October 09, 2011
The Milwaukee Brewers won their first playoff series in 29 years, defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in five exciting games, and will now move on to their first ever National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ironically, they also met the Cardinals the last time they advanced in the playoffs, but that matchup took place in the World Series. Now the division rivals are battling for the right to play in the World Series.
With that in mind, we're going to take a look at the five things the Brewers must do in order to advance past St. Louis and get the city of Milwaukee closer to its first World Series championship since 1957.
1. Protect their home field: Milwaukee's home field dominance will be a big storyline for as long they're alive. They finished the regular season a league best 57-24 at Miller Park, and tacked on three more wins in the NLDS.
But if there's one team that won't be overwhelmed coming into Miller Park, it's St. Louis. Though the Cardinals like to complain about the LCD ribbon boards, they're plenty familiar with the stadium and its intricacies. They've played night games, day games, roof open, roof closed, and they're the only team to sweep Milwaukee at Miller Park this season. Because of that, I think it will be of vital importance for Milwaukee to come out, especially in those first two games, and hold serve. Don't let St. Louis continue feeling like Miller Park is just like any other stop in the National League.
2. Get Rickie Weeks(notes) going: The talented second baseman has struggled mightily so far in the playoffs, going only 1-for-18 in the NLDS. Those numbers have nowhere to go but up, but Milwaukee will need them to improve significantly to get their offense clicking on all cylinders.
I don't know if a return to the top of the order would be a cure, or if Ron Roenicke would be best served leaving his lineup as it. Regardless, wherever Rickie Weeks hits, he needs to resume being the third most dangerous hitter in the lineup, or Tony La Russa will have a much easier time minimizing the opportunities Prince Fielder(notes) and Ryan Braun(notes) have to beat him.
3. Shut down the Redbirds role players: By the same token, Roenicke knows his staff will struggle containing Albert Pujols(notes), Lance Berkman(notes) and, assuming he stays healthy, Matt Holliday(notes). You might stop them for a game or two individually, but you can forget shuting all three down throughout the series.
That means keeping Rafael Furcal(notes) and Jon Jay(notes) off the bases is a must to limit the fearsome threesome's RBI opportunities. It also means Milwaukee will have to keep David Freese(notes) (5 for 18, 5 RBIs in NLDS) and Yadier Molina(notes) (.341 with a .921 OPS in September) from delivering back-breaking hits like they have been through the Cardinals terrific run to the NLCS.
4. Get something, anything, from Shaun Marcum(notes) and Randy Wolf(notes): The Brewers very nearly found themselves on the outside looking in at this NLCS because Marcum and Wolf were awful against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. To illustrate how bad it was, the two starters combined for a 16.44 ERA in the two blowout losses at Chase Field.
Obviously that is not repeatable if a trip to the World Series is in their future.
I would definitely give Marcum (1-1, 4.15 ERA in four starts vs. St. Louis this season) a better chance of bouncing back with a quality outing than Wolf (3-2, 5.34 ERA in five starts), but both guys are professional enough to respond. However, if one doesn't, Roenicke needs to have the quick hook and Chris Narveson(notes) or Marco Estrada(notes) at the ready.
5. Keep their emotions in check: You kinda get the feeling these teams don't like each other. Given the animosity that has developed between them over this season, and given the emotion Milwaukee plays with, one little spark — a taunt, a pitch under the chin, or tough loss — could ignite a meltdown.
I'm not saying it will for sure, or that wearing their emotions on their sleeves is the wrong way to go about their business, but how will these Brewers handle adversity should it come their way? Can they channel that emotion positively, or will it become a part of their downfall? They need to make sure it's the former.