Saturday sees the start of the National League Division series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers. It looks set to be a intriguing series, already described by one neutral as having "the makings of the most competitive first-round matchup." Arizona won the regular-season series 4-3, but last faced Milwaukee on July 21. Since then, the Brewers have been the hottest team in baseball, going 43-19. However, the D-backs are not far behind, with a 41-22 record. Let's take a look at each position and see how the teams stack up.
No National League catcher appeared in more games than Montero, whose 140 tied him with the Marlins' John Buck, and easily set a franchise record. He fully deserved that near ever-present status, also setting team marks for homers, RBI, hits and runs from the position. as well as the best OPS by a qualifying player. He also improved markedly on defense during the season. Despite missing the start of the year, Lucroy saw only four games less than Montero, and the 25-year old held his own in his first full major-league season. However, in most aspects of the game Montero is the superior player. Advantage: Arizona
Goldschmidt has certainly had his moments since getting the call from Double-A, including his apparent pwnage of Tim Lincecum. However, a high strikeout rate suggest he still has some learning to do. With less than 50 games in the majors, that's understandable, but the post-season isn't a learning environment. Fielder has had another amazing season, and in another year, would be getting MVP talk. Walked more than he struck out, which 30+ HR hitters like Fielder don't do [since 2004, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez are the only other NL hitters to do it]. Clearly likes hitting in Chase, at the Home-Run Derby showed. Advantage: Milwaukee.
The question of who has the advantage here is likely another question: which Hill will show up in the post-season? Toronto Hill, with 22 extra-base hits in 104 games, or Arizona Hill, who has 16 extra-base hits in 33 games, and an OPS almost three hundred points higher? While overall season numbers favor Weeks, he missed all of August with a sprained ankle, and over 14 games since his return has hit .243 with a .743 OPS. compared to .272/.825 before the injury. If he returns to full health, and the exchange rate for Canadian Hills goes into the toilet, it could give the edge to the Brewers, but there's too much uncertainty to call. Advantage: even
Yes, you read that correctly. Willie will not be the lightest-hitting shortstop in this series. They are kinda similar: better known for their glove than their bat, but Bloomquist does have occasional plate discipline. If we walk Betancourt, I'm calling in an air-strike as no qualifying batter had fewer bases on balls this year - only 16 in 584 PAs. Yes, he walked less than Vladimir Guerrero this season. Bloomquist has been adequate as a Drewplacement, but should not be hitting at the top of the order. And, given his fondness of OOBs, should be nailed to first-base if he reaches there. Advantage (such as it is): Arizona.
After hitting .291 in 2009-10, with an .823 OPS, McGehee has just about fallen off the face of the Brewers' map this season, with his offensive numbers down across the board. And he's been even worse of late, going 9-for-74 - that's hitting at a .132 clip - in the month of September. That makes Roberts' September struggles, where he's batting .205, look positively Ruthian. Perhaps his 10th-inning heroics on Tuesday might spark Roberts back to the form he showed earlier, hitting .313 in April. But even if he doesn't, he should still be better than McGehee. Advantage: Arizona.
This is only the second year in baseball history with three 30/30/.300 players. This year, Jacob Ellsbury, Matt Kemp and Braun have done it - we have the joy of facing the last-named in this series, as he waits to find out whether voters have picked him or Kemp as League MVP. Don't envy our pitchers their job. Parra has been a very nice surprise for us this season - anyone pick him to have the best batting average of any qualifying D-back? Thought not. His defense has also been exquisite; however, that's about the only area in which he can compete with Braunosaurus Rex. Advantage: Ariz...oh, who am I kidding? Milwaukee.
This one's interesting. It will probably be Morgan, but Carlos Gomez started 58 games there, so we might see him there, especially vs. Saunders, as Morgan has hit LHP at only a .540 OPS clip this season. Most of the difference in bWAR and fWAR are sharoly differing opinions on Morgan's defense, which fWAR rates considerably higher. It's interesting to note the gulf in batting average, but how much closer Young and Morgan are in OBP, where Young's value has quietly been stacking up. On a head-to-head basis, Young is probably the slightly better overall, but if the Brewers platoon Gomez, that would counter our edge. Advantage: even.
This should be fun. Two of the best right-fielders in the league (by either set of WAR), men whose seasons will have left both teams very satisfied, going head-to-head. What's unusual is that, despite his similar numbers to Upton, Hart could be the Brewers' lead-off hitter - he has more starts there than anywhere else in the order. This is what having Braun and Fielder does for line-up construction. Upton's offensive numbers are better, and I'd say his defense as well overall, but I'm concerned by his recent form. He has had a bad last three weeks, while Harrt went a solid .284/.343/.526. That form shifts the balance. Advantage: even.
This is where things get interesting, with the decision by Brewers management to start Greinke in their final game, on short rest, even though the only thing at stake was home-field advantage. That appears to rule him out of Game 2 according to their manager. In terms of pitching match--ups, that would be a huge boost for Arizona in the first two games, because Gallardo is...not Greinke. Kennedy started once against the Brewers, and blanked them for seven innings on four hits. Gallardo is almost as good, allowing two runs over 13 innings in his two starts against us. However, it's not enough, Advantage: Arizona.
This one would be a repeat match-up of one of 2011's most memorable games for Arizona, the July 4th contest which featured a grand-slam by one starting pitcher (Marcum), which forced Arizona to come back from 6-1 down to beat Axford in the ninth. Neither starter exactly shone that day, and both will be seeking to improve on those performances. Again, the with-holding of Greinke helps Arizona, as a Hudson-Marcum match-up could be close to a wash, when a Hudson-Gallardo one might not be. Hudson has lost his last three outings, but in terms of raw stuff, is as good as anyone - if he can harness it on the day, and avoid a bad first inning. Advantage: even.
The other weird thing about waiting to Game 3 to use Greinke - unless they do so on short rest - is his home/road split. In Miller Park, he has gone 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA; everywhere else, he sports a much more mortal 4.70 ERA, to go with a 5-6 record. He did pitch well enough at Chase, allowing two runs in seven, but still took the loss, courtesy of Kennedy's better performance mentioned above. Saunders has had his moments this year, saving his best for when it matters most, and games don't get any bigger than the post-season. He'll need to avoid walking people, and be on his A-game. Advantage: Milwaukee.
This time last year, Collmenter had just finished a season that started in A-ball. Do you think he ever thought that, 12 months later, he would be gearing up for a start in the National League Division Series? The good news for Arizona is that he absolutely dominated the Brewers line-up both times he faced them: 14 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K. Meanwhile, Wolf led the Brewers in innings pitched; on the other hand, the veteran southpaw had an ERA above six against Arizona in his pair of outings, losing both contests, so 2011's form definitely favors Collmenter. Advantage: Arizona.
Rodriguez came over from the Mets, where he was the closer, and is apparently not happy with his new role as a set-up man. That hasn't affected his performance, as the numbers show, and he has not been scored upon in his last 16 appearances for the Brewers. Hernandez's ERA is skewed by a couple of really bad games: he has been unscored on in 81% of his outings this year, with just five of 74 resulting in more than one run. His last run allowed was September 6. Both teams are very good at holding leads: in games where they were leading after seven, Milwaukee are 79-6, Arizona 73-4. Advantage: even.
Similar here. When leading after the eighth, the Brewers and D-backs are a combined 165-1, and that loss was all the way back on Opening Day, when Axford allowed four runs in the ninth at Cincinnati. . So, whoever is winning after the seventh inning, regardless of which team that might be, is very, very likely to be the winner. I love Putz's control, with just 1.86 walks per nine innings - he just doesn't allow many base-runners. But Axford's K-rate of 10.5 is slightly better than Putz (9.5). Amazing to think Axford was released outright by the Yankees. In the past couple of years, he has been among the best in the game. Then again, so has Putz... Advantage: even.
This promises to be a close series, and I would not be surprised to see it go all the way. In terms of overall strength, the Brewers have the firepower, but I genuinely think that their mis-use of Greinke could turn out to be a significant tactical error. If Arizona can get a split of the first two games in Milwaukee, and without having to face Greinke, that seems quite possible, than they can come back home, knowing that even if the lose Game 3, they face a pitcher in Game 4 (Wolf), whom they have already beaten twice. Truly, I can see this one potentially coming down to a Game 5 back in Milwaukee, and if it's Kennedy against Gallardo once more, I'd not mind a winner-take all game.