Brewers vow they’re not looking past Diamondbacks
Up 2-0 in their best-of-five National League Divisional Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Brewers come into tonight’s Game 3 at Chase Field with both the momentum and history on their side.
Since Major League Baseball went to the current playoff format in 1995, all 19 teams that took a 2-0 lead in the NLDS advanced to the NLCS. In the American League, 17 of the 21 teams that opened with a 2-0 lead in the NLDS moved on to the next round.
Emphatic numbers, indeed.
And while it might be prudent for fans to start looking into flights to and hotels in the City of Brotherly Love—assuming the Philadelphia Phillies indeed wind up outlasting the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals—the Brewers themselves aren’t looking past today.
“To me, it’s irrelevant,” said left fielder Ryan Braun, whose .750 batting average and three RBIs have helped set the tone for the Brewers offensively to this point.
“Every series is a challenge unto itself. Every series presents a unique challenge. It’s good when history is on your side—I think it shows it’s a challenge for the other team. We’re in the position that we want to be in, but aside from that, nothing’s ever guaranteed.
That’s probably a wise tact to take facing an Arizona team that not only is returning to a place it went 51-30 in the regular season but also earned an NL West title by being at its best when the chips were stacked against it.
The Diamondbacks led the majors with 48 come-from-behind wins. The last, a six-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-6, a week ago, forced the Brewers to win on the final day of the regular season to clinch home-field advantage.
Milwaukee has used that to its full advantage, posting a pair of decisive wins. But Arizona will be coming at the Brewers with rookie Josh Collmenter, who has thrown 14 shutout innings against them this season, and is sure to be refocused after having called a clubhouse meeting Monday.
“We’re behind by two games right now. We need to win the next three,” said manager Kirk Gibson, who has come under fire for some questionable decision-making in the first two games. “We’re aware that we have the ability to play better and execute better and stop giving the Brewers additional opportunities to put us away.
“So we had a little chat about that today. We understand what we’re up against, and we cherish the opportunity to be here.”
The Brewers have gotten themselves to this point by using their full arsenal.
In Game 1, Yovani Gallardo pitched perhaps the game of his young career. The right-hander threw an eight-inning gem, allowing just four hits and a run to go along with nine strikeouts in a 4-1 Milwaukee win that was highlighted by three hits from Braun and a two-run home run from Prince Fielder.
In Game 2, it was more offense from Braun & Co. that rescued Zack Greinke from a so-so outing and another lock-down job by the bullpen, leaving the Brewers one win away from clinching their first playoff series victory since 1982.
Such balance obviously is a must in the postseason, when the pressure to perform is cranked up considerably and the lights are at their brightest.
“It just shows how full-circle a team we are,” said center fielder Nyjer Morgan, whose two-run single in the sixth inning helped break open Game 2.
“One day it can be dominating pitching, and then we can nickel-and-dime and get our runs. Then there’s other days the SWAT team comes around and we let people have it, and the bullpen brotherhood does what they’re supposed to do.
“It just shows how complete this team is.”
Another factor to keep in mind heading into Game 3 is the Brewers’ 23-11 record on the road in the second half.
Much was made of their major-league-best 57-24 mark at Miller Park at the end of the regular season, but a huge key in Milwaukee’s playoff push was their turnaround on the road after dropping to 16-31 two games out of the all-star break in mid-July.
“I think we’ve played great on the road in the second half, specifically the last two months of the season,” Braun said. “We feel good about ourselves. We feel like we’re playing good baseball regardless of who we’re playing or where we’re playing.”
Milwaukee should also be helped by the maneuvering of its starting rotation, which will see Shaun Marcum take the mound for Game 3.
His starts away from Miller Park have been markedly better, with eight of his 13 wins coming in hostile territory. He’s 8-3 with a 2.21 earned-run average in 16 starts on the road.
“When Shaun goes out there, I’m not concerned about him,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He’s not lights-out like he was earlier. He has those stretches where he is.
“This is still a great starter, great competitor. When he’s good, he needs to have that command on. And hopefully tomorrow, he’ll have that command.”
At the very least, Milwaukee has command of the series. And history suggests it’s in no danger of losing it.