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.