It feels like we've been referring to games and series as "must wins" since about May. That's alright, it's natural for fans to get excited and put undue meaning on individual games. But now, for the first time ever, the 2011 Diamondbacks really do have a "must win" game in front of them. If they lose, they don't get to play any more until March 2012. It's beautiful in its horrible simplicity.
Kirk Gibson has not done a good job managing the first two games. Unless you talk to his immediate family, I don't think you'll get a lot of argument on that particular point. But the fact remains that Gibson could have done a picture perfect managing job in the first two games of the NLDS, and the Diamondbacks would likely still be down 0-2 to the Brewers, because they've been outplayed so far.
So far, the Brewers' starters, bullpen, and hitting have all been better than the Diamondbacks', and that's difficult to overcome no matter what the manager does. In the second game, the Diamondbacks didn't hit with runners in scoring position, which was only an improvement because they didn't hit at all in the first game. This sort of thing can fluctuate wildly from game to game, but if it happens again, chances are the Diamondbacks lose this series no matter what Gibson does from his dugout.
Starting Lineups for Game 3:
I don't expect to see anything too different from what we saw Sunday with yet another right-hander on the mound. Hopefully Nick or someone will confirm on Twitter soon.
This one is Twitter-confirmed. Dance with the girl who brung ya', I suppose. Are you paying attention, Gibby?
Pitching Matchups for Game 3:
Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38) vs. Shawn Marcum (13-7, 3.54)
Insightful Commentary: No matter what happens tonight, it's fitting that Josh Collmenter should start this game. In a way, Collmenter is a microcosm of the 2011 Diamondbacks. You all know the story by now: as an unheralded rookie, Collmenter started off in the bullpen but was moved to the rotation because the team didn't have any better options. He pitched incredibly well from out of nowhere, but it seemed like no matter how well he pitched, people (including myself) expected him to fail. Just like everyone has done with the 2011 Diamondbacks, people kept looking for reasons why the success wouldn't last.
Since Collmenter made his first start back in May, the Diamondbacks have had a winning percentage of .632. If the Diamondbacks lose tonight, then we can say that the Diamondbacks' success ended the way it began, with a start from Collmenter. And if he wins, then we get to say it's Collmenter who saved our season one last time.
I don't think I realized until I wrote this just how fond I am of Josh Collmenter.
Shawn Marcum was traded straight up for 3B prospect Brett Lawrie last winter. Given that Lawrie has hit .293/.373/.580 in his time in the majors with Toronto, it says a lot about Marcum that most Brewer fans probably wouldn't undo that trade if they had the chance. Though he doesn't have Zack Greinke's crazy strikeout totals or Gallardo's pinpoint accuracy, but Marcum has been a very good pitcher for the Brewers. His K/9 of 7.6 looks mediocre compared to the last two starters the D-Backs have seen, but it's still about average. More importantly, he does an excellent job of managing his walks, allowing under two walks per nine innings.
When the Diamondbacks are on Offense: Shawn Marcum is a very different sort of pitcher than the other two Brewer starters we've seen. His fastball averages under 87 MPH, for starters. But the key for Marcum is mixing his pitches, as he throws that fastball less than 25% of the time, balancing it with changeups, cutters (probably his best pitch), curveballs and the occasional slider. All of these pitches are above-average, and all of them have different velocities, throwing off the batter's eye.
As I mentioned above, the Diamondbacks aren't likely to get a ton of walks off of Marcum, so they will have to win this game with their bats. Again, the goal is patience. Marcum lacks a traditional "put away pitch," so the Diamondbacks will have a chance to extend at-bats by fouling off pitches, looking for something to hit. Marcum has hittable stuff, the issue will be finding pitches that the hitters can drive.
Over the course of the season, it feels like the Diamondbacks have hit soft-tossers better than power pitchers, and the stats bear this out. Thus, it seems like they should do well against Marcum, who is decidedly in the former category. But until they show that they can put together good at-bats in the playoffs with regularity, I won't show any more confidence than Advantage: Even.
When the Diamondbacks are on Defense: In a way, Marcum and Collmenter are kindred spirits. Obviously Collmenter doesn't have the same diversity of pitches as Marcum, but both pitchers get by with a middling fastball through deception, changing speeds and limiting walks. Collmenter had one of his best starts of the season against Milwaukee earlier in the season, going eight innings of shutout ball while striking out seven Brewers. I was at that game, and I can honestly say that it was the best I can remember Collmenter looking all season.
With that in mind, the Brewers have the sort of lineup I can see Collmenter struggling against. Collmenter has a below-average strikeout rate (5.83 K's per nine innings), and often gets a lot of foul balls. I can easily see the middle of the Brewers' lineup fouling off pitch after pitch before driving one on the eight or ninth pitch of the at-bat. Collmenter is going to have to be at his best again, and even then that's no guarantee of success. Edge: Brewers.
Intangibles: We've heard all season about the "heart" that this team has, and have reacted to that description with varying amounts of skepticism depending on how cynical we are. But over the course of the season, I think a lot of us were won over by this group of players. Maybe it was all the comeback wins, maybe it was their success while being projected to be a last place team, but we started to slowly buy into the narrative. Obviously we all know that "heart" does not win baseball games, but I guess I'd be slightly surprised to see the Diamondbacks fall flat here, in an elimination game in front of an excited sell-out crowd. Not shocked, because it's baseball, and anything can happen in one game of baseball, but a little surprised. Edge: Diamondbacks.