I've got to say, watching an elimination game is a weird experience. As a fan, the understanding that this might be the last game of the season for your favorite team is always in the back of your mind. It heightens the intensity, forcing you to live or die with every pitch, and when the team wins to stave off elimination, the feeling of surviving for another day is simply fantastic. Certainly part of that comes from the Diamondbacks winning an important baseball game, which is always a nice feeling, but I think more of it comes from the simple continuation of the season. That feeling of "it's not over quite yet" is difficult to top.
Starting Lineups for Game 4:
Last year, we all would have been furious that Parra was starting against a left-handed pitcher. Actually, last year we all would have been furious that Parra was starting in general. But then again, last year we all would have been confused about why the team was still playing even though the calendar says "October."
A bit of a different lineup for the Brewers with the left-handed Saunders on the mound. Nyjer Morgan, who has had a rough series, sits in place of Carlos Gomez, who has a .757 OPS against lefties this year. And George Kottaras spells Lucroy behind the plate. I'm not entirely sure why, since Kottaras is left-handed and has an OPS that's one hundred points lower against left-handed pitching. Maybe Roenicke just wanted to shake things up.
Pitching Matchup for Game 4:
Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69) vs. Randy Wolf (13-10, 3.69)
Insightful Commentary: Fangraphs made fun of the Diamondbacks for starting Joe Saunders in a playoff game, and I am officially on record as saying I don't think he should be starting a elimination game. But that's what the team is going to do, so I wish Saunders the best of luck tonight. Though it seems like Saunders has regressed a bit in the second half of the season, he has also improved his BB% considerably in the final months. This is important for a guy like Saunders, who relies heavily on his defense and doesn't get many strikeouts.
Randy Wolf is 35-year-old left handed pitcher whose fastball tops out in the very low 90s. He has an ugly strikeout rate and an average walk rate, but he always seems to be able to outperform his FIP, and this year is no exception. He gets by with a high strand rate, and a low BABIP. Essentially, watching Wolf pitch must feel like looking into the future for Joe Saunders.
When the Diamondbacks are on Offense: Randy Wolf has a 4.64 ERA against the Diamondbacks in his career. But given that Wolf has been in the National League since 1999, a lot of that data really isn't particularly relevant. He throws his fastball almost 50% of the time, and what it lacks in velocity it must make up in movement and/or deception, since Fangraphs rates it as his most effective pitch. He also has a changeup, a slider and an above-average curveball to round out his repertoire.
Randy Wolf also has a WHIP of 1.32, so the Diamondbacks should be able to get a fair number of baserunners against him at home. The key to this matchup will be whether or not the team can hit with runners in scoring position. They were better last night, but this was a problem that plagued them in the first two games of the series, and the scores reflected it. While I don't believe that hitting with RISP is a repeatable skill for hitters, Randy Wolf has a track record of given up fewer hits with runners on base, so the Diamondbacks will need to convert their opportunities.
It's also worth considering that the Marcum had a short outing last night, and Roenicke had to use several bullpen arms to close out the game. It's possible that Wolf could have a longer leash than he otherwise might if he struggles early. Overall, I think the Diamondbacks offense should be in good shape to hit Wolf, and whoever else comes after him. Edge: Diamondbacks.
When the Diamondbacks are on Defense: If Randy Wolf is the Brewers' equivalent of Joe Saunders, then Joe Saunders is the Diamondbacks equivalent of Joe Saunders, which you probably already figured out. I already mentioned that Saunders has quietly cut down on the walks in the second half of the season, and the Brewers promise to put that to the test tonight. They don't hit as well on the road, or against left-handers, but the Brewers obviously still have a patient, potent lineup, and I expect them to get more than two hits tonight.
Keep an eye on the home runs for Saunders. He's always been a fly-ball pitcher, but his HR/9 was the second-highest of his career in 2011 at 1.23. And tonight, in a good home run park against a powerful lineup, there's a good chance we'll see a long ball or two tonight. So far in this series, we've already seen that home-runs don't kill opposing hitters, provided they're solo shots. That will be the key for Saunders: keeping baserunners off the bases for the middle-of-the-order hitters. Edge: Brewers.
Intangibles: Going home proved to be exactly what the Diamondbacks needed in this series. The crowd last night was as loud as I've ever heard Arizona baseball fans be, and it seemed to shift the entire energy of the series. The Brewers will likely be playing with plenty of urgency, as they try to keep the Diamondbacks from forcing a game 5, but I expect the Diamondbacks to stay fired up after their win last night, and play inspired baseball. Edge: Diamondbacks.