Do-or-die Friday at Miller Park
If you’re one of the lucky 44,000 who will be at Miller Park today for game five of the NLDS, start tailgating now. I mean it. Stop reading this, fire up the grill, and get ready to get loud. Please, I won’t be offended.
This right here is why manager Ron Roenicke started Zack Greinke on short rest in the final game of the regular season – the Miller Park home field advantage. No team in baseball has been better at home this year than the Brew Crew, due in no small part to the enthusiasm and intensity of Milwaukee’s great fans.
But after two rocky road starts in the desert by Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf, the Arizona Diamondbacks bring the series back to Milwaukee for one of the most exciting events in all of professional sports – elimination baseball.
At 26- and 25-years old, respectively, Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo are at similar experience levels and should be staples of their organizations for years to come. Kennedy had a spectacular season, boasting a record of 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA as the ace of Arizona’s pitching staff. However, his stats are somewhat inflated because he pitches in the light-hitting NL West. The Brewers send red hot Yovani Gallardo to the mound, who won the game one matchup with Kennedy on Saturday, and has a 10-2 record and 3.00 ERA at Miller Park. Though Kennedy poses a very tough matchup for the Milwaukee lineup, Gallardo gets the edge here because of his recent performance, along with having the raucous home crowd behind him.
Slight edge: Brewers
Slight edge: Brewers
The Brewers have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, while Arizona became one of the most surprising World Series champions ever when they upset Joe Torre’s Yankees in 2001, four years after becoming a franchise.
Major edge: D-Backs
This is the time of the game where the Miller Park faithful (have you started tailgating yet?) can make a big difference. Don’t be shocked if starters like Zack Greinke or Arizona’s Daniel Hudson make appearances if Gallardo or Kennedy falters. We don’t see elimination baseball happen too often, so here’s where it could get wild. Both teams have excellent bullpens, but at the end of the day, K-Rod and Axford are flat out better than David Hernandez and JJ Putz.
“Beast Mode” dwarfs any other random baseball celebration at this point, but even more so against Arizona’s dopey snake routine. If the D-Backs start doing the Kirk Gibson fist-pump, then maybe we could make this an argument (but not really).
The Brewers start Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop.
Doesn’t get much more fun in the MLB than Ryan Roberts – who looks like he wandered off the set of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” – and Nyjer “Tony Plush” Morgan. However, Roberts has hit two grand slams in his last ten games, and Plush has struggled in the postseason. As much as I love Tony Plush (and Tony Tombstone, Tony Gumbo, etc.), it’s now or never time.
Miguel Montero has been a major difference-maker in the series. He was held hitless in his first two games at Miller Park, but went 5-8 in Arizona’s two home wins. If he stays hot, it could be trouble. For the Brewers, the X-Factors are Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. If those two get going, this becomes an extremely tough lineup to pitch to. But if they get cold (which Weeks most certainly has been), the team is forced to rely too heavily on Braun and Fielder.
Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke are numbers one and two on the list of candidates for Manager of the Year. Both have made mistakes in postseason, but both have their teams behind them and both have proved to be excellent in-game mangers.
Though the D-Backs may lack postseason experience, the Brewers still haven’t won a playoff series in my lifetime. The Brewers don’t exactly have history on their side, but Miller Park has been the team’s biggest advantage all season. If the fans stay behind the team from the first pitch to the last out, there’s no reason to believe the Brewers can’t win.
Beer showers in Milwaukee at roughly 8:00 p.m. Be on the watch for extreme homer-ism.