It was not so very long ago that we Diamondback fans thought of the Milwaukee Brewers as just another National League foe. As a general rule, we regarded them not as hated rivals nor as valued allies, but merely as a pretty good small-market team from the Midwest, not worthy of our consideration outside of the seven or so games per season we played against them. For all I know, some of you have some connection to the Brewers and used to cheer for them whenever they weren't playing the D-Backs.
But that's all in the past now. Ever since Brewers' star Prince Fielder failed to show proper respect to The Justin Upton by spurning him for the Home Run Derby, it has sparked a bitter, hated rivelry that will be renewed on Monday. Already, there have been boos, "We want Upton" chants, and even outright aggression from the same loyal fans who have supported and encouraged Justin Upton by calling him lazy and a punk whenever he stops hitting. And it's all warranted.
After all, how dare Fielder not allow Upton to screw up his swing by participating in a meaningless exhibition? The nerve of Fielder to support his own teammate who also happened to have more home runs than Upton. Congratulations Milwaukee: you have ignited the passion of a dormant baseball town by generating baseball's newest rivalry. This. Means. War.
All that's left now is to tell Brewer fans about the rivalry.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Arizona (51-44) Milwaukee (51-45) Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 96 104 Milwaukee
Pitching (FIP): 4.0 3.69 Milwaukee
Fielding (UZR): 20.2 1.0 Arizona
Seeing as we played the Brewers less than two weeks ago, not too much has changed since our last encounter. The offense has continued to hit fine, as the team has scored 36 runs in the eight games since our last series. The pitching has struggled during that stretch however, as they've given up 7 or more runs four times during that period.
The Brewers have also taken steps to upgrade an occasionally shaky bullpen by acquiring Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets. Clearly, the Brewers see this season as one final shot to win a championship before Fielder departs via free agency. And the scary thing is that they might actually be right.
Prince Fielder has received a lot of viterol around these parts lately, but the only reason that he was even in a position to snub Upton is that he's really good at baseball and has a nasty habit of hitting the ball a long way. He is having arguably the best season of his career in 2011, as his OPS+ of 172 would be a career high. He is known for his home runs, but he has also produced an On-Base Percentage of over .400 in his previous two seasons and is on pace to do it again in 2011. "BOOOOOOOOO!"
Remember during the last series how pundits were talking about how different the Brewers' offense looked without Ryan Braun in the lineup? He left the game on Saturday against the Rockies with an injury, but had a pinch-hit appearance on Sunday. He's currently listed as day-to-day, and it will be interesting to see if he makes an appearance in this series. Given his season line of .316/.396/.551, I'd really prefer if he took a few more days to rehab his injury.
Rickie Weeks is having a nice season as well, as he has a OBP of .347 from the leadoff spot to go with 18 home runs. Nyjer Morgan has been platooning with Carlos Gomez in center field all season, but he's OPSing almost 200 points higher than his counterpart, and the fact that he's started 11 of the past 13 games suggests that the team is giving him more of a chance. Corey Hart completes this terrifying stretch of batters with a nice little OPS+ of 124.
Luckily, the bottom half of the order is somewhat less intimidating. Yuniesky Betancourt gets all the hype as the worst player in baseball, and his truly magical -2.1 fWAR over the past three seasons would suggest that he deserves it. However, he faces stiff competition from his own teammate, as Casey McGehee has a worse Batting Average, Slugging Percentage and OPS. The two are also tied for the team "lead" in negative fWAR this season, with -0.7.
Monday: Josh Collmenter (4-5, 2.92) vs. Randy Wolf (6-6, 3.65)
Insightful Commentary: The good news: last time he faced the Brewers, Collmenter pitched six scoreless innings. The bad news: this makes this the second time he'll face the Brewers. So far this year, Collmenter has allowed 10 runs in 9.1 innings during the second game he starts against a team. Small sample size? Sure, but given how much he relies on deception, it's a stat that bears keeping an eye on.
When we last left Randy Wolf, he was doing a good job of outperforming his FIP on the season. But after the D-Backs tagged him for 7 runs, but his FIP and his ERA rose significantly. Wolf is a known quantity, a crafty lefty who sometimes gets hit hard but almost always manages to have a professional outing. I don't expect anything about that assessment to change on Monday.
Tuesday: Barry Enright (1-3, 6.49) vs. Yovani Gallardo (10-6, 4.08)
Insightful Commentary: Well, this should be interesting. Enright has the highest ERA of any Diamondback starter this season, including Armando Galarraga, thanks largely to a BABIP that regressed in a hurry from last season. Enright's supporters will point out that his peripherals have improved significantly in Triple-A, and putting up an ERA of 4.29 in Reno is roughly equivalent to producing an ERA of negative 2 anywhere else. Barry comes across as a smart, likable guy with a good work ethic, so if anyone can make necessary adjustments to succeed in the majors, it's him. However, I'm still not convinced that he's turned a corner.
Yovani Gallardo had a rough start last time out, giving up 6 runs in just 4 innings against the Rockies. While a K/9 of 7.86 is not usually cause for concern, it's a noticeable drop from his past two seasons, where he averaged over a strikeout per inning. But his BABIP is .313, and I expect that to regress as the season goes on. With apologies to Zach Grienke, Gallardo is the Brewers pitcher I'm most concerned about in this series.
Wednesday: Joe Saunders (6-8, 3.89) vs. Chris Narveson (6-6, 4.74)
Insightful Commentary: Just looking at the ERAs would suggest that Saunders is a clearly better pitcher than Narveson, but there's a little more at play here. Narveson's FIP is 3.50, more than a run below his ERA. His BABIP is .314, though his career-high LD% likely has a lot to do with that. But his LOB% is 68%, well below league-average, so there's a good chance that ERA will drop soon. Joe Saunders, on the other hand, has exactly the opposite problem, as his FIP is a run higher than his ERA. So in that sense, Narveson has pitched better than Saunders on the season. Statistics are fun!
Thursday: Ian Kennedy (10-3, 3.39) Zack Greinke (7-3, 5.04)
Insightful Commentary: Greinke has caused quite a "brew"-haha (sorry) among Crew fans this year. When they got Greinke from the Royals, they thought they were getting a young ace, but Greinke has less than ace-like so far. To be fair, his FIP is 2.87 and his xFIP is 2.13, both of which compare favorably to his career average. However, his LD% has jumped, he is generating fewer ground balls, and giving up more home runs than he has since 2006. He will likely regress somewhat, as a BABIP of .343 is unsustainable for someone with Greinke's talent, but the batted ball numbers are worrisome.
IPK had a strong outing against the Dodgers his last time out, giving up two runs in seven innings. Though the 3 walks were tied for a season-high, the 7 strikeouts more or less made up for them, in my humble opinion.
Final Verdict: The Brewers are a bit of an enigma. They're leading their division, and they have plenty of star power, with guys like Fielder, Braun, Greinke and now K-Rod. However, they're a half game worse than the D-Backs, and their Pythagorean W/L is a thoroughly mediocre 46-49. They've also been awful on the road, with a record of 18-31 away from Miller Park. There's reason to believe that the Diamondbacks can win this series, but I'll err on the side of caution and say the Brewers and Diamondbacks each win two games.
As always, head over to Brew Crew Ball see what Brewer fans are saying about the series.