NLDS Preview: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
OK, this one gets the post-season started at 3 PM ET this afternoon.
Peter Baker from TheGoodPhight.com chips in with Phillies analysis, our own Al Doyle helps out from the Milwaukee side.
Al says that as a Wisconsin resident for 15 years, he has been surrounded by the statewide celebration since the Brewers qualified for the post-season for the first time since 1982. Will the joy go beyond the first round of the National League playoffs? Only time will tell.
The Brewers drew nearly 3.07 million fans (including 22 consecutive sellouts at Miller Park) in one of baseball's smallest markets this season, so the enthusiasm began well before September.
As Peter can attest, there is similar enthusiasm surrounding the Phillies after their second consecutive division crown.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 3 PM ET on TBS - MIL (Yovani Gallardo) @ PHI (Cole Hamels)
Game 2: Thu., Oct. 2, 6 PM ET on TBS - MIL (CC Sabathia) @ PHI (Brett Myers)
Game 3: Sat., Oct. 4, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - PHI (Jamie Moyer) @ MIL (Dave Bush)
Game 4*: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - PHI (TBD) @ MIL (Jeff Suppan)
Game 5*: Tue., Oct 7, TBD on TBS - MIL (TBD) @ PHI (TBD)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL
MIL 48-33 44-37 92-70
PHI 49-32 41-40 90-72
Head-to-head results: PHI, 5-1.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
MIL 750 .253 .325 .431 .756 102
PHI 799 .255 .332 .438 .770 103
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+
MIL 689 .256 .323 .406 .729 112
PHI 680 .260 .329 .410 .739 115
Carlos Ruiz – The full season slash numbers are terrible, yes, but Ruiz managed to go .244/.345/.346 after July 15. Okay, that’s still not very good but a team with a solid offense can carry a cheap, young, solid defensive catcher at that rate. But can he maintain that? Stay tuned… The Chris Coste Story continued in 2008, where he showed himself to be a credible backup catcher with decent pop, especially against lefties (.881 OPS). Can’t get around on the hard stuff. And let’s face it, this is a 35 year old catcher from Concordia College. Anything we get from him is gravy. His time here will probably be up soon when the Lou Marson Era begins in Philadelphia.
Jason Kendall (.246, 2 HR, 49 RBI, 8 SB) started a team record 149 games behind the plate this year. He did a fine job handling pitchers and in tossing out opposing baserunners by gunning down 41 of 96 attempted steals for a 42.7 percent success ratio. A slap hitter, Kendall was the only real contact type in the lineup. He struck out just 45 times in 516 AB.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. Kendall isn't much at the plate, but he's solid defensively and throws out tons of potential base stealers.
Al says: Brewers get the nod here.
Who is Ryan Howard? Game-changing monster or terrific mistake hitter? Know this: When Howard is in a groove, there’s no one you’d rather have at the with runners on base, needing a few runs. When he’s scuffling, he’s just brutal. Terrible defender (18 errors at first base). Majestic, often otherworldly specimen of a hitter who can literally carry a team for weeks at a time (hit .273/.356/.593 with 40 homers since May 15). Unlike 2007 he was healthy all year and put up the counting stats to show it. We’ve learned to love Howard for what he is, and have no intentions of throwing out the beautiful baby with the somewhat putrid bathwater.
Prince Fielder (34 HR, 102 RBI, .276, 84 BB, .372 OBP, .507 SLG) came on strong in September after a largely mediocre first 130 games. Even though his numbers are down from a 50-HR, 116-RBI season in 2007, the lefty swinger is a threat to take it out of the park at any time. With 134 strikeouts, Fielder is one of five Brewers with triple digits in that category. A likely candidate for the DH role as he grows older, Fielder committed 17 errors in 2008.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. You're great, Prince, but Howard's better.
Al says: Phillies and their MVP candidate get the nod here, but Fielder can mash.
What happened? The first six weeks of the season appeared to be the start of the inevitable MVP campaign for Chase Utley. Then suddenly the bad thing happened. His power all but disappeared (11.53 AB/HR through the end of May; 27.71 AB/HR thereafter). Whispered rumors of a hip injury needing rest and/or surgery have circulated for weeks now. Nonetheless, an 80 percent Utley is still the best second baseman in the league. Add in his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and you have a truly special player who should seriously contend for an MVP award one day. A World Series MVP? We can hope.
This is the one of two changes to the lineup made by interim manager Dale Sveum. Switch-hitting Ray Durham (370 AB, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 35 2B, 53 BB, .380 OBP) now gets most of the starts over erratic Rickie Weeks (.234, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 115 K, 66 BB and 19 SB in 475 AB). The veteran Durham has been nagged by hamstring problems, so it remains to be seen how much he will play. Weeks can tantalize with his bat speed, and the ball jumps when he connects, but hand and wrist injuries plus prolonged slumps have kept his career average under .250.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. The best defensive and offensive second baseman on the planet.
Al says: No-brainer. Utley, both at bat and defensively.
Pedro Feliz is bitter medicine. Good for you in a lot of ways (defense) but dreadful in others (overall offense). He had, however, a strange knack for late inning heroics (.313/.368/.575 in close-and-late situations) and single-handedly won a couple games for us with big late-game hits. Also posted the best BB/K ratio (33 BB / 54 Ks) of his career.
Craig Counsell (248 AB, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .226, 46 BB, .355 OBP) gets more starts under Sveum than he did when Ned Yost filled out the lineup card. What advantage does the 38-year old bring over streaky Bill Hall (404 AB, .225, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 124 K, .293 OBP)? Counsell provides a much-needed lefty bat in the predominantly right-handed Milwaukee lineup. His dependable defense, smart play and patience at the plate stand in stark contrast to the one-dimensional, swing from the heels style of his teammates. Hall can literally carry a team for a week when he goes on a tear, but that didn't happen at all in 2008. He is adequate defensively and has a rifle arm. Hall will start against lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, but Counsell will also see some action at the hot corner and possibly at second base.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. And I feel dirty for saying it. It's bad when a .301 OBP, in the case of Feliz, wins you a matchup, but Counsell and Hall have just been awful. And Feliz's defense certainly helps, too.
Al says: Phillies have the edge, but third isn't a big strength for either team.
Let-down campaign? In part. Oft-overlooked is the serious ankle sprain that Jimmy Rollins suffered in mid-April, and that he struggled to play through for a few weeks before finally going on the disabled list. His offense suffered for most of the season, and the ankle injury seems to be a plausible explanation. He still swipes bases at an ungodly rate (47 steals in 50 attempts… 94 percent!) and he’s only solidified his reputation as a Gold Glove defender. He also posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Hopefully he’ll remain healthy in 2009 and regain some of the home run power he lost in 2008.
J.J. Hardy (.283 , 24 HR, 74 RBI, .343 OBP) put up similar numbers to his 26 HR, 81 RBI totals for 2007. He is solid defensively and has a strong arm. Hardy has overcome injuries to become one of the better players at his position. Having batted second, fifth, sixth and seventh in 2008, Hardy is the one Brewers starter who gets moved around the batting order. Svuem may do the same in the NLDS.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. It's awfully close, Rollins' defense and speed are terrific. Hardy's just been better all year.
Al says: Slight edge to the Phillies.
A tale of two seasons -- .271/.410/.571 through June 30; .230/.322/.444 thereafter. Pat Burrell still hung on to most of his ability to draw walks, but tailed off pretty much everywhere else. Constantly replaced late in games for “defensive purposes” despite being a sure-handed (albeit slow) left fielder. A free agent after this season, all signs point to Burrell playing elsewhere in 2009, probably somewhere in the American League. Good luck, Pat. Some of us will miss you.
Slugger Ryan Braun (.285, 39 2B, 7 3B, 37 HR, 106 RBI. .553 SLG, 14 SB) made a smooth transition to the outfield after a rough (.895 fielding percentage) rookie season at 3B in 2007. Although he looked unpolished at times, Braun has played well defensively, with a better arm and speed than average for the position. A pure power and average hitter, Braun was ineffective for much of September due to a nagging rib injury. He came through in a big way during the final four games of the season by slugging game-winning bombs against the Pirates and Cubs. Even though he can be impatient at the plate (just 42 walks in 611 AB) Braun is clearly one of baseball's top young players.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. It's Ryan Braun's world. I'd be inclined to call it a tie if Burrell weren't slumping so badly coming into the postseason based on Burrell's edge in OBP.
Al says: Brewers have the advantage here.
Shane Victorino: $480,000, .293/.352/.447. Aaron Rowand: $12,000,000, .271/.339/.410. Even with park adjustments, is it even close? Victorino continues to mature as a player, and although his stolen base rate was significantly worse than last year, he improved at almost every measurable aspect of the game, at a more important defensive position. Cheap, quality production at a premium position. Sign me up!
After being suspended for the first 25 games of the season by MLB for failing a substance test, Mike Cameron (.243, 25 2B, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 17 SB) saw nearly half of his 108 hits go for extra bases. It was an all or nothing season for Cameron, who whiffed 142 times in just 444 AB. The three-time Gold Glover can still chase 'em down in the alleys. Sveum has used Cameron as a leadoff man, which is an unusual spot for a low-average hitter who doesn't make consistent contact.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. Cameron wins due to more power, although Victorino's edge in OBP makes it close, and the defense is a wash.
Al says: Phillies get the edge, but not by much.
Geoff Jenkins - .246/.301/.392. Ewwwww… Everyone makes mistakes, Pat Gillick. This was one of yours. Jayson Werth made the transition from right-handed half of a right field platoon to full-timer during the summer of 2008. He showed the ability to hit for power, get on base, and play occasionally stellar defense. Still doesn’t hit righties very well (.767 OPS) but destroys lefties (1.020 OPS, MLB leading 16 homers). The Phillies likely see Werth as Burrell’s 2009 left field heir apparent. They could do worse.
After becoming an All-Star for the first time, Corey Hart (612 AB, 45 2B, 20 HR, 91 RBI, 23 SB, .268, .300 OBP) cooled off considerably in the second half. Despite his lack of patience at the plate (just 27 BB and 109 Ks), Hart brings a lot of positives to the Brewers. He hits for power, runs well for a big man and is more than adequate in the field.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. Nominally deserved All-Star berths notwithstanding...
Al says: Even
Greg Dobbs – The best pinch-hitter in baseball in 2008, the lefty-hitting Dobbs set a new Phillies record for pinch hits in a season. Good pop but so-so speed, his ability to play third base and either corner outfield position makes him a valuable commodity.
Matt Stairs – Kills right-handed pitching, swings hard, and he’s your best chance at a late inning home run. Cannot really run at all and plays pretty bad defense. With that mustache and the bald head, he kind of looks like the guy who got his face sliced off by the propeller in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a pretty groovy look to cop.
Eric Bruntlett – Yes, Bruntlett is your top right-handed pinch-hitting option. Good thing the Brewers are low on LOOGYs. As a defender, he’s quite versatile, capable of playing shortstop, third base, and the corner outfield positions competently. For a Stanford graduate, Bruntlett is a great utility player.
So Taguchi – What do you call a baseball player who doesn’t really do anything well anymore, but who coasts on his reputation and a vague appearance of athleticism? No, not Ken Griffey, Jr.! It’s Taguchi. A frequent defensive replacement and pinch runner for Burrell, he’s neither a great fielder nor a great baserunner. No power, no OBP, no nothing, really. The fact that he made the postseason roster speaks volumes about how desperately lacking this team is in right-handed hitting.
Depending on the situation, Hall or Counsell along with Durham or Weeks will be available in the infield. Gabe Kapler (229 AB, 9 HR, 39 RBI, .301) was one of the best fourth outfielders and pinch hitters in the majors this season, but a shoulder injury will keep him out of the NLDS. Speedy Tony Gwynn Jr. (.195 in 41 ABs) will take Kapler's place on the roster.
Mike Rivera (62 AB, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .306, .373) performed well as Kendall's backup despite seeing limited playing time. He can also fill in at 1B, as can Brad Nelson, who hit a pair of doubles in seven September ABs. The raw rookie is on the roster as a lefty pinch hitter.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. Dobbs is the best pinch hitter in baseball, which makes up for the bench's heavy leftward tilt (lefties Dobbs, Stairs, and Jenkins; righties Taguchi, Coste, and Bruntlett). The Brewers have weapons, but the Phillies have just a touch more quality.
Al says: Phillies. Not having Kapler available is a big loss for the Brewers.
Cole Hamels – Young, amazingly talented, and not yet in his prime. What’s not to like? Well, he exceeded his previous career high in innings pitched by 44 innings (plus whatever he winds up throwing in the postseason). There’s a pretty substantial risk of injury in the future, but like they say, Flags Fly Forever. The Phillies first true ace since Curt Schilling.
Brett Myers – This is so confusing. There was first-half Brett, who was absolutely brutal and was relegated to the minors for a stint mid-summer. Then, there was Awesome Brett, who along with C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana was one of the best pitchers in the league over the last half of the summer. Then, we had Windin’ Down Brett, who over his last two starts in September was as bad as any starting pitcher I’ve ever seen, grooving super-straight 88 MPH fastballs right over the heart of the plate. The Brett We Get may very easily determine how far the Phillies go this offseason. One has to wonder how much longer the team can tolerate such a highly-paid, unreliable dunderhead on its roster.
Jamie Moyer – Yeah, just your run-of-the-mill 45 year old 16 game winner. And those weren’t “empty wins,” either; Moyer posted an ERA of 120. His skills and approach have barely changed in over a decade and he keeps himself in terrific physical condition. One has to wonder if he can pitch until he’s 50. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it.
Joe Blanton – He was eeeehhhh… PRETTY good during his Phillies debut (4-0, 4.20 ERA). And they have him under control for a reasonable salary next season. There are worse guys to have out there, I just wish they didn’t have to give up so much to get him. He’s a decent bet to keep the Phillies in a game, but a longshot for a masterpiece.
CC Sabathia (11-2, 1.65, 130.2 innings pitched, 128 K, just 25 BB) has turned out to be one of the great midseason acquisitions of all time. The big lefty even led the NL in complete games (7) despite making just 17 starts in Milwaukee.
Sabathia has the whole package - a blazing fastball, sharp breaking stuff, excellent command, durability and the mentality of a staff ace. He has volunteered to pitch on three days rest and will do so again Thursday in Philly.
Ben Sheets (13-9, 3.09, 198.1 IP, 158 K, 47 BB, 5 CG) is out of the NLDS and most likely for the entire postseason with a torn ligament in his elbow. After this stellar 1-2 combination, the rotation takes a big turn for the worse.
Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88, 24 IP) has just four starts in 2008. The 22-year old tore his ACL in a collision while covering first base in April. Making an exceptionally speedy recovery, the right-hander gave up a run in four innings while starting against the Cubs last Saturday.
After going 9-5 as a rookie in 2007, the Mexican-born Gallardo is often touted as a future staff ace. He has the talent to reach that level, but Gallardo is extremely inexperienced for a pitcher in such an important game. He could well rise to the occasion, but I'd be surprised to see Gallardo pitch more than five innings.
Righties Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18 and just 48 walks in 185 IP) and Jeff Suppan (10-10, 4.96, 177.2 IP) round out the rotation. Hard-throwing but erratic lefty Manny Parra (10-8, 4.39) will be used out of the bullpen. Bush finished strong after getting hammered early in the season, while Suppan was battered in September.
Peter says: Edge: Draw. Okay, it's a cop-out. I guess you pick your poison: Depth or upfront dominance? A pitcher like Sabathia is awfully close to a guaranteed win, but do you let it all ride on him and pray in the games he doesn't pitch? A toss-up.
Al says: I think it's a draw as well.
Brad Lidge – ‘Nuff said. 41-for-41 in save attempts, well over a strikeout per inning, Lidge is a Cy Young and MVP candidate who deserves a ton of credit for solidifying the back end of the Phillies bullpen and helping to make it one of the very best in baseball. Some shaky outings here and there, but there was probably no one in baseball this year that you’d want on the mound with the game on the line than Lidge.
Ryan Madson – Picture it: Tall, lanky right-hander with plus change-up and decent fastball carves out nice career as solid middle reliever on perennial east coast contender. Then, seemingly overnight, “Stretch” starts throwing 95 MPH to offset an already terrific change-up. He allows one earned run in 14 innings in September, with 17 strikeouts. Did we just witness the birth of an elite relief pitcher? Stay tuned…
J.C. Romero – Employed mostly as a LOOGY, he’s also more than capable of getting the occasional right-handed hitter out, too. Great stuff, but a little wild. Also a little, shall we say, “demonstrative” on the mound when successful. Nobody likes a showoff, even if you share initials with a certain you-know-who…
Chad Durbin – The aliens’ great experiment was a success. Last winter, Durbin was abducted by extra-terrestrials who needed to harness his homer-licious pitching proclivities to power their flying saucers. His replacement, in a funny The Last Starfighter-ish twist, was a robot made in Durbin’s exact likeness. This Robo-Durbin was one of the game’s best relief pitchers this season, helping to lock down the 6th and 7th innings before handing them over to the Madsons and Lidges of the world. Now that we anticipate that the real Durbin will return next season, we’ll have to see if Robo-Durbin teaches him any new tricks on his way out of town.
J.A. Happ – Rookie lefthander with promising stats in AAA, he’s been added to the roster, I imagine, to hedge on the all-too-likely possibility that one of starters (coughMYERScough) lays an egg out there. He gets plenty of strikeouts but walks a few too many. Likely to be the first line of defense in the case of an injured starter.
Scott Eyre – Ladies and gentlemen, your LOOGY. On the roster for the sole reason of getting Prince Fielder out. Which is no small thing.
Clay Condrey – Another unlikely success story this year, and looking at the numbers I have no idea how in the hell he did it. He doesn’t get strikeouts, he gave up a ton of hits, his walk rate is decent and he gives up his share of home runs. If he can keep working his magic into the postseason, hey, life is good.
Sveum used Johnny Wholestaff over the final week of the season, yanking starters early and often. Thanks to strong performances by AAA call-ups and September surprise Todd Coffey (not eligible for postseason play), the results were unexpectedly successful. Things could be much different with a 25-man roster.
Versatile Seth McClung (6-6, 4.02, 12 starts in 37 G) could come in for an inning or four. When he has his command, the hard-throwing McClung can be dominating, but control has been his problem. Eric Gagne (4-3, 5.44, 50 G, 46.1 IP, 10 saves, 7 blown saves) was signed to be the closer, but ineffectiveness led to a demotion to middle relief. Gagne has looked good in recent outings.
Guillermo Mota (5-6, 4.11) has a plus fastball, but command issues means he can be erratic. Lefty Mitch Stetter (3-1, 3.20) gave up more walks (19) than hits (14) in 25.1 IP while striking out 31. Carlos Villanueva (4-7, 4.07, 9 starts, 108.1 IP, 93 K, 30 BB) has done an excellent job out of the bullpen after flopping as a starter. He's capable of going two or three innings.
Salomon Torres (7-5, 3.49, 28 SV, 71 G, 80.1 IP) was given the closer's job out of desperation. He took the challenge and performed well until late in the season. If Torres was tired, perhaps the two days off since Sunday will solve that problem.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, and it's not even close. One of the best bullpens in the league, a bona fide closer and quality set-up men, versus the Brewers Island of Misfit Ex-Closers.
Al says: Advantage Phillies. Aside from Sabathia's starts, the Brewers relievers could be putting in a bunch of innings.
* * *
Peter's Prediction: Despite relatively small changes in personnel from last season, the Philadelphia Phillies went from an offensive juggernaut with bad pitching in 2007 to a more balanced attack in 2008. Their 92 wins was the franchise’s highest mark since 1993. The overall composition of both the Phillies and Brewers is quite similar; the Phillies are just slightly better offensively, they have a slightly better pitching staff with more depth, and more team speed. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Game One. If the Phillies lose the first game, they face Sabathia the next evening and the very real possibility of being down 0-2 going to Milwaukee. Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that the overworked Sabathia’s arm is going to fall off his body, like it did in last season’s ALCS with Cleveland. These five game series are almost literally a crapshoot. I’m not going to pretend to have some kind of clairvoyance to predict how this series will turn out based on each team’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s almost purely an educated guess, and since I’m a Phillies fan, I’m going to guess the Phillies win the series in 4 games. Hamels is solid if not spectacular in Game One, with Gallardo pitching very well for five innings before stepping aside for Milwaukee’s weak bullpen, where the Phillies’ bats will feast. Sabathia wins Game Two, then the Phillies take Games Three and Four in Milwaukee.
Al's Prediction: Phillies in four games. The Brewers have too many weaknesses (all or nothing offense, starting pitching depth, mediocre defense) to go to the NLCS. It's still quite an achievement to make it to the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
Much of the credit can go to Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio, who stepped up and approved the Sabathia deal that cost the Brewers several top prospects. With Sheets and Sabathia heading for free agency after the season, Attanasio saw 2008 as a one-year window of opportunity and acted accordingly.
When Yost tightened up as the team slumped in September, Attanasio pulled the trigger and fired the manager with just 12 games left in the season. It was an unprecedented move for a playoff contender, but turning the team over to Sveum and new bench coach Robin Yount has had the desired effect.