Sun Oct 09 11:13am EDT
Don't even think about taking a breather. Baseball's postseason rolls on tonight with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers dropping gloves in the NLCS. Before the fun begins, two Big League Stewards take a look at what we can expect.
'Duk: Aloha, Mr. Brown! I hope this dispatch finds you well in Milwaukee and that you've packed enough lederhosen to take you through the series' first two games. From there, I'll take over and hit the three games in St. Louis. How it happened that you're getting an opportunity to stock up on New Glarus beer and I'm being forced to subsist on the dreck they call "pizza" in St. Louis, I have no idea. Let it be known that you're a lucky man.
OK, griping over, because it's been awhile since I've been this excited for a pre-World Series round. Maybe you can chalk it up to my proud Midwestern heritage, maybe you can chalk it up to child nostalgia. Or maybe both. One of my earliest baseball memories is of someone — a neighbor? a relative? — giving my four-year-old self a Brewers and Cardinals t-shirt. The two teams, of course, met in the 1982 World Series and 29 years later, they're not only sharing a league, but a division. And the best part is that they hate each others guts! It almost feels like we've tumbled straight into a Stanley Cup playoff round with all of the barking that's been going back and forth. (The comparison makes sense considering Nyjer Morgan(notes), one of the main agitators, was a junior hockey player.) This Battle of the Breweries makes for good theater and it really appeals to those of us who flinch when we see those pregame hugs and laughs around the batting cage. Since you covered the media day at Miller Park on Saturday, do you think the rivalry is going to live up to the hype?
David Brown: Hey, even if Zack Greinke(notes) hadn't said that nobody on the Brewers likes Chris Carpenter and that his demonstrative ways can be "phony," we'd still have a season-full of evidence showing the truth. Never has the sports cliché "These two teams don't like each other" ever been truer. It doesn't necessarily mean it will translate into "more competitive" baseball, but where there's a La Russa, there's fire. If someone happens to get hit by a pitch, and then a second guy gets hit, who knows how the emotions will get ratcheted up? It might affect pitchers going inside, it might lead to some kind of bench-clearing cocktail party. It adds another layer of "stuff" to the game that otherwise doesn't have anything to do with the game.
But the distractions, getting inside the other team's head, it's critical to La Russa's strategy. It would be great if the series played out like a classic one. It might just be a hot mess, too. But speaking of sidebars and distractions, how about Prince Fielder(notes) and Albert Pujols(notes) possibly playing their final games with their longtime clubs before hitting the free-agent market. I'm not sure if it puts more pressure on them or less? Does Albert even feel pressure?
'Duk: Yeah, that's a good point. If there's any down side to all of this heated rivalry talk, it's that it obscures just how much talent this series is packing. Pujols and Fielder are going to be the two biggest names this winter, Ryan Braun(notes) played like the MVP he is during the NLDS, Lance Berkman(notes) has revived his career and Matt Holliday(notes), injury or not, is capable of playing like any of the names I just mentioned. Then you've got the pitching pals in Greinke and Carp — and two of the most underrated pitchers in the league in Jaime Garcia(notes) and Yovani Gallardo(notes). I fear that the common fan is going to see Nyjer jawing and figure that he's one of the stars, but he's really way far down on the list in terms of people who are likely to impact this series.
DB: Aww, don't hurt T-Plush's feelings like that, dawg. He had the winning hit in the last round against the D-backs, as you certainly know. That was actually a topic of conversation with Nyjer, that he'd like to be known as a good ballplayer first and an entertainer second. He did have a 111 adjusted OPS which, translated into English, means he was 11 percent better than the average player in the league. The guy can have an impact, and not just with his antics. But if I had to pick the X'iest of the X-factors on the Brewers, it's Rickie Weeks(notes). The most notable thing he did against Arizona was not get down a stupid bunt. He's their fifth-place hitter. If he hits a couple of home runs, maybe a couple doubles, the Brewers are going to be in great shape. Kind of like how a healthy David Freese(notes) has impacted the Cardinals.
'Duk: Or Rafael Furcal(notes) or Allen Craig(notes) or Nick Punto(notes) or Jon Jay(notes) or — gasp, Cubs fans, gasp — Ryan Theriot(notes)! It seemed like every Cardinal took a turn being the hero during their furious September comeback. We haven't even mentioned Yadier Molina(notes), either. There's a reason why everyone said the Cardinals would be scary if they got into the postseason and the Phillies sure found out why. (The Fightins' doing the right thing and sweeping the Braves at the end of the season sure shows that no good deed goes unpunished.)
All that depth, though, does nothing if the Cards' starters aren't producing and that's why I think the main question of this series is how Edwin Jackson(notes) and Kyle Lohse(notes) perform against Shaun Marcum(notes) and Randy Wolf(notes). Both Marcum and Wolf pitched like hot garbage in the NLDS and there's a real opportunity there if they falter again. But it's imperative they log their innings because Milwaukee has the edge when it comes to the bullpen.
DB: I'd agree with you about the bullpens, but La Russa and Dave Duncan often make chicken salad out of whole cloth, to mix a couple of metaphors. Jason Motte(notes) looks like young Yukon Cornelius, the gold prospector from the animated Rudolph Christmas special, but he's got a plus fastball as the scouts say. You've mentioned how Brewers closer John "Wilkes" Axford looks primed to re-enact the Civil War, but he's from Canada so they'd probably negotiate instead of shooting. I think it's going to come down to home-field advantage, and the Brewers have it. Crew in seven. Say cheese.
'Duk: I can't explain it, but I've had the same feeling about the Brewers that I had about the '08 Phillies and '10 Giants for quite some time. They just seem to be one of those teams that has the right mix of talent and swagger (sorry, Lance Berkman) to get the job done. Plus they've got the commissioner on their side! (Not really, but sorta.)
The absolute truth, though, is that the Brewers will probably never have another better chance to win the World Series. The Phillies are gone, they have homefield advantage for the rest of the postseason and the jackpot they hit with two homegrown superstars — Fielder and Braun — could very well be halved this winter. The Cardinals are certainly going to give them a fight, but it's the Brewers time and they're going to take it in extra innings of Game 7.
Oh, and bring me back a case of New Glarus Two Women, will ya?