Playoff preview: D-backs vs. Brewers

BY Ken Rosenthal • September 30, 2011

The Diamondbacks look somewhat like this year’s version of the Reds, a club that returned to the postseason last October after a long absence. The Reds were a young, talented outfit but one that lacked experience. The Phillies eliminated them in three games.

This series won’t be over nearly that quickly.

The Diamondbacks and Brewers are quite comparable, more evenly matched than the average fan might believe.

When you think of the Brewers, you think of their two great sluggers, first baseman Prince Fielder and left fielder Ryan Braun. Yet, the Diamondbacks actually scored more runs than the Brew Crew this season, both teams finishing in the top five in the National League.

Are the D-backs a hidden offensive giant? Not quite, according to scouts who followed them down the stretch. Contain right fielder Justin Upton and catcher Miguel Montero, the scouts say, and the D-backs become less formidable.

The Brewers are somewhat deeper offensively, but not much. They pitch better than in the past after trading for starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum last offseason and reliever Francisco Rodriguez in July. But the Diamondbacks won the NL West by dramatically improving their pitching, too.

Just look at the rotations in this series.

While the Brewers will start right-handers Yovani Gallardo, Marcum and Greinke in the first three games and lefty Randy Wolf in Game 4, the Diamondbacks will counter with a formidable group of their own.

Right-hander Ian Kennedy, a 21-game winner with a 2.88 ERA, shut out the Brewers for seven innings on July 21. Righty Daniel Hudson, Arizona's Game 2 starter, struggled in his only appearance against the Brewers but had a 2.85 ERA in his last 11 starts.

The matchups in Games 3 and 4 don’t necessarily favor the Brewers, either. D-backs lefty Joe Saunders had a lower ERA than Greinke this season, righty Josh Collmenter a lower ERA than Wolf. Greinke pitched well in his only start at Chase Field but had a 4.70 ERA on the road.

The Brewers’ bullpen appears slightly better than the D-backs’, but even there the difference between the clubs is not terribly pronounced. The D-backs possess more speed. The Brewers’ infield defense and lower third of their batting order are concerns. But, again, we’re not talking about major separators.

So, what will decide this? I generally don’t get carried away with the value of experience, and D-backs manager Kirk Gibson and his veteran coaching staff prepare their club exceedingly well. The D-backs won a lot of big games this season, often showing a flair for the dramatic. They’re not going to cower.

Still, there’s just something about the Brewers.

Gallardo, Fielder, Braun, second baseman Rickie Weeks and right fielder Corey Hart all were part of the team that won the NL wild card in 2008. Wolf, K-Rod, infielder Craig Counsell, outfielder Mark Kotsay and reliever LaTroy Hawkins are among the other Brewers with postseason experience.

There is a sense of urgency about this club, knowing that Fielder is about to become a free agent. Braun has shown time and again he relishes the spotlight. The D-backs roared down the stretch, winning 25 of their final 34 games. But the Brewers held them off for home-field advantage, winning 11 of their final 15.

It’s the Crew’s time, at least for the moment.

Prediction: Brewers in five.

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