Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66)
The last time the Brew Crew won a division title it was in the American League before I was born and the last time the Diamondbacks saw October the were swept in the NLCS at the hands of the red hot Colorado Rockies. This is probably the most intriguing division series because there are two good teams and no clear edge.
‘Zona has gotten here largely on the arm of the ex-Yankee Ian Kennedy, who won a league leading 21 games with a sub-three ERA. The starters behind Kennedy did not have nearly as much success. The Diamondbacks have the second worst ERA of any postseason team (3.80) yet the starting staff posted a 3.36 ERA, which is better than the Brewers 3.65. Believe it or not only the Tigers have a worse ERA (4.04). The bright spot outside of Kennedy is JJ Putz the closer who posted 45 saves in 49 chances with a WHIP of 0.91.
The Brewers’ staff is relatively aceless, which is a major cause for concern. Yovani Gallardo leads the team in wins (17) and has the lowest ERA of the starting pitchers with 3.52. Neither number is very impressive. Their number two starter hasn’t been named yet but will presumably be Zack Greinke (16-6, 3.83 ERA). Grienke struggled trhough injuries early in the year but came on down the stretch. Shawn Marcum is a solid thir starter posting a 13-7 record and a 3.54 ERA. Both have had fine seasons, but neither has yet to have an opportunity to prove they are the guys to depend on in October when runs are harder to come by. Neither has a career playoff start. Also, in the case of Greinke, there has to be questions about his ability to handle the pressure. It is unfortunate that such a promising talent has been diagnosed with severe anxiety and we have to wonder how he will be able to handle October baseball. Everyone is pulling for the kid in this spot and I believe should be the number two starter so he can get the nod at home.
Offensively the Brew Crew is probably the NL team that is closest to an AL lineup. They have plenty of power in their two MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Behind them there is Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks with 46 home runs and 112 RBI between them. In short the lineup is stacked with dangerous hitters. For the Dbacks, well, not so much. No one on the team hit .300 nor had 100 RBI. The light hitting boys from the desert are going to have to scratch and claw for every run.
Justin Upton- Diamondbacks Right Fielder
So far on the AL side of things we have given the swing player to pitchers, which makes sense in October baseball. In this case it goes to an offensive player. Upton is the only player on the Diamondbacks with anything close to power/MVP numbers. Upton is still recovering from being hit in the head with a pitch, but will need to put a jolt in the offense to give the pitching a chance to beat the Brewers.
Milwaukee’s offense is too good. The Dbacks get the edge in starting pitching and at closer, but I doubt they can completely shut down the Brewers. They will manage enough runs to beat the Diamondbacks because it really doesn’t take much. Brewers sweep the series.
Saint Louis Cardinals (90-72) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)
The Saint Louis Cardinals lorded over the NL in the early 2000s. Now they face off against the team that has dethroned them as the perennial bullies of the DH-less league.
Philadelphia is a team that had one weakness all season. They didn’t have a right fielder or a right handed bat to make up for the loss of Jayson Werth. Well that got solved to phenomenel results. By making the best trade of the season for Hunter Pence the Phillies sured up the offense and continued to cruise to a 100 win season. Pence hit .324 with the Phillies and matched his home run total of 11 through the first half in only 54 games. This added to an offense that already boasts slugging first basemen Ryan Howard, Five tool second basemen Chase Utley and a host of other dangerous bats.
The Cardinals are not lacking in the offensive category either as Albert Pujols woke up from his early season slumber to find Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday taking on the load. Pujols came back with a vengence ending the season with another 30 home run season, missing 100 RBI’s by one for the first time in his career. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Holliday will not be in the Game One lineup which could have some Red Bird fans nervous. He is on the roster and has been deemed healthy enough to play but losing his bat for one game could be detrimental.
Coming into the season it would seem that the Cardinals rotation could have given the Phillies hand of Aces a run. The Cardinals had two Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright (20-11 2.42 ERA in 2010) and Chris Carpenter (16-9 3.22 ERA in 2010) add in the surprise Jaime Garcia (13-8 2.70 ERA in 2010) and the Cardinals staff looked solid, if not second best in the league. The Cardinals staff didn’t end up turning out that way as they lost Wainright for the year and Garcia took a step back (13-7 3.56 ERA in 2011). Carpenter also had a diffucult year getting only 11 wins to nine losses. Kyle Lohse, who had a bounce back year (14-8 3.39 ERA) will get the start in Game One.
Unfortunately the Phillies will trot out Roy Halladay against Lohse who didn’t have a bounce back year. He just had another Doc Halladay season. Doc had a 19-6 record and an ERA under three (2.35) for the fourth season in a row. Unlike many other teams there is virtually no drop off for the Phillies No. 2 starter Cliffe Lee (17-8 2.40 ERA). Then there has to be dropoff? Nope. Then they have Cole Hamels (14-9 2.79 ERA). The Phillies rotation is not going to lose them games in this series.
Unlike other series this series doesn’t come down to one player per se. The Phillies rotation will not make mistakes and the Cardinals will be hard pressed to get many runs in innings one through seven (or eight or nine with how Halladay and Lee pitch). If the Cardinals rotation can keep games close the Cardinals will have to put some damage in the late innings. If the Phillies bullpen can hold up the Cardinals won’t have much hope.
The Phillies have been the best team in baseball all year. They haven’t really been newsworthy because it has just been a ho-hum season of win, win and win some more. The Phillies rotation goes beyond three deep but that’s all you need in a five game series. Those three starters are No. 1’s on most every other team in the majors and will keep the Cardinals bats down for their potent offense to put up runs. The Cardinals scraped into the playoffs and now the Phillies will just have to scrape them off their cleats on the way to the NLCS. Phillies in three.