Thursday, September 29, 2011
Updated: September 30, 1:27 PM ET
Five questions about D-backs-Brewers
By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine
The Diamondbacks were supposed to finish last, maybe fourth, in their division, but they tied a record for the most losses in a season (97 in 2010) to precede a trip to the playoffs. The Brewers were chosen by some to make the postseason, but they were mostly picked to finish behind the Reds and maybe the Cardinals in the National League Central, yet they won their first division title since 1982. And now the two teams will meet in the National League Division Series. And the Brewers are hoping this won't be the last series they have Prince Fielder as their first baseman.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. How did the Diamondbacks score so many runs?
They were fourth in the National League with 731 runs scored without anyone with 90 RBIs, and with only one player (Justin Upton) with more than 20 home runs. Their lineup certain nights didn't seem like one that would frighten any pitcher, and yet, at the end of the game, they usually had scored five or six runs. The Diamondbacks are grinders, they find ways to move runners, that's how they outscored opponents by 69 runs. They were shut out the fewest times (four) by any NL team. They had the fewest sacrifice bunts (not giving outs away), they grounded into the fewest double plays (82; the Cardinals had 169), and they had the second most stolen bases. They don't live and die with the home run, as say, the Braves do. "A different hero every night,'' said infielder Willie Bloomquist. A cliché, but true.
2. How good is Milwaukee's rotation?
Really good. Zack Greinke is a terrific pitcher, a wildly competitive guy who only wants to win. He is more than capable of winning a big game -- at home or on the road -- in the postseason even though this will be his first playoff appearance. But the best pitcher on the Brewers lately has been Yovani Gallardo, who won 17 games this year. In his last three starts, he pitched 20 1/3 innings, allowed 12 hits, four earned runs, walked three and struck out 36. Shaun Marcum's changeup is so good. When he's right, he's very difficult for hitters to center. Randy Wolf, meanwhile, is one of the best No. 4 starters in the game.
3. How good is Milwaukee's bullpen?
In September, the Brewers' bullpen posted a 1.14 ERA, and they nearly became the first team since the 1978 Angels to finish September with a bullpen ERA under 1.00. Closer John Axford (46 saves) has been terrific, and seems ready for his first postseason as a quality closer. Frankie Rodriguez has nailed down the eighth inning, striking out 33 in 29 innings and posting a 1.86 ERA. And they have veterans Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe, among others. You have to have a bullpen to win in October. The Brewers do.
4. How much will Arizona's lack of postseason experience hurt the D-backs?
They don't have one significant everyday player who has significant playoff experience. That could be an issue, but the coaching staff will really help in that regard. Manager Kirk Gibson was a World Series hero. Coaches Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Matt Williams and Charles Nagy all played in the postseason; some, such as Baylor, were there a lot. Granted, they can't go out and play for the players, but they mentored them through the rigors and the pressures of a pennant race, and those kids responded in every way. And there's no reason to think that they won't respond in October as they did in September.
He went 21-4, including 12-1 after the All-Star break. "He won their biggest games down the stretch, he beat the ace of the other team, he became the ace of the Diamondbacks,'' one veteran scout said. "If it weren't such a great, great year for pitchers, he would win the Cy Young easily.'' Since the Cy Young became an award in 1956, the only pitcher who won more than 20 games, and lost fewer than five, and didn't win the Cy Young was Mike Hampton in 1999. That's how good Kennedy was. And that's why the D-backs will have a chance in any series because he is going to start two or three times.
PREDICTION: BREWERS IN FIVE
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.
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