The Milwaukee Brewers took a 2-0 series lead into Arizona and are now heading back to Milwaukee in a must-win scenario. Just about nothing went right in the desert, as the Brew Crew got knocked around by the Diamondbacks, losing the two games by a combined score of 18-7.
Thankfully, the club is headed back to Milwaukee for the finale of the best-of-five series. The Brewers own the best home record in the majors, going 57-24 at Miller Park during the regular season and beating the Diamondbacks twice at home to open the NLDS.
Right fielder Corey Hart acknowledged the role of home field advantage in this series: "These guys are like us, really good at home. Now we're home with our guy on the mound. We like our chances."
But no matter where the games are played, all that ultimately matters is how the players on the field perform. For the Brewers to win Game 5 and advance to their first NLCS ever, these five key players need to get the job done on the mound, in the field and at the plate.
Yovani Gallardo nearly pitched a shutout in Game 1, giving up a late inning solo homer for the only Diamondbacks run.
In that game, the Brewers ace struck out nine in eight innings, giving up just four hits and a walk. If the right-hander can turn in a similar performance Friday night, the Brewers will be popping champagne and celebrating late into the night.
But if Gallardo struggles as every other Brewers starter has so far this postseason, it will be up to the Brewers bats to bail the team out and avoid becoming the first NL team to lose a best-of-five series after taking the first two games.
Rickie Weeks could be the key to the Brewers having success on offense in Game 5.
So far, Weeks has been a non-factor in the postseason. He's just 1-15 with a walk, no runs scored and one RBI in the first four games of the playoffs. Weeks struggled a bit at the end of the regular season after returning from the disabled list, and so far in the NLDS the D-Backs have been able to pitch around Prince Fielder to get to Weeks.
But, if he can hit the ball hard against Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy and do some damage right off the bat, it will force the Diamondbacks to take Weeks seriously while giving Prince Fielder some much needed protection in the lineup. Weeks is 2-10 against Kennedy in his career with one double.
During the first two games of the NLDS (both Brewers victories), Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder combined to go 9-16 with six runs, six RBI and two home runs.
The two Brewers sluggers didn't come close to that production during the two games in Arizona, combining for just three hits in 14 at-bats with no runs scored and a single RBI.
They'll need to replicate their performances of Games 1 and 2 to power Milwaukee to its first playoff series win since 1982.
Fielder is 2-8 in his career against Kennedy, including his Game 1 homer. Braun is 2-6 with a double.
Milwaukee's leadoff hitter is going to need to get on base and set the table for the meat of the Brewers lineup.
Through the first four games this postseason, Hart is 4-17 with just one extra-base hit, a home run that accounted for Milwaukee's only run in Game 3. He has no walks in the postseason for an OBP of just .235.
Hart will need to get on base at least a couple of times in Game 5 if he wants to do his part in helping the Brew Crew advance in the postseason. He's 1-5 against D-Backs starter Ian Kennedy in his career with one triple.
Closer John Axford pitched scoreless ninth innings to wrap up Brewers victories in Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS, and odds are he'll have to pitch another scoreless frame tonight if the Brewers are to come out on top.
This shouldn't be too much of a problem, as Axford has converted 44 consecutive saves dating back to April. However, a save situation in a postseason series-clinching game is baseball's ultimate pressure situation and Axford will be counted on to come through in a big way.