As soco documented yesterday, the odds are firmly stacked against the Diamondbacks, with a sweep at the hands of the Brewers the most likely result for this National League Division Series. But it's not inevitable. Arizona will be back home at Chase Field, where they have played a lot better all season, and if any team is capable of pulling this off, it's probably the one who has more come-from-behind victories this year, than any team in the majors. Win today, and we (probably) get to face Randy Wolf tomorrow, whom we have handled very well this year. Beat him, and it's then a Game 5 in Milwaukee, where anything can happen.
But as Lao Tzu said, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." What do the D-backs need to do to get to that Game 5?
The Milwaukee Brewers do not play very well on the road. In fact, they are the only one of the eight teams in the playoffs this year, who have a record below .500 away from home. Let's look at the home/road splits for us and them; the number in brackets is where that stat ranks in the National League.
|AZ Road||MIL Home||AZ Home||MIL Road|
|OPS||.692 (#9)||.805 (#1)||.781 (#3)
|R/Game||4.09 (#9)||4.80 (#3)||4.94 (#2)||4.10 (#8)|
|Opp. OPS||.731 (#10)||.676 (#7)||.719 (#11)||.702 (#4)|
|ERA||3.73 (#4)||3.42 (#6)||3.86 (#10)||3.88 (#8)|
Pitching looks set to remain fairly even, but the offenses flip-flop significantly. In Milwaukee, the Brewers had an OPS 113 points better than the Diamondbacks' road one. In Arizona, we have an offense 83 points better than their road one. Milwaukee hitters got from 'Beast Mode' to 'league average', when they get taken out of Miller Park. while the only team to score more runs at home than Arizona were the Rockies [insert suspicious comment involving humidors here]. It still ain't going to be easy - but it should be easier.
2. Good starting pitching.
Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy have not delivered in this area, with a 6.75 ERA between them, compared to the 3.46 ERA by the Brewers. They still haven't walked people, which is good - only one free pass over their 12 innings combined - but they have allowed 17 hits, eight of them for extra bases. The 1.500 WHIP which results, is certainly not what you want from your #1 and #2 starters. Josh Collmenter goes for us in Game Three; he has handled the Brewers extremely well, but this will be the third time they've seen his deceptive action. Stopping them from figuring him out will be a huge key today; I'm sure ZM will go into this more in his preview.
If we get through today, that will leave us with another elimination game at Chase Field tomorrow night. Joe Saunders is scheduled to take the mound, but one wonders if there might be some sleight of hand here. Saunders has been reporting an injury over the past few days. Could this be a precursor to carrying out a last-minute switch and throwing Jarrod Parker onto the mound for Game 4? It's purely speculation, but we didn't see Parker in either of the two games in Milwaukee. He and J.J. Putz are the only two Arizona pitchers that weren't used there, and as far as I know, Jarrod didn't even warm up. Tonight, however, may make the point moot.
3. Clutch hitting and plate discipline.
Both have been notably lacking for us thus far. The Diamondbacks have managed only one hit this series with a runner in scoring position - and that led to Willie Bloomquist getting thrown out at the plate, in the opening inning of Game 1. In the 17.2 innings of play which have taken place since, Arizona has absolutely nothing, going 0-for-10. Every other team has had at least seven RBI from RISP - we're still looking for our first one. Now, we've had less opportunities than every other team, certainly - but as the following chart shows, our offensive performance in this area has been beyond bad.
Our patience seems to evaporate, as well as our hitting skills, with just one walk in 11 at-bats. Contrast the Milwaukee numbers, which are just spectacular across the board. Now, part of this just luck, since 'clutch hitting' is largely a myth [or, at least, has such a small impact, its results are lost in the noise of random fluctuation]. But if you've watched Miguel Montero's plate appearances, you'll be aware that our approach at the plate does seem to have changed, not just with RISP. All of Arizona's runs have come courtesy of the homer. Our overall SLG% (.424) is almost at post-season average (.428), but our OBP (.278) is dead-last and well short of the mean (.329).
4. Sound, fundamental baseball.
This applies as much to the managers and coaches as the players. Chances were taken in the first couple of games, and the risks simply didn't pay off. Instead, just about every move Kirk Gibson made, backfired in the worst way possible. The results are largely responsible for dropping Arizona in to the hole where they now sit. The question is, given the failings of the past two games, should the D-backs adopt a more conservative strategy? Or is now the time to throw caution to the winds, and push the pedal to the metal, with little or nothing to lose? It's not an easy decision.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Gibson mix things up the rest of the way - however long that might be - in everything from the batting order to the tactics. We may need to be more cautious on the base-paths, at least tonight, as over the past two years, almost half the base-stealing attempts (14 of 29) carried out against Shaun Marcum, have ended with the runner being thrown out. Curiously, Randy Wolf, despite being a left-hander, appears a lot more susceptible - over the same time-frame, only 3 of 29 were thrown out with him on the mound, including none in eight attempts to steal third-base.
The bottom line is, the Diamondbacks have no room for error - or errors. If they are going to expand the envelope, it's a risky gamble, given the fact that at Chase Field, they should be the better team overall [see Section #1], and should not need to take chances. However, Arizona also need to play for the rest of the week like there's no tomorrow. Because a single loss would mean exactly that.