Dan Shafer
Milwaukee Brewers

Gateway to the pennant

By - Oct 12th, 2011 11:40 am

Photo from the Milwaukee Brewers Playoff Rally by Jennell Jenney

The Brewers-Cardinals NLCS matchup has the makings of legend.

It’s been too long since Major League Baseball had this kind of bad-blood, “we hate them, they hate us” matchup this late in the season. The last time this happened, the Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series lead to topple the New York Yankees in one of the most dramatic postseason series in any sport.

We could be headed for a battle of similarly epic proportions.

Knotted at one game apiece, the series heads to St. Louis tonight. But in all likelihood, it won’t end there. The Brewers are a good enough team to win at least one of three games in Busch Stadium, and as the Cards proved Monday night, they’re a good enough team to win in the tailgate-fueled confines of Miller Park. Both teams the enough firepower to score in bunches and both have MVP-caliber players anchoring their respective lineups. Both teams play in smaller markets in the Midwest and, of course, both teams play in stadiums named after beer companies.

The similarities end there. It’s the fun-loving, free-wheeling “Beast Mode” Brew Crew pitted against the loyal soldiers of LaRussa, Inc.

These next three games will be a battle. All bets are off – beanballs, ejections, extra innings, bench-clearing brawls – it’s all in play. By Friday night, we’ll know exactly what these teams are made of.

But baseball – more than any other major sport – is about individual matchups. These are five matchups that could determine who comes out ahead in games three, four and five.

Chris Carpenter vs. Yovani Gallardo

The pitching matchup on Wednesday night could very well set the tone for the rest of the series. While Gallardo has been en fuego, Carpenter is fresh off a complete game shutout of a Philly team that won more than 100 regular season games. No Cardinals player is more hated by the Brewers than Carpenter, and if tensions boil over, it’s most likely to happen with Carpenter on the hill. Please make sure your tray-tables are in the upright and locked position.

The Cards’ 3-4-5 vs. Braun & Fielder

Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder have been otherworldly in the postseason, combining to go 21-50 (.420 AVG) with nine doubles, five home runs and 14 RBIs. Still, the equally formidable trio of Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are the engine that drives the Cards’ potent lineup. These teams could go as far as their heavy hitters take them.

Tony LaRussa vs. Everyone who’s not Tony LaRussa

Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa likes to play the role of both the aggressor and the victim and has built his career on winning the game’s mental battle. Earlier this season, he complained about the Brewers throwing at Albert Pujols, and then sent fireballer Jason Motte to (allegedly) throw at Ryan Braun during the same game. LaRussa, Inc. will be playing mind games with the Brewers all week, (Note: it’s already started) and it will be a true test for this emotional Brewers team to see how they respond to LaRussa’s Machiavellian tactics.

Randy Wolf vs. Kyle Lohse

Game 3 might have the series’ marquee pitching matchup, but Game 4 is just as crucial. Both Wolf and Lohse are soft-tossers who rely more on deception and control than power and speed. Game 4 could come down to which starter can survive the longest against these power-hitting lineups. The way Wolf pitches, we’ll know within the first two innings whether or not he’s on his game. If he’s not, Manager Ron Roenicke must to turn to his bullpen early so the game doesn’t spiral out of control.

Good Zack Greinke vs. Bad Zack Greinke

Any way you slice it, Game 5 comes down to Zack Greinke. Greinke made waves calling out Carpenter in a recent press conference, so expect the St. Louis faithful to let him hear it in full force on Friday night. The Brewers emerged victorious in both of Greinke’s postseason starts, but he’s hardly been the reason for victory, giving up 10 runs in 11 innings, including four home runs. To say that Greinke needs a big game on Friday is a major understatement. This is the reason that General Manager Doug Melvin sold the farm for Greinke in the offseason and it’s time for the right-handed strikeout machine to prove his worth.

Get ready, Brewer fans, this is our biggest test yet. These next three days are about to get wild.

Categories: Sports

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