National League Playoff Preview: Diamondbacks at Brewers
MILWAUKEE ó When it comes to star power, even the Arizona Diamondbacks acknowledge they’re no match for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Milwaukee has a pair of MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and pulled the surprise of the offseason when they traded for standout starter Zack Greinke.
The Diamondbacks’ biggest star is Justin Upton ó and even he feels as if he and his teammates get lost in the shuffle.
“We’re just a bunch of guys nobody ever heard about,” Upton said. “In Arizona, still, nobody’s heard about us.”
The Diamondbacks might not have the Brewers’ marquee names. But the numbers, and the results, show two teams that are surprisingly similar going into Saturday’s Game 1 of the NL division series.
Milwaukee’s Casey McGehee calls the Diamondbacks “the NL West version of ourselves, kind of.”
And if fans don’t know the Diamondbacks’ players, Braun says they will soon enough.
“It’s not like they don’t have talent,” Braun said. “Justin Upton was an MVP candidate all year. You look at the top of their rotation, Ian Kennedy is going to be in the Cy Young discussion. So it’s no doubt they have plenty of talent and I think they’re playing great baseball. It’s not easy.”
Arizona and Milwaukee both can trace much of their success to improved starting pitching. Both have deep bullpens that don’t blow leads. And while the Brewers are known for their two big home run hitters, the Diamondbacks can hit for power, too.
“I feel like we’re very similar teams,” said Kennedy, who will start Game 1. “And we probably got hot around the same times, just because I felt like when we came here it was right before the All-Star break and we were still in second. I don’t know what place they were in. But I noticed that our record pretty much stayed the same all the way through, as they got hot. And that’s when we took over first place and continued to stay hot. So I think we’re very similar teams. The numbers will show that.”
Both are strong at the top of the rotation. Yovani Gallardo starts Game 1 for Milwaukee, coming off a dominant three-game stretch when he went 2-0 and had 36 strikeouts in 20 1-3 innings.
“He’s pitched good all year, but the way he’s pitched lately has been lights out,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I think his confidence coming in has to be really high. And you won’t see that, because he’s a pretty mellow guy.”
Greinke will pitch on three days’ rest for Game 2 on Sunday.
Arizona counters with 21-game winner Kennedy in the opener. And while manager Kirk Gibson hasn’t set his rotation yet, Daniel Hudson is a strong No. 2 starter.
“Obviously the big thing for us against Gallardo is that Ian throws well,” Gibson said. “We expect a tight game. If he can match and keep the game close, just like many of these postseason games, we’ll have a shot at winning.”
The late innings should be a case of strength versus strength.
Brewers closer John Axford has converted his last 43 save opportunities. Francisco Rodriguez handles the eighth inning, and the rest of the bullpen is tough to score on, too.
“When we go to our bullpen I don’t expect a run to be given up,” Roenicke said. “It’s not fair, but I’ve seen it so long that that’s what I expect.”
Arizona also has a solid, deep bullpen. And its offense doesn’t quit; the Diamondbacks rallied from behind to win 48 times this season.
“I think that’s kind of the magic of the series,” Gibson said.
And while the Brewers are known for the baseball-bashing antics of Braun and Fielder, the Diamondbacks aren’t exactly lacking power. Milwaukee led the NL with 185 home runs this season, but Arizona was fourth with 172.
And Arizona scored more runs, 731 to Milwaukee’s 721.
“They didn’t get as much attention as some other teams to start of the season, but they believe in themselves,” McGehee said. “They’re exciting to watch. Should make for one heck of a series.”