White Sox in July, started three times against the Brewers in the month of August. In twenty innings, he allowed 11 runs (4.95 ERA), including five home runs and a WHIP of 1.45. In his one win against the Brew Crew, he pitched seven innings of one-run ball on Aug. 30. In his first start with St. Louis against Milwaukee he allowed eight runs in seven innings.
He is the wild card in this series, his impressive performance against the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS to keep the Cardinals alive notwithstanding. Regardless of what happens in Game 1, St. Louis will have a great shot at taking the NLCS if they win with the 28-year-old on the mound.
Of all the starters in this series, Jackson has the highest probability of getting chased off the mound.
The Brewers were the only home team to win in the trio of Game 5s we enjoyed during the divisional round. That is not surprising given their excellent record at home during the regular season.
Milwaukee won 70 percent of the time at home, but just 48 percent of the time on the road. With the Phillies eliminated, Braun and Fielder will have home field throughout the remainder of the playoffs.*
Brewers in Six
In terms of hitting, the teams are close to even but the Brewers have the better duo. The Cardinals have a strong pitching staff, with good numbers against Milwaukee, but the Brewers have things lined up a little better and I trust their back-end arms more than I do those of St. Louis.
Add those two advantages to their success at home and the Brewers will make just their second World Series appearance and first since they lost to the Cardinals in the 1982 Fall Classic.+
"Beast Mode" will be taken to a whole new level.
* The winner of the NLCS will host the World Series because the National League was victorious in the All-Star Game this July.
+ The Brewers were in the AL East when they played the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. They moved to the NL Central after the 1997 season.