Brewers vs. Diamondbacks: 10 Players Who Must Step Up for Milwaukee

Mike NelsonCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2011

Brewers vs. Diamondbacks: 10 Players Who Must Step Up for Milwaukee

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    Players for the Milwaukee Brewers can’t sit back now. It’s only just begun.

    Milwaukee’s World Series chase begins Saturday with the first game of its series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    The Milwaukee Brewers have put themselves in the position they wanted to—they have home-field advantage for at least the National League Divisional Series.

    One slip-up in Game 1 or Game 2 and the Brewers’ home-field advantage is gone. Wiped clean. Just like that.

    In order for the Brewers to maintain their home-field advantage and advance to the next round, they will need these 10 players to step up and make it happen:

10. Casey McGehee, 3B

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    The third baseman was expected to be a strong bat in the middle of Milwaukee’s lineup in 2011 but struggled throughout the year. To say it was a disappointing year for McGehee is an understatement, after a 2010 season in which he hit 23 home runs, 104 RBI and a .285 batting average.

    In 2011, he hit .223, 13 home runs and 67 RBI. In August, McGehee found his 2010 form with six home runs, 20 RBI and a .260 batting average.

    McGehee will need to be in his August form for the Brew Crew to knock out the Arizona Diamondbacks. Milwaukee’s top two guns, outfielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder, struggled in their first postseason appearance in 2008. Who knows how they will handle No. 2 in 2011.

    McGehee needs to be ready.

9. Shaun Marcum

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    Game 3 will feature Marcum. If the Brewers are lucky, it’ll be Marcum who’ll have the opportunity to send them to the National League Championship Series.

    In his five September starts, Marcum went 2-2 with a 5.17 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 31 innings. It didn’t quite line up with his season line (13-7, 158 strikeouts, 3.54 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP).

    But Marcum will be counted on for a good start in Game 3. In the postseason, more so than anything else, a team needs its starters to put the team in a good position to win. If not, it puts too much pressure on an offense.

8. Francisco Rodriguez, RP

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    It doesn’t matter if a team’s starting pitcher gives the team seven strong innings while the offense puts up four runs if the back of the bullpen cannot hold onto the lead.

    Francisco Rodriguez was acquired midseason to set up John Axford. He is the guy who’s supposed to ensure that the transition from starter, or a reliever, to Axford goes smoothly.

    K-Rod has done a pretty good job of that going 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 33 strikeouts in his 29-inning stretch as a member of the Brewers.

    He’s got postseason experience, he was the Anaheim Angels closer in 2002 when they won the World Series, so he shouldn’t be rattled by a mere divisional series battle. But the Brewers need him at his best regardless.

7. John Axford, RP

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    When the calendar turns to October, anything can happen. Look at what the Diamondbacks did to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. They knocked him around and won the series.

    Axford isn’t Rivera, but he had a phenomenal season—he set the club’s single-season record for saves (46). He put himself in the discussion as one of the best closers in the National League.

    The Brewers, if they obtain a lead, will look to their man in the ninth inning. But will he deliver? As previously mentioned, plenty of closers choke in the postseason. And this will be his first opportunity to show what he’s made of when it’s all on the line in October.

6. Rickie Weeks, 2B

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    This season, Weeks propelled himself into the discussion of top-five second basemen in all of baseball. In only 118 games, he launched 20 baseballs over the fence—seventh-most among second basemen.

    Weeks has been moved out of the leadoff spot and into the middle of the lineup so as to allow his bat the opportunity to drive in more runs. Too many of Weeks’ home runs this year came when no one else was on base.

    In this series, Weeks will be in charge of cleaning up damage not taken care of by MVP candidates first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Ryan Braun. Those two should take care of most of the business, but if not, then it’s Weeks’ mess to clean up.

5. Corey Hart, OF

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    Hart is the team’s No. 3 home run hitter (26) on the year while playing in only 130 games. He hit .285 with a .510 slugging percentage and 63 RBI on the season.

    He’s the No. 3 hitter behind the two MVP candidates—outfielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder.

    Hart himself wasn’t overly impressive his first postseason (.231 batting average, zero home runs, zero RBI and .231 slugging percentage).

    Braun and Fielder struggled, to a certain extent, the last time the Brewers were in the postseason so Hart may need to be the supplier to offense during one of the potential five games of the series.

4. Zack Greinke, SP

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    This is what Zack Greinke was acquired for when the Brewers traded for the 2009 American League Cy Young—the postseason.

    He has never pitched in the postseason as this was his first season outside of the Kansas City Royals organization that hasn’t been to the postseason in this century.

    Greinke missed the first month of the season but came out guns blazing and never let up in 2011. He had 201 strikeouts—six less than staff ace Yovani Gallardo but in thirty-five-two-thirds less innings16 wins in 28 starts and owned a 3.83 ERA.

    Greinke’s numbers would be real scary had he not missed the first-plus month of the season. But now’s his time.

    He’ll start Game 2 which means he can get two starts in this series, if it goes that long. But it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.

3. Yovani Gallardo, SP

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    Manager Ron Roenicke has put his vote of confidence in for Gallardo when he named him the Game 1 starter. And why not?

    Gallardo was dominant in his last three starts of the season (2-0, 36 strikeouts, 1.77 ERA, .74 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) in twenty-and-a-third innings).

    He led the Brewers in wins (17), strikeouts (207) and ERA (3.52) in 2011. He is the team’s ace. But the Brewers need him to continue his end-of-the-year dominance in the postseason.

    In the one postseason start of his career, he threw seven shutout innings with five strikeouts. The Brewers need to see that again in 2011.

2. Prince Fielder, 1B

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    While outfielder Ryan Braun may end up as the National League Most Valuable Player, the case could be made that Fielder was the MVP of the Milwaukee Brewers (.299 batting average, 38 home runs, 120 RBI, .415 on base percentage and .566 slugging percentage).

    Fielder has been a beast at the plate in 2011 and will need to continue that tear when the Diamondbacks roll into Milwaukee Saturday for Game 1.

    This is a deep lineup, but Fielder is the No. 1 or No. 2 hitter in the lineup. He will be looked upon for leadership in a lineup that lacks postseason experience.

    In Fielder’s one postseason trip, 2008 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, to say he struggled is an understatement (.071 batting average, .176 on base percentage, .286 slugging percentage, one home run and two RBI). The Brewers need more from Fielder in 2011.

1. Ryan Braun, OF

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    Braun is one of the front-runners for the National League Most Valuable Player.

    To put it lightly, he’s kind of a big deal. He’s had the best season of his career (.332 batting average, 33 home runs, 111 RBI, .397 on base percentage and .597 slugging percentage). The Brewers need him to continue his dominance into the postseason.

    If Braun mimics his 2008 NLDS performance against the Philadelphia Phillies, then the Brew Crew may be in trouble. Braun hit an impressive .313 but posted a lowly .294 on-base percentage, zero home runs and two RBI. Those last three stats won’t cut it for the Brewers in 2011, if they hope to make a serious postseason run.