Despite waiting until they were down to the final four outs of their 2008 season, the Milwaukee Brewers ended their 26-year playoff drought and will take part in their first ever National League Division Series.
The NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies await the surging Brewers. The Phils look to avenge a poor showing in last year’s playoffs, as the Colorado Rockies swept Philadelphia away in last year’s NLDS.
Will the Phillies advance to their first NL Championship Series since their World Series season of 1993? Will the Brewers reincarnate the run Harvey’s Wallbangers made in 1982?
Let’s take a look at how the two teams match up.
The Brewers are led by left fielder Ryan Braun, whose eighth-inning two-run blast all but sent the Brew Crew into the playoffs. His .285 batting average, 37 home runs and 106 RBI all led Milwaukee during the regular season.
Philadelphia counters with Pat Burrell, whose numbers are comparable to Braun’s – 33 homers, 86 RBI.
Both teams have speedsters capable of making a difference at the plate in center field, but the play of the teams’ right fielders will be the difference.
Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth beat Milwaukee’s Corey Hart in batting average and home runs. Hart won the RBI battle, but his play in the last week of the season made Brewers fans want to wear their sunglasses at night – or even during the day – to shield their eyes.
Edge goes to the Phils.
Both infields are laced with talent.
Milwaukee sends All-Star talents like Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy to the field every day. Philadelphia has one of the most talented infields in all of baseball, stacked with Most Valuable Player candidates Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
When under the proverbial microscope, Howard and Fielder’s power numbers cancel each other out. Once you take a look past the first basemen, the advantage becomes clear.
Rollins, Utley and Pedro Feliz have numbers that easily eclipse those of Milwaukee’s Hardy, Ray Durham and Craig Counsell. Rollins and Utley play defense just about as good as you could ask for.
Decided advantage for Philadelphia.
Neither of these teams are going to dazzle with a deep, star-studded rotation. The bullpens of both units aren’t full of Mariano Rivera-type of players either. But that doesn’t mean they are short on talent.
When it comes to the starting rotation, the Brewers have the ace in the hole in CC Sabathia. During crunch time, there may not be a safer bet to pick up the W than Sabathia. Unfortunately for Brewers fans, he can’t pitch every inning of the NLDS.
Milwaukee’s bullpen has been relatively shaky all season long. You need a lot of things to succeed in the MLB playoffs, but a shaky bullpen isn’t one of them.
Bullpen solidarity isn’t something the Phillies have had all season, but their relievers have been more reliable than Milwaukee’s. The arms leading to the closer are better in Philly than what the Brewers have to offer and closer Brad Lidge is much better than anyone Milwaukee can send out in the ninth.
With a sturdier bullpen and Lidge, the MLB Comeback Player of the Year, closing, Philadelphia walks away with another advantage.
There are three things I look at for a favorite in any postseason series and momentum is one of them. Without doubt, the Brewers have truckloads of momentum after their emotional victory over the hated Chicago Cubs Sunday afternoon.
Philadelphia has come off the high of winning the division, playing their final games of the regular season with nothing to gain.
There isn’t much of an argument here. Brewers fans are riding a wave of emotion and so is the team. Advantage: Brew Crew.
I mentioned three things I look at when making a prediction in a postseason series. One is momentum. The other two are experience and a strong bullpen.
Even though Philly’s roster isn’t loaded with playoff experience, they surely have more than Milwaukee’s players do. After all, the Phillies were in last year’s postseason, albeit for a short time.
Milwaukee’s Achilles heel in this series will be its bullpen. Unless the starters eat up loads of innings and perform to Sabathia-like standards, this series is Philadelphia’s to lose.
If the proverbial stars align, though, the Brewers could be the 2008 version of the 2007 Colorado Rockies.
Prediction – Phillies in four.