TV Guide: What To Look for in Brewers-Phillies NLDS

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IOctober 1, 2008

When the confetti dropped at Miller Park a little less than an hour after the Brewers beat the Cubs 3-1, many of the of 45,000 fans that had attended the game stayed, wanting to be part of the potential celebration if the Mets lost. 

Those fans hadn’t left their seats after the Crew put the finishing touches on a 90-win season, choosing instead to stay in the park to watch the end of the Mets-Marlins on the big screen. At 4:04 PM local time, the Brewers, with some help from the Marlins, ended a 26-year playoff drought with champagne and the thousands of cheering fans, who would no doubt be back to root for their team later that week.

People in Milwaukee knew this October would be different. This Brewers team had the confidence and talent to make a run in the playoffs and once a certain 6'7" lefty came aboard, the positive energy was tangible in Mill-town.

Not since Harvey’s Wallbangers in 1982 have Brew Crew fans had playoff baseball to watch. Neither of the Game One starters, Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hammels, was even born when the Brewers last won the pennant.

Just getting into the postseason was story enough for general manager Doug Melvin, who traded the Brewer’s top prospect, Matt LaPorta, to grab CC Sabathia. You justify fan support when you show your dedication to winning and getting to the postseason.

That is certainly not lost on Bernie Brewer and company in Milwaukee; they know how special this is and how exciting the last couples weeks were. But now that they’re in, there are plenty of reasons to remain excited.

Here are a few things Brewers fans ought to look for they watch the Brewer’s historic run through the playoffs.

Uncharted Territory

The Brewers' scouting department has some of the finest talent-evaluators in baseball. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, and Ben Sheets are all homegrown All Stars.

For a small-market team, that is the only way to have success. However, the team hasn’t had much success, at least in getting to the playoffs. Unfortunately, as talented as this team is, much of this lineup remains untested.

Dale Sveum’s first order of business as interim manager was putting veteran Mike Cameron at the top of the order. He’s one of just two players in the starting lineup for Game One that has been to the playoffs. Catcher Jason Kendall is the other, and he’s only been the last two years.

This last week or so, when the Brewers essentially had to win every game, it has been big hits from their key guys like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, which might indicate the pressure has focused these players into do-or-die mode.

The hitting in Philly’s four game sweep of the Brewers earlier this month was atrocious and these young players will have to be focused without pressing. If the Milwaukee players can’t stay loose, they will not score enough runs to beat this balanced Phillies team. However, this is a tight group of players with great chemistry and they never seem to worry. Even if they go down 0-2, this team knows they are good enough to get hot and win the series.

Big Bats in Big Spots

Lou Piniella laid out the playoff formula in a press conference yesterday, explaining that you win in October with good starting pitching, clutch hitting, and good defense. His Chicago Cubs have all three of those things and that is why they are the favorites.

90 miles north, the Brewers have the third-best starter ERA in the National league and will throw the hottest pitcher in baseball at least once, maybe twice in this series. By comparison, the Phils' starter ERA is seventh in the NL and don’t have a tested stopper.

Defensively, the Crew has been improved and even somewhat underrated, ranking eighth in the National League in fielding percentage.

That just leaves clutch hitting. Ryan Braun is just a .273 hitter with runners in position, while Prince Fielder hits just .261, not to mentioned only .169 with RISP and two outs.  As a team, the Brewers are batting just .261 with runners in scoring position, which is fourth worst in the National League. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they are second worst, batting just .259. That is three out of four scoring opportunities missed.

If the Brewers play fundamental baseball and do things like advance runners, bunt, and hit sacrifice flies, they can be a tough offense to beat. When they are pressing and trying to hit home runs, they strike out, something the Brewers do more than any team in the N.L.

That also means they can’t fall behind early. Braun and that offense know that if they get a couple runs, guys like CC and Gallardo can hold it. Scoring early will build confidence in the hitters and give the pitching staff a lift.

Milwaukee knows they won’t win if they don’t take advantage of every scoring opportunity; the Phillies just score too many runs not to capitalize on those kind of chances.  

Home-Run Derby

Oddly enough, despite the Brewers and Phillies' propensity to squander scoring opportunities, they are two of the top-scoring teams in the league. The Phillies score the third-most runs, despite their inability to drive men in from second and third.

That is because they hit more home runs than anyone in the N.L. The Brewers are the third-best home-run hitting team in the league, and both teams clearly rely heavily on the home-run ball to win games.

Ryan Howard ran away with the home-run crown this year, jacking 48 out of the park. Both Philly and Milwaukee are home-run hitting parks, and there should be plenty in this series. The key for the Brewers will be to limit the homers they give up and try to minimize their own reliance on the long ball.

Milwaukee can’t simply try and match guys like Howard, Burrell, Utley, and Rollins, big swing for big swing. Milwaukee has five players in the starting lineup with 20 home runs (and Bill Hall hit 35 two seasons ago) or more and can certainly hang with the boppers for Philadelphia, but they have to manufacture some runs against this tough pitching staff.

If Brewers pitches can keep the ball in the park, the Phillies have shown a propensity to get frustrated and will strike out a ton when they’re not hitting bombs.

Under Pressure

Finally, the most important thing for the Brewers, and this has been a theme throughout the aforementioned areas of interest: the Brewers have to play relaxed.

The pressure sits squarely on the shoulders of Philadelphia, who were embarrassed last year by their untimely playoff exit against the Rockies. Phillies fans and players remember that and certainly do not want to see it again.

The Brewers essentially can play with house money. With each inning that they lead, or each game they win, the Brewers add pressure to the Phillies and make them remember last season.

It was clear late in September the thoughts of last season’s collapse crept into the mind of the Mets and only added to their decline. If the Brewers can put that same seed of doubt into the Philadelphia players, it could be a huge advantage for Milwaukee.

Most “experts” are picking Philly 3-1 in this series, but it seems considerably less one-sided to Brewers fans and players. The Brewers are the underdogs, and underdogs spring upsets by playing well early, getting a few lucky calls or bounces, and then keeping the pressure on from there.

If Milwaukee wins Game One, this series could go horribly wrong again for Philadelphia in an NLDS against a wild card.


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