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NLDS Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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GAME ONE: Brewers at Phillies, Yovani Gallardo vs. Cole Hamels.  Wednesday, October 1, 3:05 PM

GAME TWO: Brewers at Phillies, CC Sabathia vs. Brett Myers.  Thursday, October 2, 6:05 PM

GAME THREE: Phillies at Brewers, TBD vs. TBD.  Saturday, October 4, 6:35 PM

GAME FOUR (if necessary): Phillies at Brewers, TBD vs. TBD.  Sunday, October 5, time TBA.

GAME FIVE (if necessary): Brewers at Phillies, TBD vs. TBD.  Tuesday, October 7, time TBA.

Two Franchises, 168 combined seasons (give or take), one world championship.  Yeah, it's like that with these teams.

But not this year.  The Phillies and Brewers, owners of the second and third best records in the National League, meet up this week in the best of five NLDS.  On paper, the two teams appear to be very closely matched, with the Phillies having ever-so-slight edges in team pitching and team offense:

 

Phillies

Brewers

Runs Scored / Game

4.93

4.63

Team OPS+

103

102

Runs Allowed / Game

4.20

4.25

Team ERA+

115

112

Head-to-head, the Phillies and Brewers played six times, with the Phillies winning five of those meetings; four of those victories coming during the mid-September four game sweep in Philadelphia that vaulted the Phillies back into playoff contention and led directly to the firing of Milwaukee manager "Special Ned" Yost and his replacement with bench coach and former Phillie Dale Sveum.  New managers often bring new attitudes, and coming off their recent run of terrific baseball, the Phillies just can't expect the Brewers to go as quietly this time.

HEAD-TO-HEAD BREAKDOWN

Lineup: The Brewers have more depth, while the Phillies have better front-line talent.  Season results show that this is almost a wash; I tend to agree.  Both Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard come into the postseason scorching.  Ryan Braun is just ridiculous.  Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley continue to make solid contributions.  The Phillies hold a significant edge in speed / stolen base success rate.  Advantage: Phillies.  Barely.

Starting Pitching: There hasn't been a better pitcher on the planet since the end of June than CC Sabathia (apologies to Johan Santana, who I hope is enjoying the golf course this week).  After three straight starts on three days rest (with a fourth and possibly fifth to come in the NLDS), Sabathia has been good enough to force himself into serious Cy Young / MVP consideration for just over a half season's work.  That's scary.  Sabathia, however, can only pitch twice, and even though it does not appear to have caught up with him yet, who knows when the fatigue will set in (like it did in last year's ALCS versus Boston).  The loss of Ben Sheets weakens the Brewers pitching severely.  Sheets and Sabathia could have been a one-two playoff punch not seen arguably since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001.  The Phillies lack that utterly dominant frontman, but possess a terrific young ace (Cole Hamels), a good but erratic bulldog righty (Brett Myers), and an ageless lefty slop artisan (Jamie Moyer).  In a pinch, Joe Blanton can pop in and probably keep a team in a game.  The X-factor here may be Game One starter Yovani Gallardo -- he's been terrific when healthy, but has had one start -- for four innings versus Pittsburgh -- since returning from knee surgery.  Advantage: Brewers.  Slightly.

Bullpen: Advantage: Phillies, and not really even close.  Brad Lidge hopes to continue his flawless season, backed up by set-up guys Ryan Madson, who somehow just discovered that he had a 95 MPH fastball, and the quiet and reserved J.C. Romero.  Even though he's fallen back a bit of late, Chad Durbin has been one of the best middle relievers of 2008, and Clay Condrey is downright credible.  The Brewers bullpen has been a functional but erratic "Island of Misfit Ex-Closers" collaboration of the likes of Soloman Torres, Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, and David Riske.  Lefty specialist Brian Shouse should be effective at giving Howard and Utley fits.  Hopefully Burrell and Werth can make him pay.

Bench: The Phillies have lefty Greg Dobbs, the best pinch hitter in baseball this year, and now the ageless (really?) Matt Stairs provides a solid lefty power / patience option.  However, since the emergence of Jayson Werth as the regular right fielder, the bench lacks a credible right handed bat outside of Chris Coste, who Charlie Manuel is reluctant to use lest he use up/injure himself and risk the happy ending of the inevitable Disney film.  The Brewers now have Russell Branyan, a terrifying power threat.  Any team that is forced to play Craig Counsell in a starting role (especially down the stretch) may indicate problems with the depth of the bench.  Advantage: Phillies.

Defense: The Brewers team DER is .698.  The Phillies is .696.  That's awfully close.  The Phillies infield defense, aside from the "challenged" Howard, is extraordinary.  Rollins and Utley may both deserve Gold Gloves this year.  The Brewers may edge out the Phillies on the strength of Jason Kendall's play at catcher alone -- his 43% rate of throwing out potential basestealers is by far the best in the league, and could serve to neutralize one of the Phillies' greatest strengths.  Advantage: Brewers, just barely.

Manager: Yeah, Charlie Manuel can be infuriating, but two division titles in a row is quite an accomplishment.  His in-game, tactical decisions are often befuddling, but he's now managed two teams to late-September runs to the pennant.  As a manager, Dale Sveum is obviously a work-in-progress.  There's really nothing to talk about, and it's kind of unfair to evaluate him at this time.  I miss the mustache, however.  Advantage: Incomplete.

Miscellaneous: The Phillies got an extra day to rest their players and especially their bullpen, and because they closed their regular season at home, they don't have to travel before the series.  The Brewers, on the other hand, played hard through 162 games, and now have to travel halfway across the country with 24 hours less rest than the Phillies.

 

I don't give the "playoff experience" determination much credibility.  As we saw last year, a Rockies team with virtually no playoff experience ran roughshod over the rest of the National League.  And who, on either team, is really a grizzled post-season vet?  Sabathia?  Moyer?  TAGUCHI? 

This is a very evenly matched series between two very balanced teams.  It should be fun to watch, and will likely go to the team that gets a few breaks here and there.  Five game series are a terrible way of determining superiority, so... may the lucky team win.

That said, I'm a homer and I admit it.  I do like the Phillies depth in the rotation and the bullpen, which I think will overcome the daunting prospect of facing CC Sabathia twice. 

PREDICTION: Phillies in 4.