Toronto, Canada – We knew all year how good the Phillies and game season, so how hard can it be to do so for another five? The answer is inside this breakdown of the National League Division Series.
Season series: 4-3 Diamondbacks
Pitching: Milwaukee's Game 3 starter, Zack Greinke, recorded 201 strikeouts and was the only qualified pitcher in the NL to average more than 10 strikeouts-per-nine-innings this season (10.54). That's not good news for the Diamondbacks, who are likely to counter with lefty Joe Saunders, creating a major mismatch for the first game back in Arizona. This could be a turning point, and big difference in the series, as there is a good chance the Diamondbacks manage a split in Milwaukee. Greinke is the best pitcher in this series and if he's not pitching for the sweep in Game 3, he could shift all the momentum in the Brewers' favor.
Yovani Gallardo, who will be starting Game 1 for the Brewers, struck out 12, 13 and 11 batters in his last three starts of the season. In two starts against the Diamondbacks, he allowed just one earned run in each outing and will face one of the best pitchers in the National League this season in Ian Kennedy. Shaun Marcum, who has been a big addition to the Brewers rotation, will face Daniel Hudson in Game 2. Both have had solid years, but Marcum heads into this matchup struggling of late and has a 4.81 ERA at home this season.
The Brewers have the advantage in the pitching department, including the bullpen, which is highlighted by set-up man Francisco Rodriguez and closer John Axford, who converted 43 consecutive saves to end the season. Milwaukee relievers held opponents to a .299 on-base percentage, the best mark in the majors.
Offense: There is no sugarcoating it, the Brewers have the offensive advantage due to the 3-4 tandem of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Justin Upton is the big threat on Arizona and is a career 8-for-22 against Gallardo, Greinke and Marcum. Milwaukee may want to pitch around him at times, as the Diamondbacks are sure to do with Fielder, who led the majors with 32 intentional walks this season. Arizona is forced to go after Braun with Fielder hitting behind him, a protection that Upton doesn't have.
The Diamondbacks are no slouches offensively, scoring the fourth most runs in the NL, but they will be facing extremely good pitching and could use another game-changer at the plate.
Who wins: The Brewers have the advantage in pitching and hitting and have home field advantage, where they won a major league-best 57 games. They have the best player (Braun), starter (Greinke) and reliever (John Axford) in this series and, frankly, are the better team. Arizona was surprisingly successful this season, but that run is heading to a quick end. Brewers in four.
Season series: 6-3 Cardinals
Pitching: As was the case last season when the Phillies met the Cincinnati Reds in the LDS, they hold a major advantage in the pitching department. The Phillies will unveil the two best starting pitchers in the NL playoffs for Games 1 and 2, in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and a close third in Cole Hamels for Game 3. This trio will be difficult to reach base against -- they finished second (Hamels), third (Lee) and fourth (Halladay) in the league in WHIP. The only hope for the Cardinals is if they can split the first two games, as they will turn to their ace, Chris Carpenter, for Game 3 in St. Louis. Carpenter went 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Phillies over two starts this season. It will be a tall order for the Cardinals to win one in Philadelphia, however, as Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson will counter Halladay and Lee. Although, Jackson did end the year strong, allowing two earned runs or less in eight of his last 10 starts.
If this series goes four games, it will be Roy Oswalt of the Phillies taking on Jaime Garcia. There's a good chance the Phillies bullpen will stay well- rested, as Halladay, Lee and Hamels all logged over 200 innings each, leading to Phillies relievers throwing the fewest amount of innings of any team in the NL. The Phillies bullpen also blew the fewest saves (8) in the majors, while Cardinals relievers blew the second most (26).
Offense: The Cardinals scored the most runs of any team in the NL this season, and had the second best OPS against left-handed pitching (.768), behind only the Reds, which is positive news considering they will see two lefties back- to-back in Lee and Hamels. St. Louis also beat each of the Phillies trio once this season and enter the playoffs with some momentum after making a near- impossible comeback to take the wild-card from the Atlanta Braves after being 8.5 games behind on September 1. It's not all good news for St. Louis, though.
Matt Holliday will miss Game 1 (finger) and Albert Pujols is batting just .166 (7-for-42) career against Halladay, Lee and Hamels. On the other hand, the Phillies offense has seen an up tick in production since acquiring right fielder Hunter Pence at the trade deadline, tying St. Louis for the second most runs in the NL, post-All-Star Game. As a Philly, Pence had a .324/.394/.560/.954 line with 11 homers and 35 RBI. He makes an old and injury-plagued Phillies lineup dangerous.
Who wins: Having Holliday out for at least the first game and Pujols' poor numbers against the Phillies trio of aces doesn't bode well for the Cardinals. Neither does having Lohse throw Game 1. If the Cardinals can somehow split in Philadelphia, their chances actually aren't that bad with Carpenter ready to go Game 3. The chances of them splitting, however, are about as likely as them winning this series. If St. Louis beats the Phillies, it will be the biggest upset of the playoffs. Phillies in four.