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September 30, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Preview: Brewers vs. Diamondbacks

by Derek Carty

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Why Milwaukee Will Win
Pitching. The Brewers hold the starting pitching advantage in the first three games, and it’s overwhelming for Game Three. Their bullpen is also superior, anchored by elite stoppers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez and a fine supporting cast of Kameron Loe, Takashi Saito, et al. The D’backs will struggle to score.

Why Arizona Will Win
Superb defense combined with good enough hitting and pitching. While FRAA and UZR conflict, UZR gives the Snakes a very large advantage over the Brew Crew (55.2 to 18.8), and the Brewers’ pitching edge isn’t that large over the first two games, which could conceivably lead to the Brewers having an equally difficult time scoring. Both offenses were very close in TAv this season, .261 to .256 in favor of the Brewers.

Most Glaring Contrast Between These Teams
Star Power. While the Brewers are loaded with star talents like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Zack Greinke, the Diamondbacks boast just Justin Upton.

Game One Matchup
Ian Kennedy vs. Yovanni Gallardo. While Kennedy hass drawn raves, praise, and Cy Young consideration, Gallardo has quietly come back from a rough April to post a 3.43 FIP and 2.96 xFIP since May 1. Believe it or not, he’s been the better pitcher this season and over his career.

Game Two Matchup*
Dan Hudson vs. Zack Greinke. Hudson has been good, but Greinke has been amazing. It’s masked by a merely good 3.83 ERA, but peel back the layers and you get a 2.98 FIP and a 2.56 xFIP.

Game Three Matchup*
Joe Saunders vs. Shaun Marcum. It was laughable when Saunders was the centerpiece of the Dan Haren deal, and it’s nearly as laughable that he’s starting Game Three of the playoffs. It’s going to be particularly ugly because Saunders has a career 4.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 versus righties compared to a 6.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 versus lefties, and the Brewers boast six righty starters. For a guy who throws 87 mph, Marcum strikes out a lot of batters and is seriously underrated, but he should only need to be marginally effective to surrender fewer runs than Saunders.

The Diamondbacks’ Secret Weapon
John McDonald. While he doesn’t start every game (though many more with the Diamondbacks than he did with the Blue Jays), midseason import McDonald is one of—if not the best—defensive shortstops in baseball. Yes, it’s a limited sample (578 innings), but McDonald has been the top shortstop in baseball (min. 500 innings) over the past three seasons in terms of UZR/150.

Guess the Annoying Cliché the Announcers Will Harp On
Ian Kennedy’s 21 wins being indicative of his talent level. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they say he’s the best starter to take the hill in this series (which, of course, is Greinke). Yeah, Kennedy is good, but those wins are fluky.

A National Audience Will Learn This About Baseball
Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay haven’t retired yet.

How Much Better Will This Series Be Than the Worst Movie You Ever Saw?
Infinitely. Infinitely better, and not just because the worst movie I ever saw was negative infinity bad (yes, negative infinity bad is an official denomination in the movie critiquing business). I once had a role as an extra in an indie movie called The Weekend. I barely made it through watching, my father fell asleep, and upon realizing that my youngest brother had never seen it despite numerous jokes at its expense, my third brother and I tied him down and forced him to watch, which he did while kicking and screaming the entire time; a repeat occurrence now serves as a threat to keep him in line. Oh, I’m supposed to talk about the matchup itself? Well, the pitching figures to be top notch. Aside from Saunders, all six of the starters are great, which will create an interesting dynamic with some prolific hitters squaring off against them. Watch this series, but never, ever, ever see The Weekend.

Series Prediction
Brewers win 3-1. Their pitching is too overwhelming, and the Diamondbacks don’t have the depth to match after Kennedy and Hudson.

 * Although Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke had not yet confirmed their starters for Games Two and Three as we went to press, it seems as though Game Two will be started by Dan Hudson and Zack Greinke and Game Three will be started by Joe Saunders and Shaun Marcum. However, Greinke would be going on short rest for the second turn in a row, so he could flip-flop with Marcum.  

Related Content:  Joe Saunders

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