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NLDS Game 5 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers

C'mon, you didn't really think the 2011 Diamondbacks would leave the playoffs without making some sort of comeback, did you?  Not that I was expecting this, but coming back from an 0-2 series hole does fit in with the narrative that the Diamondbacks have written for themselves.  Now, of course, the only question is whether they can finish off their dramatic comeback in Milwaukee.  Given how this series started off, though, you can't really argue with a winner-take-all game with Ian Kennedy on the mound to end it.

Starting Lineups for Game 5:

Arizona Diamondbacks

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


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

I'm writing this before the lineups will be finalized, but these are the lineups we've seen the most of during this series, and they're almost exactly the lineups that the two teams used for Game 1, when these two pitchers were last on the mound.  Unless of course Gibson starts Lyle Overbay again, but I'm sure he's learned from that mistake....

Pitching Matchups for Game 5:

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

Insightful Commentary: Ian Kennedy had a rough game in Game 1, at least by the lofty standards he has set for himself this season.  Going 6.2 innings while allowing four runs isn't a great start for any pitcher, but it's important to consider that two of those runs came on a Prince Fielder home run on Kennedy's last pitch of the game after he should have been pulled, and one of the others came on a bloop single by catcher Jonathan Lucroy, so it's not like he got knocked around.  He seemed to be struggling to control his offspeed offerings, and he didn't trust them for much of the game.  He was still able to make things work, but he was very clearly not at his best.

Yovani Gallardo, however, looked better than I had ever seen him look on Saturday.  After a rocky first inning, he dominated the Diamondbacks, collecting nine strikeouts over eight innings, with the only run coming from a Roberts home run.  His secret was his command, which was pinpoint accurate for most of the game, as his already dangerous repotoire of pitches found the black seemingly all day.  With all of that said, I'm not sure I agree with the Brewers starting Gallardo over Greinke, who is also on regular rest.  Greinke's been the better pitcher this year (by FIP, at least), and in an elimination game, it seems like he would be the best option.  I understand trying to set up your rotation for the next series, but that next series isn't going to happen if the Brewers lose this game.

*All numbers through the end of the regular season.

When the Diamondbacks are on Offense: I'm going to assume a worst-case scenario in which Gallardo does exactly what he did in Game 1 again on Friday, throwing his absolute best stuff.  In that case, the Diamondbacks have a couple of options, other than tipping their caps and saying, "nice series."  The most-important thing is for the offense to convert the few opportunities that it gets.  This means playing small-ball, the kind that sabermetrically-inclined individuals such as myself would normally scoff at.  While bunting players over reduces the expected run total in a given inning, it does increase the odds of getting at least one run out of an inning with runners on, which is important in a low-scoring ballgame.  It's something to consider, in the right scenario. 

Last time, I mentioned that Gallardo struggles in the first inning, so it's important to hit him before he gets into the flow of the game.  Obviously, Game 1 bore that theory out perfectly, as the Diamondbacks squandered their best opportunity to take control of the game early by letting Willie Bloomquist run into an out at home.  So, yeah, no more of that.  An early score also has the added advantage of taking the crowd out of the game, which would be a helpful thing to do at racuous Miller Park.

Overall, I showed a bit of hubris in picking the Diamondbacks' offense over a stud like Gallardo last time out, and he made me pay for that.  Gallardo doesn't always pitch anywhere near that well, but in a must-win game at home, I'm not going to doubt him again.  Advantage: Brewers.

When the Diamondbacks are on Defense: Anything can happen in a single game of baseball, but I would be genuinely shocked if Kennedy gets shelled in this game.  We've talked about it before, but Kennedy was the safest bet in baseball this season to keep his team in the game, with only three starts all year that featured a WPA of less than -.2.  He didn't have great peripherals in his last outing, only collecting three strikeouts, but I expect that to improve this time around. 

Of course, it all depends on his off-speed pitches.  When he doesn't trust his slider or curveball, he tends to avoid throwing except to show them to the hitters.  He needs them to rack up the strikeout totals that we've grown accustomed to seeing from Ian.  And the Brewers, with all of their powerful hitters, are not the sort of team that you want to see put a ton of balls in play.  One thing to keep in mind: Kennedy allowed 13 fly-balls in Game 1, which is scary against such a powerful offense.

But with all that said, I don't expect Kennedy to labor as much as he did in the first game, and I expect him to have better results.  He's almost a lock to keep the game close for the duration of his start, and if he falters for whatever reason, Daniel Hudson is right behind him in the bullpen.  Advantage: slightly to the Diamondbacks.

Intangibles: Some might say that the Diamondbacks have the momentum after winning their last two games.  Unfortunately, Baseball doesn't really care about momentum.  What baseball cares about is pitching, and it looks like a pretty even matchup.  It should be a low-scoring game, with the margin of error coming down to a mistake or two.  I didn't believe the Brewers could actually be that much better at home than on the road...until I saw them play on the road.  But they're back home now, and they will have the crowd behind them.  Advantage: Brewers.

And don't forget: this.