The National League Playoffs begin on Saturday, and as I’m sure you’re all aware, the Milwaukee Brewers will be involved. We here at Reviewing the Brew are peeing our pants with excitement. Ok, not all of us are, probably just me.
It’s good to be excited, of course, as the team will continue to need a ton of support even in a record setting season like this one. But as the good journalist that I pretend to be, I had to take a good hard look at the Brewers’ prospects in the postseason and try to identify any/all of the things that would help make sure Milwaukee’s seasons ends with a World Series Championship. As always, my advice is given to the team gratis.
1. Don’t Play the Phillies
I don’t think it’s a secret that the best road to the World Series is the one that Philadelphia isn’t on. I’m not saying that Milwaukee couldn’t beat the Phils, we’ve already done it a handful of times this year. I’m simply saying that I – and most of Brew Crew Nation – would rather not deal with the stress. Philadelphia is built primarily to dominate postseason play as their playoff rotation has three Hall of Fame shoo-ins and run producers are found throughout the line-up. Again, we can beat Philadelphia. The problem with beating Philadelphia is that the bottom of our lineup needs to play out of their minds and the pitching needs to be perfect. Wouldn’t you rather that be someone else’s problem? That way we can be the Goliaths to whatever David toppled the Phillies in the first round.
How To Make It Happen: A good start would be beating Pittsburgh tonight, and having the Diamondbacks lose. If that happens, Milwaukee would clinch home-field advantage and have a chance to generate a lot more momentum into the first round of the postseason. Beyond that, I suggest voodoo magic to curse the Phillies into losing. Other ideas include – bribing, calling Philly players at all hours of the night to mess up their sleep schedules and cheering really hard for whoever is playing the Phillies. Unless it’s the Cardinals, of course. Then just pray the whole stadium slides into a Sarlacc pit and we can be done with the lot of them.
2. Pitch Greinke at Home, Marcum Away
Again, kind of a no-brainer here. Greinke is 10-0 in 14 starts at Miller Park, with 115 strikeouts and .237 average against. In layman’s term, he is a juggernaut on the hill in front of Milwaukee’s fans. The home town love will be a boost (hopefully) for his delicate sensibilities, especially since the Zack Attack has played exactly none playoff games. With that being said, we all know Greinke wants to win and he can will strikeouts against pretty much any hitter in the league. As good as Greinke is in Milwaukee, Marcum is away from it. Marcum has posted an 8-3 record in stadiums not named Miller Park, with a 2.21 ERA. That number is the best in the Majors among starting pitchers. He also boasts a .202 average against him. His ability to bury the ball in the bottom third of the strike zone takes away any park advantages of an opposing team and is a big part of his success as a pitcher. Plus he – and Greinke – have American League experience which will bode well should we reach the World Series. This is especially good in Marcum’s case, as there is a one in two chance that the World Series will feature a team from the AL East.
How to Make it Happen: If we get home field advantage, Gallardo is the number one, Greinke the two, and Marcum the three. Basically, just like it is now - so the Brewers better win tonight and the D-Backs better lose. Sensing a pattern here?
3. Shake Up the Field
In the playoffs, the sample size of games and statistics are very small, so you really have to rely on your instincts and try to
work the best match-ups possible. This means you have very little time to “sit on” a player’s performance if they have a bad game. I’m not talking about Braun or Fielder or the players who regularly achieve success against any number of opponents. Basically, I’m talking about Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt. Roenicke has done well with match-ups in terms of pinch hitters and lineups throughout this season, but has ignored the issue of an anemic left infield throughout the year. We have plenty of people who can fill these roles – Hairston, Green, and even Counsell are all viable options should the less-than dynamic duo of Yuni and McGehee continue to play poorly. Don’t forget that Counsell has post-season experience (and two rings) as well as Kotsay – who has turned from my least favorite player to least mentioned player – and putting them in a game or two would not be such a bad idea, at least in theory.
How to Make it Happen: Roenicke can’t afford to pull any punches or give too many chances to guys that are not playing their best ball. There’s nothing wrong with platooning players to make a favorable match-up work, but Ron needs to pull the trigger. He’s already doing that with Casey, but I think he still overvalues the defensive capabilities of Yuni in comparison to the other options at his disposal. The truth is, any of Yuni’s replacements could perform just as well in the field plus they might actually make contact on a regular basis. Just sayin’.
4. Push the Pen
Ron Roenicke and Rick Kranitz trust their starters, and with good reason. Most of the time, they seem totally comfortable to leave the starting guy in for a long night and let him work through his issues. The problem with that is the whole of the Brewers rotation is very susceptible to the ‘Big Inning’, and one inning can really turn around a series if the Brewer bats can’t catch up. We have a fantastic bullpen who has had very little work in the home stretch of the season, but they are going to need to stay sharp. In the playoffs, at least one of your starters is liable to play in two games of the series – if they go for seven innings, hitters can see them up nearly ten times in a week, and most professional ballplayers can learn a lot in those at-bats. Not to mention the fact that every other team is going to be watching their performance very closely, and the longer the pitcher stays in the less effective his deceptions will become. Our bullpen has proven that it’s up to the task of taking over the game into the final acts. Ron and Rick would be wise to place as much trust in the relief corps as they do in the starting rotation.
How to Make it Happen: Barring the event of a no-hitter or perfect game, pitch counts should be strict and unwavering. I know RR isn’t a big fan of situational relief and we lack a lefty in the pen, but sometimes the numbers game needs to be played and a few swap-outs should be made. Also, I know it’s tough, but K-Rod should get a handful of closing opportunities in the postseason. Simply put, he walks less batters and he’s been in this position before. Axford hasn’t. I know the Ax is up to the job, but I can’t help thinking that this is the real reason Frankie is in Milwaukee.
So it was a little silly and pretty obvious, but to me this is what will answer the question “How does Milwaukee win a championship?” The truth is, it should be simple. If we had a complicated, difficult – to – understand team we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. We’re getting close to the end of the road, now all we have to do is tighten the screws a little bit, get a few more of those lucky breaks, and keep playing well and we should be able to walk through these playoffs with a World Series Championship on the other side.
Keep your eyes on the prize, Brewer fans.
Tags: 2011 Playoffs Arizona Diamondbacks Brewers Bullpen Casey McGehee Craig Counsell Francisco Rodriguez Jerry Hairston Jr Mark Kotsay Philadelphia Phillies Prince Fielder Rick Kranitz Ron Roenicke Ryan Braun Shaun Marcum St. Louis Cardinals Taylor Green Yovani Gallardo Yuniesky Betancourt Zack Greinke