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NLDS Game 1 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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So I've never done one of these fancy sponsored posts, and I don't quite know what I'm supposed to do.  Like, do they expect me to incorporate product placement into my piece?  I'm not sure, but I do know that Ryan Braun's swing is as smooth as the shave you'll get when shaving with the new Gillette Fusion ProGlide (Gillette's most advanced blade ever!), so there's that.

Starting Lineups for Game 1:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Chris Young, CF
6. Lyle Overbay, 1B
7. Ryan Roberts, 3B
8. Gerardo Parra, LF
9. Ian Kennedy, P

I will not question Gibby's lineups....I will not question Gibby's lineups...I will not question Gibby's lineups...unless they lose.

Milwaukee Brewers

1. Corey Hart, RF
2. Nyjer Morgan, CF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B
6. Jerry Hairston, 3B
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C
9. Yovani Gallardo, P

Hat-tip to Nick Piecoro for both lineups.

Pitching Matchup:

Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88) vs. Yovani Gallardo (17-10, 3.52)

Insightful Commentary: Going into this game, we all know what Ian Kennedy can do when he's on.  He paints corners, mixes speeds with his change-up, slider and curveball in order to get swings and misses.  Contrary to popular belief, everything Kennedy does starts with his fastball, which is by far his best pitch despite its average velocity.  His success this season has largely been due to his mastery of that pitch, which he has thrown more often this year, and with far greater success, as Fangraphs rates it as by far his best pitch.  His consistency with his fastball is what allows him to get such consistently good results, and to post the highest WPA among National League pitchers.

Yovani Gallardo was the Brewers' ace for the previous two seasons before the team went out and got Zack Greinke.  Undeterred, Gallardo has put up an eerily similar season to his lines in '09 and '10.  He is striking out almost exactly a batter per inning (K/9 of 8.99), which is actually a drop from his previous two seasons.  On the other hand, his walk-rate has also dropped, from 3.65 in 2010 to 2.56 this season.  If he's had a weakness, it has been the home run, which has plagued him more frequently this season.  In general, he hasn't pitched quite as well as Ian Kennedy on the whole this year, but he's been better at home (ERA of 3.00), so this should be a fairly even pitching matchup. 

When the Diamondbacks are on Offense: Despite what Kevin Towers says to the contrary, the Diamondbacks are still one of the more strikeout-prone teams in baseball, and Yovani Gallardo is a good strikeout pitcher, so I expect to see him strike some guys out.  His fastball is his best pitch, and is the one he throws most frequently.  It consistently sits in the low-90s, but he can get it to 95-96 when he needs it. 

Thus, the key for the Diamondbacks is to hit him before he settles into the game.  Gallardo's ERA in the first inning this season is 5.76, which is by far his worst total in any inning.  He occasionally takes an inning or two to discover his release point, which makes him vulnerable to walks in the first inning, something that the Diamondbacks need to exploit.  The problem, of course, is that the Diamondbacks don't exactly specialize in putting together good at-bats early in games.  Thus, the onus falls on Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill to be patient early in the game as Gallardo discovers his command and set up the middle of the order. 

This is a winnable matchup for the Diamondbacks.  Gallardo is no pushover, but he is right-handed, and the Diamondbacks as a team have hit righties better on the season.  He has also had nine starts this year with a WPA of less than -.2, so he has been known to implode at times.  But if he gets into a rhythm, it's imperative that the Diamondbacks continue to put good at-bats on him, as he has a tendency to need a lot of pitches to get his strikeouts.  Edge: Very slightly to the Diamondbacks.

When the Diamondbacks are on Defense: The Brewers hit right-handed pitchers better as well, though by a smaller margin than the D-Backs.  More importantly, they handle fastballs very well as a team, so the key for me is Kennedy's off-speed stuff.  Though everything Ian does comes from his fastball, he's at his best when he has all four of his pitches working (obviously).  He almost always has good location on his fastball, and can usually gut out a good start even if he can't locate one or two of his off-speed pitches, simply because he paints the corners with his fastball.  However, he usually isn't facing an offense as good as the Brewers' offense is at home. 

The concern with Kennedy is that he is a fly-ball pitcher facing a one of the most powerful lineups in baseball, so home runs might be an issue.  Kennedy has done a good job limiting his home runs this year, and has increased his GB% significantly, but it's still worth keeping in mind against the Brewers in Miller Park.  Edge: Even.

Intangibles: Hell, I don't know.  They wouldn't be "intangibles" if I could predict what they were going to be, now would they?  Umm...let me think...I guess the Brewers are at home, where they play much better.  Their home crowd is almost certain to be racous, so hopefully the Diamondbacks can stay composed.  Gallardo has made one start in the playoffs to none for Kennedy, so he might have a slight advantage there.  Overall, neither team has very much playoff experience, however.  Edge: Brewers.