ARLINGTON, Tex. -- Maybe the biggest games the Brewers won this season were the final two games against Pittsburgh. With those wins, Milwaukee secured homefield advantage in the Division Series -- a key factor, as the Brewers won Game 5 in a walkoff at Miller Park to advance to the NLCS.
Now, thanks to St. Louis taking out Philadelphia, the Brewers have homefield advantage in all three rounds, if they make it to the World Series. And why not? Who is going to beat this team at home? Forget the 1982 Brewers. The '11 Brewers look more like the '87 and '91 Twins with the way they dominate at home.
Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia didn't know what hit him Sunday at Miller Park in NLCS Game 1. It happened so fast not even Tony LaRussa, the master at controlling games with his bullpen usage and gamesmanship, could do anything about it. One minute Garcia was pitching to Corey Hart on a 2-and-2 count, the bases empty and holding a 5-2 lead. Eight pitches later, the Brewers were leading 6-5 and were off and running, never to be caught.
The Brewers are now 4-0 at home this postseason while batting .289 and scoring 6.25 runs per game. And that nutty stat about Milwaukee being 17-0 at Miller Park this year when Zack Greinke pitches? You think the Brewers' offense has something to do with that? They have scored 5.76 runs per game when Greinke starts at home.
Milwaukee is scary good at home, and right now the Brewers are accruing the benefits of not just those wins against Pittsburgh, but also by closing out their season on an 11-4 run. They knew how much homefield advantage meant to them, and they stayed sharp playing those games as meaningful ones.
The Brewers can bash with anyone, but their power plays up at Miller Park. Their OPS was more than 100 points higher at home than on the road this year -- but that's not even the greatest boost from home cooking in baseball. It turns out the Texas Rangers -- yes, the team with the homefield advantage in the ALCS -- have the biggest homefield advantage when it comes to OPS.
In the chart to the right are the teams with the biggest OPS differential between home and road, and note that three of the top six (in bold) still are playing.
Magglio Ordoñez (ankle, done for the postseason) is Detroit's fourth professional hitter knocked out of service by injury, following Carlos Guillen, Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young, who was left off the ALCS roster with an oblique injury but had to be activated to take Ordoñez's spot.
Jim Leyland's teams always are prepared and resourceful, and he does a great job of making sure his team does not cling to any excuses as crutches, so nobody should write off the Tigers just yet. But let's be honest: the attrition in the Detroit lineup is real. There are just too many quick outs in it right now to put continual pressure on Texas pitchers. Miguel Cabrera shouldn't see another strike in this series in any meaningful spot.
Don Kelly is the likely replacement for Ordonez. Kelly has four hits all year against left-handed pitching. (The Rangers are using three left-handed starters, including Derek Holland tonight). Austin Jackson (3-for-21) has been ineffective against plus fastballs because of his long swing. Alex Avila (1-for-20) is beat up from the grind of catching and the pressure of the postseason. Wilson Betemit (0-for-9, five strikeouts) is an automatic out right now. Brandon Inge is a late-game matchup problem because he hit .170 against right-handed pitching. Andy Dirks hasn't had a plate appearance in almost two weeks.
What the Tigers need now is longball power from Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. This is not a rally team. It can't play for stringing three or four hits together. It needs a quick strike or two to hang with the Rangers.
And now the rain Sunday makes their task tougher. Why? For the second straight game they face a rested Texas bullpen. Alexi Ogando, who has beaten the Tigers four times this year and threw two innings in Game 1, was not available if Game 2 was played Sunday. But after the rain created an off day, Ogando is good to go for multiple innings today.
One more element that works against Detroit: we now have games scheduled for four straight days, a situation that plays to bullpen depth, an area in which the Rangers have a clear edge over the Tigers.
If it seems to you that this postseason has been chock full of more cliffhangers than normal, you would be right. There have been more one-run games this postseason (nine) than all of last year (eight). The 3-2 win by Texas in ALCS Game 1 was the fourth straight postseason game decided by one run. In the Wild Card Era entering this year (since 1995), 28 percent of all posteason games were decided by one run. This year we're running at a 45 percent rate of close games. This is shaping up to be the closest-contested postseason in the wild card era, as measured by the percentage of games decided by one run.
I told you Saturday that Justin Verlander isn't the same dominating pitcher now as he was in the regular season, and now there is confirmation: Leyland will not bring him back on short rest to start Game 4 after throwing 82 pitches in Game 1. Instead, Rick Porcello will start Game 4 -- this after throwing a bullpen session Friday, followed by two innings Saturday in what was his first relief appearance since he was pitching at Seton Hall Prep. There is no guarantee Game 5 even will be played.
Leyland's decision makes sense; he has Verlander for one more start in this series, so why not have him make it on full rest? But if Verlander looked stronger than he does right now -- he has a 5.85 ERA in his past four starts -- Leyland could have started him in Game 4 and had him available to have an effect on Game 7. But it's obvious that Verlander, more than 4,000 pitches into this season, is in no position to bear such a heavy workload. His 120-pitch, high-stress outing against the Yankees in ALDS Game 3 -- in which he uncorked a 101 mph fastball with pitch number 115 -- may have extracted a toll. He looked so out of rhythm in ALCS Game 1 that you would have to be concerned with pushing him too hard.
It's interesting to compare how the Tigers have treated Verlander, 28, in this postseason to what the Giants did last year with Tim Lincecum, who was 26 and has a much smaller frame. In one stretch the Giants pitched Lincecum three times in seven days, including once out of the bullpen on one day of rest (Leyland wouldn't do that with Verlander with two days rest) and once (World Series Game 1) starting a game on three days rest.
Here's an interesting thought from one GM on the upcoming big-ticket free agents: "I wonder if there is going to be chilling effect when it comes to length of contract. We'd be ignorant if we ignored all the recent evidence. There are a lot of deals out there that are bad in the front end of long deals, not even late into deals."
Think about it: the deals of Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard all look bad at the start of those massive investments. And you already know about Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Barry Zito, etc. The swing and miss rate on $100 million-plus contracts is absurdly high.
My guess is that teams don't change their habits. The worst month for clubs is December. They lose their logistical thinking and get caught up in the emotions of an auction environment when it comes to free agents. I still think Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and CC Sabathia will sign contracts that are regarded as too long -- maybe even sooner than you think.