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Archive for September, 2008

Q&A At Brew Crew Ball

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 09:51 PM Comments: 8

Brew Crew Ball, which I believe is the best Brewers blog out there, is preparing for the NLDS in much the way we’re doing over here at the Nation. Proprietor Jeff Sackmann has a three-part Q&A with three different Phillies bloggers. He looks at the team in general with the Good Phight, the Phils pitching with Balls, Sticks & Stuff, and the offense with yours truly.

Check it out here. (I mistakenly referred to Ryan Howard’s homer against the Braves as a game-tying shot.) I’ll have more with Brew Crew Ball very soon.

  • 8 Comments
 

Report: Happ Makes Playoff Roster

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 06:22 PM Comments: 10

Todd Zolecki reports JA Happ is on the playoff roster, as Happ himself told him. The odd man out could likely be Rudy Seanez, but he said he knows nothing. If he is left out, Seanez could still travel with the team in case of injury, so he could still pitch in the playoffs.

Not sure about this. I know Happ pitched well, and I like Happ, but I’d rather have the experienced righty in Seanez than the inexperienced lefty in Happ. Yes, Happ can be used as a long man, but they have Condrey, and you don’t really need a long man in a playoff series, when five games are spread out over a week. Plus the Phils have two lefties already, and it’s not like the Brewers have a slew of them (Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell, Ray Durham, Russell Branyan).

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Burrell Exits BP With Back Stiffness

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 06:10 PM Comments: 12

David Murphy is reporting Pat Burrell left batting practice with a tight back. He will be re-evaluated tomorrow before game one.

  • 12 Comments
 

NLDS Preview Part V : Intangibles

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 06:04 PM Comments: 4

We continue our seven-part look at the NLDS.

Part V : Intangibles

Manager: Charlie Manuel
Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park
Unit experience: Lost in 2007 NLDS, 3-0, to Colorado
Player experience: Most have been to postseason; So Taguchi won a title with St. Louis.
Season: Held first place majority of season; fell a few games back, but never out. Erased 3.5-game deficit to claim second straight division crown.

Manager: Dale Sveum
Ballpark: Miller Park
Unit experience: None
Player experience: A handful have been to the postseason; Craig Counsell won two titles with Florida, Jeff Suppan won with St. Louis, and Eric Gagne won last season with Boston.
Season: In third place much of the season until CC Sabathia acquisition, then remained in second. Won Wild Card on final day.

Milwaukee: Composition

The Brewers are a lot like the 2007 Phillies. They’re in the playoffs for the first time in years; they have a strong foundation of young talent; they have a couple veterans who can tell you about the postseason; they won with a late flourish over the New York Mets; they’ve been hovering around the playoffs for a couple years, finally grabbing an invite.

So yes, the Brewers are prone to first-timer disease, where the team is so caught up in actually making the postseason that it lays an egg in the division series. The Phillies did it last season. Then again, as the Wild Card, Milwaukee is also prone to catch-fire disease, where the team tears through the league playoffs en route to the World Series. You know, the Rockies did that last season.

There are reasons to look at the Brew Crew that way. Fired up fanbase. Fresh manager. Clutch hits. A couple pantheon pitching performances. Youth and exuberance. All those things can add up to trophy hoisting.

I really like the Brewers’ mix of young and old. Hot shots Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun sit well with seasoned veterans Craig Counsell, Salomon Torres and Jeff Suppan. And the final 10 days or so were filled with excitement and victory for the Brew Crew, so you can’t even think this will be easy.

Milwaukee: Manager

A word on Dale Sveum. It’s hard to say how he’ll factor, as he’s been in office for about two weeks. But he has been with the team for a year and has won two titles as part of the Red Sox coaching staff. He’s been there, he’ll know what to do.

Milwaukee: Homefield Advantage

Then there’s Miller Park, which is an odd indoor/outdoor carnival. The franchise itself is slightly hokey-pokey, with the sausage races, Bernie Brewer, the slide in the outfield. This ain’t your traditional baseball franchise, but they have young, energized fans who want a winner. Face it, there’s the Packers, but in Milwaukee, there ain’t much to celebrate.

Philadelphia: Composition

Of course, “ain’t much to celebrate” was coined by Philadelphia fans circa 2005. In 25 years, it’s been NLL and Arena Football conquests. Yeah, please. We even tried rallying around horses. If any fanbase is slobbering for a title (sorry, cute, cuddly, ugly Cubbie fans), it’s us.

The city has adopted the Phillies because they’re starting to resemble a classic dynasty. The best foundation in baseball (Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, Myers), a couple great secondary players (Lidge, Burrell, Victorino, Moyer, Werth), a cavalcade of role players scraped from the dirt of every major league park. This team has the makeup of a champion.

They’ve also been there already, and can finally say they mean business. In fact, the 2008 campaign resembled a business campaign. They’re goal is the brass ring. They’ve shoved off young upstarts (Florida) and old rivals (New York) while making a patented comeback to prominence. Now it’s time for real work.

The Phils also have a great mix of young and old. The very young (Hamels) is already very seasoned. And the very old (Moyer) is still an above-average player. The team’s average age is 30 — these guys are mostly in their peak years. Nobody seems to be a very weak link, and if they’re close, they make up for it in experience.

Philadelphia: Manager

Charlie Manuel also has experience, but has never reached the World Series. He took the Indians to the ALDS in 2001, then got the Phils to the NLDS last season. He knows his team extremely well, and he has been better at in-game situations this season.

Philadelphia: Homefield Advantage

Back to Philly fans. They want it bad. And Citizens Bank Park, while more carnivalistic than the cannibalistic Vet, is a perfect baseball-viewing, playoff-hosting house. There are rally towels, seas of red and white, loud and drunk townies and a big, green thing leading the cheers. He don’t need no stinkin’ slide.

Analysis

As if I haven’t analyzed the intangibles already. The Brewers are a true mix of young and old, green and experience. Their best offensive players are the former, which may pose some problems. But with Sveum leading the clubhouse, there’s likely an aura of calm, which proves deadly if demonstrated on the field.

The Phillies have been calm all year, almost the point of making us want to kill ourselves. Then again, they’ve masked that “calm” aura with a press offensively. They know they can hit bombs, so they try all the time. If they can temper that mentality and play good baseball, there’s no reason they shouldn’t win this series.

It is important the Phils take a game at home. While I’m not conceding to Sabathia, I’m not thinking about a 2-0 lead into Milwaukee. The Phils do play better on the road, and there’s a chance the young Brewers will press the heck out of themselves trying to impress the newly-minted playoff crowd. In fact, there’s a very good chance.

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Breaking News: Lidge Named NL Comeback Player Of The Year

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 12:55 PM Comments: 22

Brad Lidge has been named the National League Comeback Player of the Year.

Lidge carried a 1.95 ERA in 2008, converting all 41 of his save chances. This comes a year after recording a 3.36 ERA as a reclamation project in Houston, and two years after completely tailing off with a 5.28 ERA.

Finishing eighth in Cy Young voting in 2004, Lidge is a sure Cy Young contender this season.

A truly deserved win for a guy who climbed from mediocrity back to the top of his field in 2008.

  • 22 Comments
 

NLDS Preview Part IV : Bench

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 12:24 PM Comments: 8

We continue our seven-part look at the NLDS.

Part IV : Bench

LH: Greg Dobbs (.301, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 30 R, 3 SB, .824 OPS)
LH: Geoff Jenkins (.246, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 27 R, 1 SB, .693 OPS)
LH: Matt Stairs (.252, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 46 R, 1 SB, .750 OPS)
RH: Chris Coste (.263, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 28 R, 0 SB, .748 OPS)
RH: Eric Bruntlett (.217, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 37 R, 9 SB, .594 OPS)
RH: So Taguchi (.220, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 18 R, 3 SB, .580 OPS)

LH: Mike Lamb (.235, 1 HR, 32 RBI, 22 R, 0 SB, .596 OPS)
LH: Russell Branyan (.250, 12 HR, 20 RBI, 24 R, 1 SB, .925 OPS)
RH: Rickie Weeks (.234, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 89 R, 19 SB, .740 OPS)
RH: Bill Hall (.225, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 50 R, 5 SB, .689 OPS)
RH: Mike Rivera (.306, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 8 R, 2 SB, .812 OPS)

The Brewers play with a couple platoons. One is the second base platoon between Ray Durham (singles, doubles) and Weeks (homers, steals). They also move Hall around and start him a lot at third base, though he has sat considerably lately for Craig Counsell. Both Weeks and Hall can pop the ball out of the yard. Weeks is also dangerous as a stolen base threat, so he can be a very versatile option for the Brewers.

Of course, both Weeks and Hall aren’t really contact hitters, so the Phils can feel lucky about that. The lefties on the bench are the same. Lamb is more of a last-gasp piece, while Branyan is one Phillie fans know well from 2007. He’ll do exactly what you’d think — hit a home run, or walk, or strike out. That’s it. He’ll get spots with men on base against righties. JC Romero will be ready to face him.

Rivera is the backup catcher, and will be used as such. Kendall plays practically every game.

The Phillies will go with a six-man bench. Dobbs is the big bat, the one who will get the first look with men on and a righty on the mound. The Brewers should try to disable him with Brian Shouse. After Dobbs, it’s more or less famine. Stairs is a nice option if you want instant pop, much like Branyan. Jenkins provides instant not-much-at-all, much like Hall, but is capable of a homer, much like Hall.

On the right side, the Phils are even more empty. Bruntlett might be the first man off the bench because of his versatility and knack for the single-and-steal. But something tells me Charlie Manuel might go with Taguchi first, as his experience outweighs seemingly everything else, including statistics. He hasn’t hit well this season, but could very easily get a big hit or two.

Coste is the backup catcher and may be used as a pinch hitter, considering he has the most pop from the right side.

Analysis: The Brewers have a little more home run power off the bench, so I have to give them a slight advantage. If Branyan gets five tries in the series, one of them will be a home run. Hall, while not a real astute hitter, can also rip one. I like Weeks’ versatility as a hitter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s used in bunt situations.

I’m not too worried about the lefties, though. Branyan probably won’t get five tries, and Lamb isn’t that tough. Romero and Eyre will be used against Fielder and Counsell, but besides them? I see Madson and Durbin being more important in this series.

The Phils bench lacks right-handed pop, which could hurt considering the Brewers will be toting Shouse and Mitch Stetter against lefties. I’m afraid Dobbs won’t get his chance against a righty — all he really needs is one chance. There’s not much worse than seeing Brunlett or even Coste at the plate in a deciding situation late, because there are no other righty bench players.

It’s possible Manuel starts Dobbs, considering Milwaukee has just one lefty starter. That gives Manuel at least the option of Pedro Feliz on the bench. Hopefully he thinks about that. As for Jenkins and Stairs, I’m not completely sold on either, though I still think Jenkins has a big hit in him.

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Gallardo Gets Game 1 Start For Brewers

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 09:14 AM Comments: 23

The Brewers have announced Yovani Gallardo will start game one Wednesday against Cole Hamels in Philadelphia.

Gallardo, 22, is 0-0 in four starts for Milwaukee this season, with a 1.88 ERA, 20 strikeouts and eight walks. Last season he went 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA, striking out 101 and walking 37. He tore his ACL five months ago and has made one start since returning from that injury. It looks as if the Brewers will have Gallardo go about six innings.

He comes with a great fastball-curveball combination, so hitters have to keep balanced. The gameplan may be as simple as “look for the fastball,” but he has a changeup to keep hitters guessing. He has great velocity and movement on the No. 1, so it won’t be easy catching up to him. The hope is that he has bad control, leading to an easy couple of innings.

CC Sabathia is set to throw game two against Brett Myers.

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NLDS Preview Part III : Starting Lineups

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, September 30, 2008 06:12 AM Comments: 7

We continue our seven-part look at the NLDS.

Part III : Starting Lineup

SS : Jimmy Rollins (.277, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 76 R, 47 SB, .786 OPS)
RF : Jayson Werth (.273, 24 HR, 67 RBI, 73 R, 20 SB, .861 OPS)
2B: Chase Utley (.292, 33 HR, 104 RBI, 113 R, 14 SB, .915 OPS)
1B : Ryan Howard (.251, 48 HR, 146 RBI, 105 R, 1 SB, .882 OPS)
LF : Pat Burrell (.250, 33 HR, 86 RBI, 74 R, 0 SB, .874 OPS)
CF : Shane Victorino (.293, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 102 R, 36 SB, .799 OPS)
3B : Pedro Feliz (.249, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 43 R, 0 SB, .704 OPS)
C : Carlos Ruiz (.219, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 47 R, 1 SB, .620 OPS)

CF : Mike Cameron (.243, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 69 R, 17 SB, .808 OPS)
2B : Ray Durham (.289, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 64 R, 8 SB, .812 OPS)
LF : Ryan Braun (.285, 37 HR, 106 RBI, 92 R, 14 SB, .888 OPS)
1B : Prince Fielder (.276, 34 HR, 102 RBI, 86 R, 3 SB, .879 OPS)
SS : JJ Hardy (.283, 24 HR, 74 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, .821 OPS)
RF : Corey Hart (.268, 20 HR, 91 RBI, 76 R, 23 SB, .759 OPS)
3B : Craig Counsell (.226, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 31 R, 3 SB, .657 OPS)
C : Jason Kendall (.246, 2 HR, 49 RBI, 46 R, 8 SB, .651 OPS)

Similarities much? Yes, the Phillies and Brewers compare very well with each other offensively. There are a lot of home runs in these lineups, and a lot of batting averages south of .290. You thought it was bad that Utley and Victorino were the only regulars over .290? Look at Milwaukee.

That said, the Brewers are a giant threat with the long ball. Of this group (the most popular lineup down the stretch), a bunch of guys are 20-homer threats. And the key to stopping them will be stopping them at the top. Cameron can do almost anything, and will do something once a game. If he homers, he homers. If he hits a single, he’ll steal second. The goal is to minimize his production — put him on with two outs and nobody on. That’s your best bet.

Durham started playing regularly because Rickie Weeks is a .234 hitter. The ageless veteran provides gap power from both sides, so if Cameron is on, pitch him tight. Currently Braun is playing hurt and has lowered his average 20 points since Sept. 1. That said, he’s still capable of a big hit, and he can hit anything, so pitch to him when there’s no threat for multiple runs. The middle of the order features the big man, Fielder, who will mash. He’s had somewhat of a down year (for him), but he hit .316 with six homers and 21 RBI in September. And you have to pitch carefully — he’s .298 when his swings are in play.

Once you get through Fielder, it’s still tough. Hardy tweaked his thumb, but is perfectly healthy. He has good home run pop and can drive the ball into the alleys. At .386 in late-and-close situations, he’s one of the Brewers’ better clutch hitters. (Fielder is .349 in late-and-close situations.) Hart is very much like Werth: he can knock the long ball and swipe some bags. A good athlete, he’s been cold in the second half (.659 OPS), but can still reek havoc if he gets on base. Counsell and Kendall make up a poor back end of the lineup — more defensive stalwarts than anything — but both are capable of uplifting hits that can really damage a pitcher’s psyche.

The Phillies’ lineup is manufactured differently, but contains similar parts. Rollins lost his power from his MVP season, but has found some of that magic pixie dust as of late. Hitting .313 in September, he seemed to realize the moment as the the games wound down. He’s capable of getting on base and making productive outs, so Brewers pitching has to be careful. If Rollins is on, he’ll run, and Werth will try and move him. Not a great situational hitter (he’ll strike out looking for a bomb), Werth will knock homers and singles up the turnpike. But if he gets on, he’ll run too. Together, the hungry Rollins and athletic Werth set up the heart nicely.

Utley remains a master hitter. He improved in August and September, but his home run production has curtailed completely. To be successful in the playoffs, Utley may rely on singles, walks and doubles to get it done. But one has to be wary. As for Howard, no need to worry — the big man picked it up toward the end, and had a .352 September. He also walked 12 times in the month, as opposed to 14 in June and July together. He has a 1.002 OPS in Phillie wins (as opposed to a .717 OPS in losses), so if he hits, the Phils win.

It’s possible Milwaukee’s pitchers will walk Howard, because Burrell has been cold in the second half. The way to beat Burrell is to throw a first-pitch strike, then make him miss with strike two. He has an OPS over 1.000 with an 0-1 count, and an OPS over 2.000 with a 3-1 count. Victorino has been the team’s most balanced hitter, working very well as the six-hole guy. In that spot, he leads off a lot of innings (.915 OPS), giving the guys behind him a chance to drive him in, usually from second (he scores once every four times leading off an inning). Feliz and Ruiz make up a barren end of the order, but Feliz can pop a big hit once every couple days. Ruiz has been better of late, if better means .220. When he hits, it’s early in the count.

Analysis: The Brewers are a bit more inexperienced than the Phillies offensively, so craftier pitchers will have a better time dealing with them. They will swing — six players have more than 100 strikeouts (including Bill Hall, who platoons) — so it’s best to attack early in counts and make them look bad. The danger is the walk, as you don’t want men on base for most of these guys. Strikes are a pitcher’s best friend against Milwaukee.

If Phillies pitching takes advantage of the Brewers’ young, inexperienced hitters, it can be a fruitful series. But the line between that and screwing up horribly is needle thin. Meanwhile, Milwaukee pitching has to have the same philosophy against the Phils. Breaking pitches kill Phillie hitters, especially Howard, Werth and the bottom feeders. Howard should still get his, but Werth remains an important key to the offense. If he gets a couple hits or walks, it makes pitching to Utley and Howard that much harder (if I’m Charlie Manuel, I’m still thinking about Utley at two and Werth at three). On the other side of that is Burrell, who needs to step up his production if the Phils want to win. Watch Howard get a free pass anytime there’s an opportunity, putting all pressure on No. 5.

These offenses are quite even. As much as Burrell is crucial to the Phillies’ success, the Brewers will rely on Hardy to get it done behind Braun and Fielder. And as much as Werth has to keep innings rolling, Milwaukee will look for Durham/Weeks to do the same. The best offense will hit one more grounder through the hole. The best offense will lay down one more perfect bunt. The best offense will knock home one more runner via the sacrifice fly. Cancel out the home runs, small ball will be the difference in this series.

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NLDS Preview Part II : Relief Pitching

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, September 29, 2008 07:10 PM Comments: 18

We continue our seven-part look at the NLDS.

Part II : Relief Pitching

MR: Clay Condrey (3-4, 3.26 ERA, 34 K, 19 BB)
MR: Rudy Seanez (5-4, 3.53 ERA, 30 K, 25 BB)
MR: Scott Eyre (5-0, 4.21 ERA, 32 K, 7 BB)
MR: Chad Durbin (5-4, 2.87 ERA, 63 K, 35 BB)
SR: JC Romero (4-4, 2.75 ERA, 52 K, 38 BB)
SR: Ryan Madson (4-2, 3.05 ERA, 67 K, 23 BB)
CR: Brad Lidge (2-0, 41 SV, 1.95 ERA, 92 K, 35 BB)

MR: Mitch Stetter (3-1, 3.20 ERA, 31 K, 19 BB)
MR: Seth McClung (6-6, 4.02 ERA, 87 K, 55 BB)
MR: Carlos Villanueva (4-7, 4.07 ERA, 93 K, 30 BB)
MR: David Riske (1-2, 5.31 ERA, 27 K, 25 BB)
MR: Eric Gagne (4-3, 5.44 ERA, 38 K, 22 BB)
SR: Brian Shouse (5-1, 2.81 ERA, 33 K, 13 BB)
SR: Guillermo Mota (5-6, 4.11 ERA, 50 K, 28 BB)
CR: Salomon Torres (7-5, 28 SV, 3.49 ERA, 51 K, 33 BB)

Bullpens are still not completely known, but this is a raw idea.

You’d think the Brewers bullpen was horrible considering everyone is saying it’s their Achilles heel. Don’t be fooled. The Brewers’ 3.83 bullpen ERA is ninth in the majors. It isn’t the Phils’ 3.19 ERA, but it’s respectable. The Brews’ heel in the pen is at closer, where they haven’t solidified that role completely. Currently it’s Torres. The 36-year-old has struggled recently — he’s given up 12 earned runs in September.

Getting to Torres has also been a problem. Gagne just doesn’t have it, and gives up a wealth of home runs, so Phillies’ bats better be ready to pounce if he finds time. Mota gives up close to a hit per inning, and has worse than a 2:1 K:BB ratio. He’s definitely hittable. For the Brewers to succeed they’ll likely rely on the left-handed Shouse, who would pose problems for the big bats in the middle. Lefties are hitting just .180 against him in 100 at bats. Charlie Manuel may want to think about breaking up Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for Shouse alone.

Riske was a veteran risk and is now out for the season, so look for Villanueva to get considerable time if the Brewers need a sixth- or seventh-inning reliever. He piles up strikeouts with his weird delivery, which kills timing. He and McClung serve as proficient swing men, much like Durbin of the Phils. Stetter might get a spot on the playoff roster because he’s a lefty, and would serve as a middle-innings LOOGY against the big bats (lefties are .158 in 38 at bats).

The Phillies come into the series touting the National League’s top bullpen. What a difference a year makes. The main reason has been Lidge, who hasn’t shown any reason to think he’ll blow a save. As long as he’s rested — which he should be — he’ll get the job done.

Getting to Lidge has been the pen’s only real problem, and even that hasn’t been a big deal. It looks as if Madson will be the eighth inning guy, with Romero waiting to face lefties. That means, hopefully, Romero gets Fielder and any lefty pinch hitters, and it’s mainly up to Madson. Against the big-swinging Crew, I like Madson in this series.

The sixth and seventh innings go to Durbin and Eyre, who provide more ground balls than the K-happy Romero and Madson. They’re effective when they locate their pitches low in the zone. Durbin has had a bout of trouble lately, but in a short series, any trouble will mean a quick exit. And if the Phils need a big out without using the big boys, Seanez can do the trick at times. Condrey is there for mop-up work, but hopefully won’t have that opportunity. He could get a big out or two along the line.

Analysis: Obviously I like the Phils bullpen much more here. There’s an organization to it. Condrey and Seanez if need be; Durbin and Eyre for the sixth and seventh; Romero and Madson for the seventh and eighth; Lidge in the ninth. If anyone were to have trouble in the series, I’d think it’d be Romero, who might be called on to pitch to righties and lose control.

At first glance, the Brewers bullpen reminds one of last year’s Phillies bullpen. Uncertainty at closer, some mediocre veteran arms in the middle, some possibly hot pieces, but overall, an unorganized mess. Still, in a short series you can never be too nervous. If Milwaukee starters go seven innings and Dale Sveum calculates a rotation of Villanueva, Shouse and McClung before getting to Torres, it might be hairy for the Phils.

Sitll, I think the Phils could and possibly will win a game off the Brewers bullpen. It could be game one, if Yovani Gallardo is tapped for that start. I can’t necessarily see the Crew taking one of the Phils pen, but anything can happen.

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Myers, Moyer Get Game 2, 3 Starts

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, September 29, 2008 04:59 PM Comments: 17

Todd Zolecki reports Brett Myers will start game two of the NLDS, while Jamie Moyer will start game three in Milwaukee.

Pretty much what we expected, and a good choice. I love Moyer starting a crucial game in the road ballpark, with Myers getting the home crowd going nuts, very likely opposing CC Sabathia. Who wants to bet Myers comes out firing in this one?

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