Both teams are looking to end long postseason victory droughts—Philadelphia since 1993 and Milwaukee since 1982. On paper, it should be the Phillies advancing to the championship series against Chicago or Los Angeles, but …
Philadelphia should have the psychological edge, having won five of six in the season series and four straight while outscoring the Brewers, 26-10, from Sept. 11-14 at Citizens Bank Park, the hitters' paradise where the divisional showdown takes place Wednesday (2 p.m. CT) and Thursday (5 p.m.) and gives the hosts a huge home-field advantage. The Phils also had the best road record in the Senior Circuit.
The day after Philadelphia's doubleheader sweep that moved the hosts into a tie with the Brewers for the wild-card lead, Milwaukee dismissed skipper Ned Yost and replaced him with third-base coach Dale Sveum.
Charlie Manuel's bunch also has the postseason experience, having rallied down the stretch the last two seasons to steal the NL East flag from the snake-bitten Mets. They also have last year's three-game sweep to the surprising Colorado Rockies still in their minds and don't want another first-round debacle.
The Phillies finished 17-8 in September, while the Brewers went 10-16, although they won five of their final six to clinch their first National League playoff appearance.
Philadelphia has one of the game's best closers in rejuvenated right-hander Brad Lidge, who converted all 41 of his save opportunities. Milwaukee's Salomon Torres was thrust from a set-up role into his ninth-inning gig after Eric Gagne failed five times in his first 15 chances early in the year. But the veteran Torres has slumped just like the rest of the team of late, posting an 8.53 ERA in 12 September outings, allowing 19 hits and 12 runs.
So, Milwaukee must find ways to score before the ninth, because even though they've enjoyed some success against Lidge in the past, he's as good as ever right now.
The Phillies send out one of the most potent attacks in baseball. And nobody has been hotter, at least as far as run production, than slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, the NL's soon-to-be, two-time Most Valuable Player in many people's minds. Despite striking out 199 times and hitting only .251 overall, Howard had a monster final month, batting .345 with 11 long balls and 32 RBIs, to finish with 48 homers and 146 RBIs to lead both leagues.
Philly also features defending MVP Jimmy Rollins as its lead-off guy, and a switch-hitter to boot. He hit .277 with 11 homers and 47 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Second baseman Chase Utley (.292, 33 and 104) is one of the game's best average-power hitters around. Then throw in young Jayson Werth (.273, 24, 67), Pat Burrell (.250, 33, 86) and Shane Victorino (.293, 14, 58) and the Phils have plenty of firepower to feast on Milwaukee's battered and depleted starting rotation.
The Brewers' staff must keep Rollins and whoever bats second off the bases as much as possible to minimize the damage that Utley and Howard can unleash. They must also contain the lower half of the Phils' lineup, which they also failed to do in their most recent meetings.
That means that Milwaukee must avoid having to use lefty relievers Brian Shouse and Mitch Stetter too early in games so they're available in the seventh-ninth if necessary. That also goes for Manny Parra depending on when/if they use him as a starter or long reliever.
Milwaukee likely will throw CC Sabathia in Game 2, a fourth consecutive start on short rest. Before and after that is a crap shoot as veteran righty Jeff Suppan and Parra imploded down the stretch after going unbeaten in August.
However, despite all of their struggles, the Brewers finished second to the Dodgers in team ERA at 3.85, while Philly was fourth at 3.88. But without Sabathia's contributions since his arrival in early July, Milwaukee would have been in the middle of the pack at best.
Brewers hurlers allowed 175 homers—only Houston and Cincinnati gave up more—and that doesn't bode well, especially at Citizens Bank against the most prolific home-run hitting squad in the NL.
The Phillies' rotation features the ageless Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71) and one of the league's best young southpaws in Game 1 starter Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09), who has a 4.41 career ERA against the Crew in five appearances. Game 2 starter Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55) was brilliant in the second half with a 1.80 ERA in 11 starts, but he allowed 14 earned runs and 19 hits in his final two starts covering only 8.1 innings. Moyer and Myers stifled the Brewers in the first and last games of the crucial September four-game set on three days' rest. Then there's Joe Blanton, 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA after being obtained from Oakland.
The Phils also have Chad Durbin (2.87) and Ryan Madson (3.05) to bridge the gap from their starters to Lidge, whereas Milwaukee's bullpen has been in flux because of poor performances and injuries (namely to Ben Sheets) and uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation.
The thing that separates the all-or-nothing teams—Philly hit .255 and Milwaukee .253—is that the Phillies have a good mix of left-handed and right-handed weapons, whereas Milwaukee's lone lefty with pop is Prince Fielder.
So, although the Brewers finished 32-19 against southpaw starters, they didn't fare well against Moyer and seldom have shown enough patience to get counts in their favor and more times than not have tried to yank or pull everything, resulting in harmless grounders to the left side or pop-ups.