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October 6, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Four: Nothin' Brewin'

by Derek Carty

I ended my recap of Game Three of the NLDS series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks with this comment: “My prediction for tomorrow night’s game? An offensive showdown that eventually ends with a Brewers win. I have no faith in Joe Saunders, even if he’s up against Randy Wolf.” The end result was different, but the offensive showdown part was spot on. Last night in Phoenix, the Brewers and D’backs combined to score 16 runs, and both starters were chased after just three innings and giving up a total of 10 runs.

Such an offensive spectacle was easy to foresee given the overall quality of both starters—below average—as well as their both being lefties with heavy platoon splits up against high quality, righty-loaded lineups. Check out their career splits:

Pitcher

FIP vs. LHB

FIP vs. RHB

Wolf

3.89

4.45

Saunders

3.64

4.96

Each lineup boasted six righties; Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke squeezed an extra into the lineup in the form of Carlos Gomez over Nyjer Morgan. The move paid off, as Gomez wound up hitting a two-run homer in the contest. Kirk Gibson elected not to squeeze a seventh into his lineup, sticking with Gerardo Parra over Collin Cowgill despite Parra’s goose egg in the hits column for the series and his left-handed persuasion, likely swayed by the necessity of Parra’s excellent defense in a game that was sure to see many balls put into play.

The Brewers took a 1-0 lead early after Saunders left a 3-2 fastball right in Braun’s wheelhouse—down and in—which he drove to left-center field to plate Jerry Hairston Jr. But the lead didn’t last long; the Snakes absolutely demolished Wolf in the bottom half of the inning. After a Willie Bloomquist single, a Justin Upton walk, and a Miguel Montero single that Bloomquist held up at third on, Wolf faced down Ryan Roberts, who Gibson moved up to the six hole. Wolf delivered a cutter in, and before you know it, the score is 4-1 on a Roberts liner into the left-field bullpen. The crowd had little chance to take a breath, as Chris Young followed with a homer of his own to the deep left-center alley before Wolf managed to get out of the inning.

While the Brewers would continue to score, they’d never retake the lead from D’backs, who continued to tack on insurance of their own. The contest was largely a game of opportunities, both taken and missed; there wasn’t an inning without a baserunner until the bottom of the fifth, and each team only had one such inning the entire game.

Having already taken advantage of one huge opportunity with Roberts’ slam, the D’backs were presented with another in the bottom of the third. Up 5-3 with two outs and runners on second and third, Gibson made the call to end Saunders’ night early, pinch-hitting Cowgill in his place. Delivering a hard grounder through the left side, Cowgill capitalized on the opportunity to put the Snakes up 7-3.

The Brew Crew’s big chance came in the top of the sixth, down just 7-4. Having secured three baserunners against rookie Jarrod Parker, Corey Hart took Brian Shaw over 400 feet to the warning track in what initially looked like it would be a home run. This resulted in a sac fly, however, and the inning was over when Jerry Hairston grounded into a fielder’s choice. The choice to start Hairston in the two spot seemed a little strange in the first place, but it’s hard to complain when he goes 2-for-4 with a walk overall, and it’s not as though there were a lot of better options unless you move Rickie Weeks from the five slot. Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Carlos Gomez wouldn’t have inspired much more confidence.

Having missed their opportunity, Aaron Hill delivered a homer the next inning and Chris Young belted his second—for two runs, this time—in the seventh, putting Arizona up 10-4 and essentially eliminating all hope of a comeback. Milwaukee tried, though, with a Carlos Gomez two-run homer in the eighth, but the Arizona’s offense was simply too overwhelming on this night.

The series moves back to Milwaukee on Friday with a rematch between Game One starters Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy. It’s sure to be a nail-biter with far less offense than we witnessed this evening.

  • The Brewers ended up leaving seven men on base, four of which came while in scoring position with two outs. More than anything, though, they’d seem to get a bit of a rally going, get one run across the plate, and then fail to convert any more. This happened in the first, the third, and the sixth.
  • Announcers are going to say stupid things, but throughout the pregame and Saunders’s three innings of work, they kept harping on how important the ground ball is to him. This bothered me to no end because they made him out to be some ground-ball machine due to the fact that he possessed a sinker and because he had the most ground-ball double plays in the NL this season. Saunders’s ground-ball rate, however, was exactly league average this season and has been so for years. Yeah, he has a sinker, but he combines it with four other pitches, so it’s not thrown all that often. And of course he induces a lot of double plays; he doesn’t strike anyone out, so there are always runners on base. And because he doesn’t strike anyone out, there are a lot of balls put into play when runners are on, 46 percent of which are grounders. Do announcers for a playoff game really not have access to complete batted-ball data? Are they only fed a pitcher’s GIDP rate instead of his complete ground-ball rate?
  • Did anyone notice the organ rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” that played during the mound visit in the third? Pretty awesome.
  • I have a soft spot for Gerardo Parra, and it’s tough to see him go 0-for-15 on the series. He doesn’t have the most potent bat—he’s regarded primarily for his glove—but he did make some good strides this year and may yet wind up as more than just a fourth outfielder, as many thought he’d be coming into the season.
  • Nothing new, but in case you hadn’t noticed who was manning the various coaching positions for the D’backs this season, it’s composed almost entirely of successful former ballplayers: Kirk Gibson, Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Alan Trammell, Eric Young, and Matt Williams.
Related Content:  The Call-up

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