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Know Your Enemy 2: NLCS Edition

Posted on October 9, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Filed Under: Baseball Bloggers Alliance | Milwaukee Brewers | St. Louis Cardinals
I'm doing my best to cover all the bases in getting ready for the NLCS.  Not only did I sit down with Jim Breen of Bernie's Crew for the podcast (which you can listen to here), but also I exchanged questions with Jaymes Langrehr of Brewers Bar.  He also posed some questions to me, which should be up on his blog soon.  For now, though, take a glimpse at what Jaymes is thinking about when it comes to this series.  By the way, you can follow both of these guys on Twitter--Jim is BerniesCrew, Jaymes BrewersBar--so you can keep a pulse on the other side during the series.

C70: Let's talk about your NLDS. Were there any surprises--good or bad? 

BB: I'd say there were plenty of surprises, which you're always going to get in a high-stakes short series. I wouldn't have expected Yuniesky Betancourt to have as big of a series as he did (5-for-18, with a double, triple, and a go-ahead RBI in Game 5). I wouldn't have expected Carlos Gomez to get on base in extra innings considering he posted a .276 OBP this year. I wasn't expecting John Axford to blow a save (although it was going to happen sooner or later), let alone one in which he only made one mistake on the double by Parra. Going back further in the series, I didn't expect Shaun Marcum to get roughed up like he did in Phoenix. 

A lot of unexpected things happened, but that's why it was such an entertaining series. I would've remembered it as one of the best postseason series I've seen even if the Brewers had lost Game 5. 

C70: How is the team looking going into the NLCS? Any concerns? 

BB: Rickie Weeks didn't hit well in the NLDS, and save for a mammoth home run in the season's closing days, hasn't hit for much power at all since coming back from his severe ankle sprain. He's still not running all that well, and his lateral movement defensively still seems iffy at best. Still, Weeks at 80% is still better than the other options the team has, especially if Jerry Hairston keeps starting at third base. 

I am a little concerned about Marcum and Randy Wolf after their poor starts in the LDS, but both were prone to random bad outings during the season, too. It's hard to make too much of one-start sample sizes, but it was odd to see Marcum throw so few changeups in his start when he threw them about 25% of the time during the season. 

Oddly enough, I'm not all that worried about a rookie manager having to face off against Tony La Russa with a trip to the World Series on the line. I've been critical of some of the things Ron Roenicke does, but for the most part, he's done a very good job of keeping a level head and making sure his players don't play tight. He could have had a quicker hook with Marcum and Wolf in Arizona, but he handled Game 5 just about as well as anyone could have. 

C70: Which projected pitching matchup do you think favors the Brewers the most? Which one worries you the most? 

BB: I think I like the Game 1 matchup best for the Brewers, with Zack Greinke going against either Jaime Garcia or Kyle Lohse (I thought I had seen it will be Garcia, but apparently nothing is decided yet?). Greinke is hard to beat period, but in Milwaukee he's been something else, and Garcia has had his troubles on the road. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I am definitely not looking forward to facing Chris Carpenter as the series shifts to St. Louis. If the Cardinals can get out of Milwaukee with the series tied at 1, I think they have a very good chance of taking control of the series in Game 3. 

C70: What do you think the odds are that any of the regular season "bad blood" rears up during the series? 

BB: I really wanted to see this matchup because of all the emotions involved. I'm not rooting for a fight, but the added tension adds to the drama of the series. I think a lot of people are expecting something to happen, but I would think both managers are making it clear that the best way to retaliate is by beating the other team on the field. Neither team can afford ejections or suspensions of key players at this point, so I think things could actualyl be remarkably calm. Of course, that could all go out the window depending on which player is getting plunked. 

C70: We know the rotation is strong (save for Randy Wolf's last start) and the offense is good. How is the bullpen looking right now? 

BB: Game 5-induced stomach ulcers notwithstanding, I still really like the Brewers' bullpen. It almost seems as though if the Brewers can get through 6 innings with the lead, they have the game well in hand -- Takashi Saito and/or LaTroy Hawkins can take the 7th, Francisco Rodriguez can take the 8th, and John Axford can take the 9th. Kameron Loe is a groundball machine, while Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson are very serviceable long men in a postseason bullpen. It still feels weird to say after all these years, but the bullpen shouldn't be a problem for the Brewers. 

C70: What are your expectations for this series? 

BB: Lots of emotion from both sides, but nothing will be decided in the first couple games. I'd be surprised if it takes less than 6 games to decide it, considering just how evenly matched these teams are. I can't even begin to imagine the excitement/nervousness in Milwaukee if things got to a Game 7. 

From the Brewers' perspective, things are set up nicely for a run at the World Series with Philadelphia out on the NL side and New York and Tampa gone in the AL. I like their chances. Still, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cardinals walk away with the pennant. I saw a comparison elsewhere relating this series to the NFC Championship game between the Packers and Bears, except the Brewers were playing the role of the Bears -- division champions, homefield advantage, and vocally confident. The Cardinals are a bit more like the Packers of last year -- nearly decimated by injuries, snuck into the playoffs as a wildcard after another team choked (the Giants losing to Philly to let Green Bay in), but a team that get absurdly hot at the right time and seems to have everything breaking their way. That's a comparison that makes a Wisconsin sports fan nervous. 

No matter what happens, though, this is going to be a memorable series for both sides, and something that will build the rivalry. As much as Brewers fans hate the Cubs, there hasn't really ever been anything like this in that rivalry.

My appreciation to Jaymes for taking the time to answer these questions.  This should be a fun week!

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