- Keys for the Brewers:
The Brewers managed to steer their way out of their skid in time to overtake the equally skidding New York Mets to win the Wild Card based primarily on the courage of C.C. Sabathia, whose Orel Hershiser (circa 1988) domination picked up his fading teammates and carried them into the playoffs for the first time since 1982. If the Brewers are to win, they’re going to need Sabathia to repeat the performance in games two and five and hope that Jeff Suppan finds his form that made him the NLCS MVP in 2006 for the Cardinals or that Dave Bush and/or Yovani Gallardo keeps the game close enough for the Brewers offense to score some runs.
The Brewers bullpen performed capably enough as they won six of their last seven games to win the Wild Card, but to think that the likes of Guillermo Mota, Salomon Torres, Eric Gagne and the other walking tinderboxes out there are going to be able to handle the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins is pure folly. The best chance for the Brewers is to score early, score often and not stop scoring until they have a lead they deem safe to entrust to that bullpen in the games that Sabathia isn’t pitching.
Ryan Braun has shown himself to be a clutch, power hitting leader and Prince Fielder is rapidly becoming a pure mistake hitter who won’t do anything with any pitcher who smartly keeps the ball away from him. Fielder can’t be failing early in the games when there’s not a lefty specialist on the mound brought in specifically to face him. Their best bet to win the series is to not let it come down to a battle of the bullpens and the only way they can do that is to score a lot.
- Keys for the Phillies:
Cole Hamels has thrown a lot of innings this year, but the adrenaline of the playoffs will carry him through. Manager Charlie Manuel had an absurdly quick hook in last year’s playoffs, but that may have been more of a function of the pitchers he was throwing out there than a conscious decision to overmanage. The Phillies are in a far better state this season with Brett Myers back in the starting rotation and veteran Jamie Moyer ready to go. One thing I think the Phillies have made a mistake with is starting Myers in game two over Moyer, but that may be so that Myers will be available in game five if necessary. I’d still probably prefer having Moyer going in the second game.
The Phillies bullpen has been sublime this season led by Cy Young/MVP contender Brad Lidge. Lidge gave up that big homer in the NLCS to Albert Pujols in 2005 and it set him back several years until he regained his form this year; that would be a concern in the back of my mind if I were the Phillies and I would want to get him into a game as early in the series as possible in a situation where he’s likely to have success to get those thoughts out of his head. Because the Phillies were able to clinch the division on Saturday, the entire overworked bullpen was able to get sufficient rest to be ready to go and be worked hard in the playoffs.
The Phillies bats failed in last year’s playoffs, but that may have been due to exhaustion (mental and physical) from their desperate monthlong comeback to catch and pass the Mets and that they ran into a blazing hot Rockies team. There wasn’t such ambiguity for the Phillies this year regarding a playoff spot and their hitters bashed the Brewers entire pitching staff all over the place a month ago. While everyone pays attention to the usual suspects—-Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell—-the key may be the underrated Jayson Werth; whenever there was a big Phillies rally, standing right in the middle of it was Werth with a clutch homer; a great play in the outfield or a stolen base. He’s the guy who’s been fueling the Phillies relatively inconspicuously because he’s overshadowed in that lineup.
- What will happen:
The Brewers seemed more relieved than anything to make the playoffs and aren’t going to have Sabathia pitching until game two. Gallardo is a fine pitcher, and he pitched well enough in his start last week after returning from knee surgery, but the Brewers can’t expect him to go very deeply into the game and if they have to resort to the likes of Manny Parra and whoever else they have in that bullpen, they’re going to be in deep trouble right off the bat.
Hamels is proving himself to be a big game pitcher and the Phillies lineup isn’t going to mess around this year and are going to attack and attack early to get the Brewers back on their heels and thinking about that four-game demolition derby last month that sent the Brewers into their tailspin and cost former manager Ned Yost his job. The Phillies missed Sabathia’s turn in that series, but there are few pitchers that can hold the Phillies lineup down; so no matter how hot Sabathia is, this isn’t the Pirates he’s facing, it’s the Phillies and beating them twice in a short series is a tough, tough order. Sabathia pitched poorly in the playoffs for the Indians last season because he was too amped up and throwing too hard to control his fastball an
d breaking stuff; that won’t happen this year because he’s basically been pitching in what amounted to playoff games for the last month. He’s going to pitch well, but is that going to be enough?
Myers has gotten pounded in his last two starts after two brilliant months returning from the minors; he’s gutty and ferocious, but he may be tired after being a reliever last season and jumping back into the starting rotation this season. I think it’s a mistake to start him in game two instead of Moyer, but the game’s going to come down to whether the Phillies can score against Sabathia one way or the other. One would assume that Suppan is going to pitch game three for the Brewers back in Milwaukee against Moyer. As good as Suppan is in playoff games, his stuff is barely above batting practice and the Phillies are going to tee off on him.
Without Ben Sheets, the Brewers are counting on Sabathia’s continued dominance and hope that they can steal one of the other games. The Phillies learned a lot from their sweep at the hands of the Rockies last season and aren’t going to let that happen again against an inferior team riding one great pitcher. The Brewers showed great guts in coming out of their collapse in time to make the playoffs, but this is where the ride ends with a sudden crash.
Prediction: PHILLIES IN THREE.