Initial Thoughts: After years of wallowing in the depths of NL Central (and formerly the AL Central and East for those of you who go back that far), CC Sabathia has carried the Brew-Crew to a post season birth. They didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, just better than the shell-shocked Mets. They will face another rejuvenated franchise in the Phillies, who are fresh off their second consecutive division title. A huge September from Ryan Howard (.342 average, .848 slugging, 10 homers and 28 RBIs) helped lift this team to the top of the NL East. As you will see, these teams have similar strengths and weaknesses.
Lineup: Led by the new Mash Brothers (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder), the Brewers have a balanced attack that features solid contributors like Corey Hart (20 homers, 91 RBI) and JJ Hardy (24 and 74). I also like the veteran leadership and steady play Ray Durham has provided this lineup. Hitting will not be a problem for Milwaukee.
Pitching Depth: This is not your Harvey’s Wallbanger’s that won the AL Pennant in 1982 with hitting and very little pitching behind it (ace Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers aside). These Brewers have some pitching. We know all about Sabathia’s heroics but those who follow him in the rotation will have more to say about this series than him.
Ben Sheets’ health and toughness is being called into question and rightly so. The reason a guy who should be winning 18-20 games every years and striking out 250 is beyond any of us but the Brewers needed him for this series and he’ll be watching it from the bench due to an elbow injury. In order to pick up his slack, the Brewers are going to need big performances from Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan (I really hope there’s a situation where he’s on third base with the tying run and the third base coach yells GO!).
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley: These two might be the only better 1-2 combination in the NL than Milwaukee’s dynamic duo. I’ve already mentioned Howard’s huge September and his hot hitting couldn’t be at a better time for this team. As Colorado proved last year, the best team may not always win the series, the hottest team with the hottest players can as well. I’m looking for a Manny-Ortiz type series from these two.
Brad Lidge: Could prove to be the difference in the series. I’ll take the closer who went 41-41 in save chances over the not-so-perfect Solomon Torres any day.
Anyone starting a game except Cole Hamels: It’s pretty amazing how far the Phillies have come with such little pitching depth behind their ace. OK, I’m aware Jamie Moyer went 16-7 this year with a solid 3.71 ERA. However, haven’t we learned junk ball pitchers generally don’t have a great amount of success in the post season? Case and point: Moyer’s 2001 Seattle Mariners, who had a staff led by Freddy Garcia, John Halama and himself. Good in the regular season, not great come October.
Brett Myers has been great in stretches this year and been awful in others (such as his two most recent ones in which he gave up 14 earned runs). Wasn’t he supposed to be the next Curt Schilling? This is his chance to show the national stage what he can do….Joe Blanton has gone 4-0 with the Phils but with a pedestrian 4.20 ERA. Not a bad No. 3 starter but the jury is still out on him against good lineups.
X-Factors: If the name Yovani Gallardo doesn’t ring a bell right away, it’s because he’s had one start since May. Funny thing is, he might be carrying the Brewers hopes on his shoulders. I’ve been following him since he was in the minors and, as proven by his successful rookie year last year, he has No. 1 stuff. Had he been healthy all year, I firmly believe the Brewers would’ve been right there with the Cubs. The national media will know who he is after game one….For a reigning MVP, Jimmy Rollins wasn’t very valuable this year. If he wasn’t going to hit over 30 hr again, I would’ve like to have seen a higher OBP than .349 (which, sadly enough, represents a career high for him). He’s going to need to be on base often and steal bases to create RBI opportunities for Howard and Utley.
Who Will Win: I’m calling the upset. Brewers in 5. Gallardo steals game one and the Brewers go back to Milwaukee up 2-0 after Sabathia outpitches Myers. The Phils get two back in The Land of Beer and Sausages before Gallardo outduels Hamels in game 5 at Philly.