Now that the Milwaukee Brewers have ended a lengthy losing streak against the Philadelphia Phillies, they will send the pitcher with the best track record in the postseason on their roster to the mound.
Jeff Suppan tries to help the Brewers force a decisive fifth game in their NL division series when they meet the Phillies on Sunday at Miller Park.
Milwaukee had lost seven straight against Philadelphia, including the first two games of this series, before posting a 4-1 win on Saturday to keep its season alive. J.J. Hardy had three hits and the Brewers’ bullpen worked 3 2-3 scoreless innings to extend the series.
“Tonight was big for us,” Hardy said. “I think we’re going to be able to relax a little bit more and come out and play early tomorrow.”
In order to send this series back to Philadelphia, it would help if Suppan (10-10, 4.96 ERA) can put aside his poor season and show the form he has displayed in the past in the playoffs. He’s 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career playoff starts, including 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three.
“Yeah, you know, all experiences go into every start, especially postseason starts,” he said. “My approach is the same, but I do have experience in pitching in games like these.”
Suppan will have to try to end his struggles against the Phillies, who he is 0-5 with a 6.62 ERA in his last seven starts against. That includes an outing on Sept. 14 in which he was tagged for six runs over 3 2-3 innings in a 6-1 loss in the second game of a doubleheader.
“It’s definitely a very strong lineup,” Suppan said. “But the bottom line is my best fastball down and away is still my best fastball down and away, regardless if it’s a power hitter or a speed guy or an average guy.”
The veteran right-hander has especially had trouble pitching to the Phillies’ Chase Utley, who is 9-for-19 (.474) against him and Pat Burrell, who is 9-for-21 (.429) with three homers, eight RBIs and six walks.
Those two along with cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, though, haven’t produced often for Philadelphia in this series. Utley, Howard and Burrell are 4-for-28 with three RBIs in the first three games after Howard’s RBI groundout in the sixth inning was all the offense the Phillies managed on Saturday.
“Actually we’ve played, what, 27 innings of baseball, and we’ve only scored in three innings,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “We scored three and five and one run. So actually we haven’t hit really, what I’ll call hitting for our team.”
Joe Blanton (9-12, 4.69) will make his first career postseason start for Philadelphia as he takes the mound for the first time in 10 days. Blanton went 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA in 13 starts for the Phillies in 2008 after being acquired from Oakland on July 17.
The right-hander lasted past the fifth inning just once in his last four road starts, going 1-0 with a 5.49 ERA in that span, but he doesn’t think pitching on the road will affect him negatively.
“It’s one of those things, you really notice it more when you’re not playing, how loud it is,” Blanton said. “I think once you get on the mound and you focus in, I don’t think it’s much of a factor. You get focused on the game at hand and the plan you’re trying to attack for each hitter.”
The only outing for Blanton in his career against the Brewers came in the first game of that doubleheader last month. He allowed three runs in seven innings and did not get a decision in a 7-3 victory.
Blanton’s only previous postseason experience was when he worked two hitless innings in a 5-1 loss for Oakland to Detroit in Game 1 of the 2006 AL Championship Series.