Saturday October 15th, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Five thoughts on the postseason after watching the Brewers give away Game 5 of the NLCS and move to the brink of elimination ...

1. Brewers' lousy defense rears its ugly head

You knew this game was coming for the Milwaukee Brewers. You knew because of how poorly the Brewers play defense, particularly in the infield, that there was at least one clunker coming -- a giveaway game at a time of year when giveaway games can be deadly. And this clunker, a 7-1 loss in NLCS Game 5 in which they made four errors -- puts them one loss away from the end of their season.

On a night when Zack Greinke struck out nobody in recording 17 outs -- the most outs he ever had in his career without a strikeout was six -- the ball was in play too much for the sloppy Brew Crew.

Don't think this game was an anomaly. Milwaukee is a poor defensive team. This was inevitable. What they're trying to do is almost unheard of: win the National League pennant with a lousy defense. The Brewers ranked 10th in the league in defensive efficiency, a measurement of how adept teams are at turning balls in play into outs.

Since all the way back to the 1983 Wheeze Kids of Philadelphia (12th), nobody has won the NL pennant with a defense ranked worse than the 2011 Brewers. (The 2003 Marlins also ranked 10th.)

So now the Brewers put their season in the hands of Game 6 starter Shawn Marcum. In his past six starts, Marcum is 1-4 with an 8.18 ERA and -- this does not bode well for the defensively-challenged Brewers -- only 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

2. Hairston's error was the kiss of death

When Jerry Hairston played a wicket to a grounder by Jaime Garcia -- allowing the ball to shoot through his legs and two runs to score -- the Brewers were done. You can't hand a team two runs on an error, especially with two outs, and hope to survive it.

Indeed, go back over the past 11 postseasons and you'll find nine errors that permitted two runs to score. And how did those teams survive such costly mistakes? They didn't. They went 0-9. Check out the fatal two-run postseason errors since 2001:

3. Where have all the great starting pitchers gone?

Forget everything you thought you knew about postseason baseball. That's the lesson of this postseason, as runs come in bunches, home runs fly out of the park and starting pitching is overrated.

The Cardinals and Rangers each stand one win away from the World Series even though their starters have lasted past the fifth inning only seven times in 19 combined games. St. Louis (2) and Texas (1) have just three wins this postseason by starters who obtained more than 15 outs.

Just how weird is it that teams are winning this October with mediocre starting pitching? Check out how hard it is to win postseason games when a starter goes no more than five innings -- until this year, that is ...

4. La Russa and Leyland still going strong

Could good friends Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland stage a rematch of their 2006 World Series? La Russa needs one more win and Leyland needs two to make it happen.

What's remarkable is how these two managers remain at the top of their game while they already have brought their teams -- despite injuries and hardships -- farther than anybody had a right to expect. Chalk it up to the experience factor. These guys have been in almost every imaginable position, but they still go after their jobs with no less intensity than when they were younger men trying to establish themselves in the dugout.

Tonight, Leyland will face the 10th postseason game of his career in which it was win-or-go-home -- the third one this year alone. And on Sunday, LaRussa will face the 22nd postseason game of his career in which he can clinch a series win. And how have these grand masters fared in such critical spots? Leyland has a winning record when he faces an elimination game and LaRussa wins twice as often as he loses when he has chance to win a series.

Here are the records of the three remaining veteran managers in the postseason:

5. Another tough road test for Scherzer

Detroit starter Max Scherzer will get the ball for the fourth time this postseason in ALCS Game 6. All four occasions, including a relief appearance in ALDS Game 5, will have occurred on the road. This is the second time Scherzer will be pitching in an elimination game on the road, including that relief role at Yankee Stadium.

So far Scherzer has thrown very well in the postseason: 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He's done so with virtually two pitches -- fastball and changeup -- because his slider still isn't consistent enough. When it rolls rather than bites, it becomes a home run pitch.

Last time out against Texas, in which he took the ball to the seventh inning, Scherzer threw only nine sliders. But the changeup has been a real weapon for him. If Scherzer should happen to find the feel for his slider, that's when he can ring up a high strikeout game. If not, as he did in Game 2, look for him to throw a ton of changeups.

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