Well, that was weird.
As most of you surely know by now, the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox performed a beautiful, simultaneous nosedive into the hard concrete of reality, each losing its once seemingly assured wild card bid on the very last game of the season. Further evidence that reality is actually being scripted by a hacky Hollywood screenwriter god.
It was kind of beautiful to watch –if you’re impartial or the right sort of partial– but it was also a little bit disconcerting. I think most of us in Camp Milwaukee were expecting the Cardinals to be a non-entity at this point. While a first round matchup was obviously and technically impossible, it’s a little frustrating knowing they’re still around.
But, in a way, isn’t this perfect for the Brewers? The Cardinals are far from unstoppable, and they’ve surely benefited from a relatively easy schedule the last few games; but its the Phillies that have to deal with them now, when the Cards are as hot as they’ve been all season and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder big as… I dunno, that Big Arch Thing. (I don’t really know anything about St. Louis, sorry.)
There is an eerie 2006 aura to this version of the Cards, and I wouldn’t want a crack at them right now if I were the Brewers. Or, you know, a member of the staff or roster of the Milwaukee Brewers, because that makes more sense. I can’t possibly be a whole team, is what I’m saying.
So it’s the Milwaukee Brewers against the Arizona Diamondbacks! The Brewers have home field advantage! This is probably about what everybody expected, although it would’ve been nice to face off against a sad, enervated, limped-into-the-postseason Atlanta Braves. Alas.
The Diamondbacks are a great story, and it’s fantastic to see more than one team (see: Tampa Bay Non-Devil Rays) with a sub $50 million payroll in the postseason this year.
(It is even nicer to cheer for a team that’s managed to nearly triple its payroll to about 90 million over the space of a dozen or so years. Because it is still easier to build a decent team when you have some money, as everyone has pretty much caught up to William Beane at this point.)
That said, I’m not horribly worried about the Brewers handling the Diamondbacks. They seem eminently handle-able to me. Granted, over the past 30 days, the two teams’ hitting and pitching team values have been basically indistinguishable, with the Diamondbacks barely edging out the Brewers in both hitting and pitching WAR. But as long as we’re in the realm of the abstract, it’s worth noting that the Brewers have logged a shocking, wonderful xFIP of 3.35, which is only .23 off their season average of 3.58.
The Dbacks have been significantly less great, even though both teams have ERAs hovering around 3.40 over the last 30 days. They’ve logged a team xFIP of 3.90 in that period, which is actually a little better than their season average. Also, Arizona’s team pitching BABIP is .288 for the season, but it’s been .272 in September.
All of which is evidence that maybe the Diamondbacks have gotten a little lucky on the defensive end. .272 isn’t a huge aberration from the norm, but it’s enough to make me wonder if a .5 difference between a team’s ERA and its xFIP is sustainable in the postseason.
Remember, they’re playing the first few games at Miller Park against one of the best home teams in baseball. One of the Brewers’ starting pitchers (Greinke) has not lost at home this season. Another (Gallardo) has been on a fantastic hot streak, with no obvious signs of cooling down. Then there’s Shaun Marcum. But hey, he’s still got time to make himself awesome again. Remember when he seemed unstoppably awesome? It wasn’t that long ago.
In all fairness, the Dbacks’ Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have both been consistently good-to-great this year. Kennedy’s going to be tough to beat, but it’s nice to know that he’s matched up with Gallardo in Game 1.
Meanwhile, Hudson has posted an xFIP of 4.26 and an ERA of 2.83 over the past month. His respective season averages are 3.79 and 3.59. The Diamondbacks have pretty fantastic gloves overall, but I’m willing to bet an adjustment in earned runs is in the works, especially if he pitches away: his season ERA outside of Arizona is 3.89, and his xFIP is 3.94. Still quite good, obviously, but also some distance away from his elite ERA in September.
Moreover, once you get past Arizona’s ace and its demi ace, the shine starts to fade. Both teams will be tightening up their rotations, but the Brewers have three arguably elite arms. The Dbacks have two, and both are stretches. Those 20 Kennedy wins perhaps make him look scarier than he actually is.
Anyway, Joe Saunders is a lousier version of Randy Wolf, and the Brewers have drilled him in the past. He’s outright terrible against righties, and guess what the Brewers’ lineup is loaded with? I’m not scared of Joe Saunders.
Josh Collmenter has been pretty good, especially for a rook, with a WHIP of 1.069 and an xFIP of 4.18 for the year. On the other hand, his FIP rarely drifted below 5.00 in AAA play, and his BABIP this year (.255) has been shockingly low –unprecedented given his stats in the minors. Again, the Dbacks are a really good defensive team, but a 47.0% flyball rate against a team with four 20+ HR guys does not bode well.
Lefty Zach Duke continues to be mediocre, although he was inexplicably an all star for the Pirates a few years ago. How nice for him. I can’t imagine he’ll start, and I’m not seriously worried he’ll pose a threat in long relief.
Arizona’s relief pitching, incidentally, is surely much improved. But after J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, it’s not clear whom Kirk Gibson will be counting on for long or middle relief in the postseason. Granted, I haven’t watched them play more than a game or two this year, so I’m not intimately familiar with their bullpen.
But from what I can tell, righties Bryan Shaw and Brad Ziegler have both been very good all year long, and lately in particular. Ziegler has not given up a home run this year, and has never posted a HR/FB rate higher than 8.2%. That guy worries me. Bryan Shaw, however, boasts a 13.3% HR/FB. Methinks the latter number spells trouble for Arizona should Shaw get more than a few innings of work.
Wade Miley was called up in August and has been –from all appearances—adequate at best. I have no idea why either he or Saunders are being seriously considered as part of a playoff rotation, but he should be okay from the bullpen if that’s the way Arizona goes.
Also, Micah Owings has a 10.00 ERA in September. I really hope the Brewers get to hit against Micah Owings. Maybe he’ll get to start? I don’t know, I’m not a mindreader. Just start him, Kirk, why not?
All of this, and I really only have a couple useful conclusions. A) The Brewers pitching is probably a lot better than the Diamondbacks, despite some superficial similarities in season numbers. B) It’s really weird that the Diamondbacks are starting Joe Saunders in Game 3, and are thinking about starting Wade Miley in Game 4. What do they know that we don’t? C) If tightening up rotations gives the edge to teams with the greater number of dominant arms, the Brewers will surely triumph most triumphantly.