The late-September scramble of National League teams has finally ended, with the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers beating out the New York Mets for the final two playoff spots.
The Phillies finished off September scorching hot, winning 13 of their final 16 games to once again overcome the Mets and take the NL East, including a four game sweep of the Brewers in Citizens Bank Park.
Part of the late season surge was due to their offense, which pounded out 5.38 runs per game down the stretch. The Phils also held their opponents to three runs or fewer 12 different times.
The Brew Crew, however, needed every single part of the 162-game schedule to lock-up a spot in October.
Powered by the efforts of second-year star Ryan Braun and rental-ace CC Sabathia, the Brewers recovered from a dreadful start to September, in which they went 3-12 in their first 15 games of the month, eventually finishing off the season winning six of their final seven games.
Both of these teams rely on streaky offenses and some form of suspect pitching.
The Phils will likely throw out Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Jamie Moyer for their playoff rotation.
Hamels is clearly the ace of the staff, leading the rotation in innings pitched (227.1), strikeouts (196), ERA (3.09), and BAA (.227). The Phils second option, Brett Myers, was arguably the hottest pitcher in baseball after he was recalled from a stint with Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley.
In a stretch from July 29-September 19, Myers lost just one start, winning seven times in 11 starts. He had an ERA of 1.95 during that stretch of July and August. He also posted a BAA of .210.
Veteran Jamie Moyer continued to defy odds, winning 16 games for the Phillies, which led the staff. He also posted a 3.71 ERA, and was particularly effective against young lineups, such as Arizona, Florida, Washington, and San Diego. Moyer also threw 196.1 innings this season.
The Brewers will undoubtedly choose a rotation consisting of Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia, and Yovani Gallardo.
Sheets has had some slight health issues lately, and from what the Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel has reported, will likely be left off the NLDS roster due to right elbow discomfort.
Without Sheets, the Brewers will likely choose Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, or possibly Manny Parra to fill out the final spot in their rotation.
Sabathia has been electric since his trade to the Brewers, posting an 11-2 record, pitching 130.2 innings in 17 starts, including seven complete games and three shutouts, while posting a 1.65 ERA and holding hitters to a .222 average.
That being said, Sabathia struggled mightily in the postseason last year with the Cleveland Indians. In three starts, he never pitched more than six innings, and allowed at least three runs each start. Sabathia struggled with his control as evidenced by 13 walks in 15.1 innings, all while posting an 8.80 ERA.
Gallardo was supposed to be the Brewers' number-two starter behind Sheets this season, until he tore a ligament in his knee. In the four starts this year, he has posted a 1.88 ERA in 24 IP, surrendering just five runs, three HR, while walking eight and striking out 20.
The Brewers will most likely go with Dave Bush in the final spot, since he is superior to Jeff Suppan in every statistical category, and due to the inconsistencies of young Manny Parra.
Bullpen-wise, the Phils have a clear edge.
They have a clear, legitimate closer in Brad Lidge, and have received great contributions from J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, and Chad Durbin, all of whom are utilized to bridge the gap to Lidge.
The Brew Crew lack that kind of a reliable back of the bullpen, with Solomon Torres not even close to Lidge in production this season, and they have Eric Gagne. Todd Coffey has been a nice producer lately, and Brian Shouse has also been a good contributor.
The Brewers do have a lot of young arms that have been called up this year, in Parra, Mark DiFelice, Mitch Stetter, and Tim Dillard who all could play key parts coming out of the bullpen in October, along with Suppan.
Offensively, the Phils have the edge based on their speed.
Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino should be wrecking havoc on the basepaths this series, as October baseball seems to always thrive on small-ball tactics.
The Brewers' most prolific base stealer is Corey Hart, whose total sits at a respectable 23. Jimmy Rollins alone has double that number, swiping 47 on the season.
Shane Victorino has 36, just shy of the combined total of Hart and Mike Cameron's 40.
Most importantly, the Phillies lineup is more potent.
Both teams have two guys that can hit the ball out and hit it out frequently, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the Phils, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun for the Brewers.
The difference lies in the rest of the lineup.
Mike Cameron, the Brewers' lead-off man, is posting roughly the same numbers as Ryan Howard in AVG and OBP. Ray Durham, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and JJ Hardy have all been good, as well as Corey Hart.
The biggest problem with the Brewers is that they do not walk nearly enough; this is a sign of impatience.
Corey Hart is hitting a decent .268, but has a .300 OBP, so 3.2% of the time, Hart will reach base without a hit.
This trend is present throughout the lineup, which is a telling sign as to how youthful the Brewers still are. They've struck out 1203 times this year, or an utterly-awful 7.43 times per game.
In comparison, the Phillies have struck out 1117 times, roughly 6.9 times per game.
The loss of Ben Sheets is huge, as is the Brewers' lack of a base stealing threat, and their weak bullpen. Their youthful lineup of impatience plays right into the hands of Cole Hamels and his changeup, and Jamie Moyer and his 82 MPH fastball.
Ultimately, CC Sabathia keeps it from being a sweep, and Brett Myers' recent struggles continue in Game Two, giving the Brewers their only win.
Phillies take the series in four.