As I noted in this week’s ESPN power rankings, despite struggling in two series against good teams over the past week, the Brewers have a 9-13 record against current NL playoff teams — 3-4 against Arizona, 3-4 against Philadelphia, and 3-5 against Atlanta. A 9-13 mark is not pretty. But context shows there is, at the least, no reason to write off the Brewers in the 2011 playoffs.
The Brewers’ ugliest record comes against perhaps its most likely first round opponent, the Atlanta Braves. The Brewers went 3-5 against the Braves with a horrible 17 runs scored against 32 runs allowed in the eight games. The Brewers took 3-of-4 in the second series of the year, rebounding from Takashi Saito’s first ever appearance with two home runs allowed to take the series after an 0-4 start to the year. Then, the Brewers were shellacked in Atlanta in early May, getting swept in a four game series with a combined score of 24-6. Remember, this is back when the Brewers were the worst team on the road in the history of the game (or, at least it felt that way.)
It’s hard to call any of these games terribly predictive of what will happen in the playoffs. The Brewers were without Jon Lucroy, Corey Hart, and Zack Greinke in the first set, and the second series was very close to the returns of Greinke and Lucroy and included the return of Greinke. The additions of Saito (from injury) as well as Francisco Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (via trade) will introduce new elements come October.
The Brewers looked poor against the Phillies over the past four games, for sure. The Brewers were outscored 17-10 in winning 1-of-4 against a Phillies team that was a bit banged up, with Chase Utley out and Ryan Howard only working on a platoon basis. Sure, the Phillies missed Zack Greinke in the rotation and mostly missed Rickie Weeks, so it does even out a bit. The Brewers were also a bounce-off-the-wall home run away (from Placido Polanco) from potentially winning game three in regulation.
The Brewers series in Philadelphia back in April was a bit of an outlier in terms of the early road struggles. The Brewers won the series 2-1, including 6-3 and 9-0 victories. As a result, the Brewers actually have a +3 run differential (25-22) against the Phillies on the season. Like with the Braves, the series were so early (no K-Rod, no Hunter Pence for Philly) and racked with injuries that it’s hard to call this data too predictive.
The Brewers were similar against Arizona this year, going 3-4 with an even run differential (28-28). Both series came within a three-week stretch in July, and of all three teams, these games will likely look the most similar to games in October should such a matchup come to pass. Rickie Weeks wasn’t hurt, Francisco Rodriguez was in town for the second series, and the only real major change for the Diamondbacks is the trade of Kelly Johnson for Aaron Hill.
Overall, the Brewers were close enough to the Phillies and Diamondbacks in the regular season to effectively call it even, and the series against the Braves have so little consistent with the current teams that it’s hardly worth considering the games when prognosticating for the playoffs. And, if we’re going to be perfectly honest, the larger samples of 162 games are far more important than these head-to-head battles where mere inches can decide the difference between a win and a loss anyway.
But there’s the context, and it’s something to think about, at least.