The Glass Eye: National League Championship Series Preview

The National League division series matchups were both filled with drama – Arizona overcame a 2-0 series deficit and scored in the 9th inning of Game Five before finally bowing out, and the Cards -Phillies series was a back-and-forth affair culminated by an all-time classic pitcher’s duel in Game Five (I told you if that series went five games I thought Carpenter would win). Those series set the stage for a divisional grudge match.

One of the most interesting facts from the Division Series – all four winning teams were outscored by their opponents in the first round. I don’t have time to research it, but I strongly suspect that this has never happened before, and it speaks to how closely matched all these teams really are – there are no dominant teams in baseball this season, every team has some flaws. The Cards and Brewers are quite familiar with each other, and already the bad blood is starting to show…let’s take a look inside the series.

St. Louis vs. Milwaukee

Stats: We went over a lot of the key stats in the Divisional Preview for each team – as a reminder, St. Louis led the league in scoring, with Milwaukee not far behind, and both teams were middle of the pack (6th for the Brewers, 8th for the Cards) in runs allowed. These teams played 18 games and split them 9-9, so on paper this should be a very close series.

Surprising playoff performances: For the Brewers, I was most surprised by their bullpen – leaving aside the poor work of fifth starter Chris Narveson, their pen pitched 15 relief innings in the first round and allowed ONE run – the tying run allowed by Axford in Game Five. Yovani Gallardo was excellent, pitching 14 innings and allowing only two runs in two starts. The rest of the rotation was flat-out terrible, and someone has to step up for the Brewers if they are to win this series – the bullpen won’t do that well again, they will need some strong starting pitching to defeat St. Louis. The staff allowed TEN home runs to the Dbacks – that needs to also be reduced.

Offensively Braun and Fielder were great, Jerry Hairston came up with some big hits…but the rest of the offense was MIA. Morgan, Weeks, and Hart were especially bad at the top of the lineup (combined 9-for-55 with two walks against 10 K’s). Again, the big boppers will need more help than that in this series.

For the Cards, Pujols delivered and Schumaker and Theriot went a combined 12-for-20 – but the rest of the offense struggled against Philly’s pitching. Most notable is Lance Berkman, who hit a HR in his first AB last series then went 2-for-17 the rest of the way. The return of Matt Holliday really should help this offense.

On the mound, only Kyle Lohse had a bad start against the Phils, relievers Boggs and Rzepczynski allowed five runs  in two innings…but the rest of the team fared very well, allowing only eight walks the entire series. However, the Brewers have a much tougher offense than the Phillies, so expect a few more walks and homers in this series.

Keys to the series: For the Cards, Berkman has to rediscover his stroke and give Pujols some help, and Game 1 starter Jaime Garcia has to find a way to beat the Brewers’ righty-heavy lineup. The Brewers had the best home record in baseball but were below .500 on the road – a trend that continued in a big way against Arizona – so if St. Louis can steal one of the first two games, they will have a great shot at the series.

For Milwaukee, it looks to me like Marcum isn’t right, and Wolf’s finesse stuff  likely won’t play well against the Cards’ potent lineup – that puts a LOT of pressure on Grienke and Gallardo to make 3-4 good starts. They have the talent, and Gallardo came through last round – Grienke has to show something Sunday night.

Offensively, I’m singling out Weeks and Hart – they set the table for Braun and Fielder, and with the bottom of the lineup being relatively weak this team needs production at the top of the order.

Final thoughts and prediction: I think this is likely to be a very high-scoring series…Carpenter is St. Louis’ only truly reliable starter, and he won’t go until Game 3 and then is probably out until Game 7, and Gallardo is in the same boat for the Brewers. Game 1 is critical for Milwaukee, because I think they can expect to lose two games in St. Louis…on the other hand, I really like Milwaukee’s bullpen, and LaRussa simply doesn’t have the bullpen depth he’s enjoyed in the past. I had real trouble picking a winner in this series, but in the end I’m going with MILWAUKEE IN SIX, mainly because I think they will crush the ball at home – but as it was in the last round, if it goes to Game 7 and Carpenter gets the ball, St. Louis will be favored.

Dave Glass can be reached at buggyracer@verizon.net.

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