Playoff games preview: October 5
The two National League Division Series both face a possible conclusion tonight as the Phillies and Brewers each need just one win to advance to the NLCS. The Phillies enter Game 4 against the Cardinals coming off a close win in Game 3, and (including the Texas Rangers' ALDS win this year over the Rays), teams that break a 1-1 tie in a best-of-five series with a win in Game 3 have now won 29 of the 37 such series in baseball history and 20 of the 24 Division Series that fit that description. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, avoided a sweep at the hands of the Brewers on Tuesday night to close within 2-1, but still face a history in which 89 percent of the teams that lost the first two games of a best-of-five series also lost the series.
• The Cardinals are facing elimination and need to beat Roy Oswalt tonight for the privilege of facing Roy Halladay in Game 5. The Phillies, meanwhile, want to wrap this series up tonight so that they can save Halladay for Game 1 of the NLCS, not that they lose that much going with Cliff Lee instead. Have we mentioned that the Phillies rotation is very good?
• Roy Oswalt was inconsistent after returning from the disabled list at the beginning of August. In 10 starts down the stretch, Oswalt held the opposition scoreless three times, and allowed five or more runs three times, though the other four starts were all quality and his aggregate ERA was 3.59. He faced the Cardinals three times this season, but one was his last start before hitting the DL and saw him give up four runs in just two innings. In the other two, one in May and one in September, he held the Cardinals to one run over 12 innings, striking out 10 and walking just one. Over their careers, however, the current Cardinals have hit Oswalt well, combining for a .299/.333/.455 line, with even opposing pitcher Edwin Jackson picking up a walk and an RBI in two plate appearances. Albert Pujols has faced Oswalt 102 times and has connected for seven home runs against him as part of a .316/.363/.611 line.
• Jackson hasn't started since Sept. 25 and his only action since then was a one-inning, 20-pitch relief outing on the penultimate day of the regular season. Jackson seems to do well on extended rest, however. Coming out of the All-Star break, he faced the Tigers on nine-day's rest and twirled his only shutout of the season. His next start came after another seven days of rest and was a quality outing against the Indians (6 IP, 2 R). Over the last three seasons, he has posted a 3.04 ERA in 15 starts with six or more days of rest. Jackson last faced the Phillies as a member of the Diamondbacks last July and gave up five runs in five innings, though the only current Phillie to homer off him was Joe Blanton in the 2008 World Series when Jackson was with the Rays.
• If Jackson falters, expect Tony La Russa to go to his bullpen quickly, especially to the four men -- Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and closer Jason Motte -- who have held the Phillies scoreless over eight combined innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out nine. Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs have combined to allow five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in this series and La Russa may not feel comfortable using them in an elimination game, especially when Game 1 starter Kyle Lohse and long man Jake Westbrook, who has not pitched in this series, should also be available. Even Game 2 starter Chris Carpenter might even be able to pitch in by taking his typical between-star side session to the game mound, particularly given that he only threw 64 pitches in Game 2. That's surely a last resort, though, as La Russa would want him to start Game 5 on Friday if the Cardinals win tonight.
• Matt Holliday came through with a pinch-hit single in Game 3 and should be available to pinch-hit again tonight, although his absence in the starting lineup really
• If these are Albert Pujols' final games as a Cardinal, he's going out in style. He's 7-for-13 in this series with three doubles and his heel seems to be better as he beat Carlos Ruiz's throw to third on the front end of a highly improbable double-steal with Lance Berkman early in Game 3. The Cardinals' hottest hitter, however, is Ryan Theriot, who is 6-for-9 with two doubles and a stolen base.
• Placido Polanco is playing with a hernia and killing the Phillies offense as a result, going 1-for-12 thus far this series. Could rookie Michael Martinez really be any worse?
• Saunders held the Brewers to two runs over seven innings in his only start against them this season, on July 20 at Chase Field, with both of the runs scoring on a Ryan Braun homer. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee's other big bat, went hitless against Saunders, which fits with the southpaw's rather extreme platoon split this season. Saunders held lefties to a .212/.240/.341 line with 40 strikeouts against just six walks, but righties touched him up to the tune of .281/.345/.465 with 61 walks (four intentional) against 68 strikeouts. Saunders did benefit from a low BABIP by opposing lefties, but that K/BB ratio proves his success against lefties was more than just luck. Indeed, the two lefties in the Brewers lineup, Fielder and Nyjer Morgan, are a combined 0-for-9 against Saunders in their careers. On the other hand, Saunders' home ERA this year was more than a run and a quarter higher than his road mark, but he had lower home run and walk rates when pitching in Phoenix and a slightly higher strikeout rate. Given those peripherals and his hundred-point swing in BABIP between home and road, it seems he was very lucky on the road and a little unlucky at home.
• The Brewers never know what they're going to get from Wolf. He was inconsistent all year -- June was the only month in which he didn't have at least one disaster start (as many or more runs allowed as innings pitched) -- and his two starts against the Diamondbacks reflect that inconsistency. On July 5 in Milwaukee, Wolf gave up seven runs in six innings and on July 18 he held them to three runs (two earned) over 7 1/3 frames in Phoenix. Most of the D-backs' best and all of their hottest hitters are right-handed. For their careers, the current Diamondbacks have hit a combined .328/.395/.542 against Wolf.
• Facing the lefthanded Wolf would seem a perfect match for the Diamondbacks righty-swinging rookie first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, but Goldschmidt had a reverse split in the majors this season, hitting just .162/.279/.378 against lefties, and .277/.351/.504 against righties. Indeed, both of his home runs in this series, one in Game 2 and a grand slam in Game 3, have come off right-handed pitchers. I don't expect to Lyle Overbay get another start at first after Goldschmidt's performance the last two days, nor should he, but facing a lefty is no guarantee that Goldschmidt will deliver another big hit for Arizona.
• The Brewers' struggles on the road this season owed more to a disappearing offense than any struggles by their pitchers. Goldschmidt's grand slam aside, that held true in Game 3, as the Brewers managed just six baserunners against Josh Collmenter and company, their only run coming on a Corey Hart solo homer. Even that was surprising, as Hart hit just nine of his 26 home runs on the road this year. Here's a quick look at the change in OPS from home to road for the Brewers' regulars (using Jerry Hairston Jr.'s splits as a Brewer only):
Only Morgan didn't see his production drop on the road this season, and he is 1-for-11 with six strikeouts after the first three games of this series and 0-for-4 in his career against Saunders.