Why the Phillies beat the Brewers

First of all, condolences to fans of the Brewers; a special shout out to Jeff Sackmann of the websites MinorLeagueSplits.com, CollegeSplits.com, and BrewCrewBall.com. (He also contributes to the fantasy magazine Heater and Baseball Think Factory’s Harvey’s Wallbangers whom you will recall co-authored last year’s post mortem on the Brewers’ bullpen: Yost Infection.)

It just wasn’t going to happen for the Brewers this year with an overworked C.C. Sabathia and injured Ben Sheets; regardless, it should not detract from their incredible season and first playoff appearance since 1982. Hopefully there will not be as long a wait for their next run at a World Series. The team is in good hands and hopefully will continue to make noise in the NL Central.

As usual, I have brought along the expertise of Crashburn Alley‘s and Baseball Digest Daily’s Bill Baer in our wrap-up of the NLDS.

John: Well Bill, the early knockout of Sabathia was a pleasant surprise, and I‘ll admit I was a little nervous that the Phillies might have to face him in a fifth game. What were your initial impressions of the series?

Bill: Despite the fact that the NLDS wasn’t a clean sweep for the Philadelphia Phillies, it’s patently obvious that they flat-out dominated the Milwaukee Brewers in all facets of the game. Essentially, they did to the Brewers what the Colorado Rockies did to them last year in the NLDS. Granted, the Brew Crew bullpen was actually impressive (15 IP, 0 ER, 11 H, 4 BB, 11 K), but it didn’t matter because their starting pitching was sub-par and they couldn’t hit a lick.

If the Brewer offense could have touched the Phillies’ starters (and they didn’t light up Moyer, even though he only went four innings), it would have been a much closer series, but they put up an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .206/.271/.254. Of their 26 hits, 22 (85 percent) were singles. When you’re not getting on base and you’re not hitting for extra bases, it’s going to be a long night.

John: I was shocked how well the Brewers’ much-maligned bullpen performed; I still haven’t decided whether the Phillies’ bats were just cold or they were getting it done. Considering that they knocked around Sabathia and Suppan, I’m inclined to give credit where it’s due and say that they simply stepped it up a notch. It certainly gives Milwaukee fans hope going into next year, although I wouldn’t be pinning my hopes on Salomon Torres to handle ninth-inning duties next year.

Just a point on Moyer though: I’m rarely one to pin blame on umpires, but this year I saw a lot of brutal work from the men in blue. I thought Brian Runge’s strike zone was an absolute joke in Game 3. To his “credit” he was equally inconsistent with both teams, but I really felt badly for Moyer; even if he could unerringly spot his pitches at will, he still would have had no idea whether it would be a strike or a ball until the Runge called it. Certainly its location had little bearing on what the call would be. I thought David Bush did a respectable job that night, and the way he and the bullpen stymied the Phillies’ lineup it would not have made much difference in the final outcome of the game.

I thought that joke of a performance by Runge needed to be noted.

I saw the Brewers approach Ryan Howard the same way the Blue Jays handled Frank Thomas in the 1993 ALCS—they made their mind up in advance that he was not going to hurt them. I thought it an odd strategy since Howard was .251/.339/.543 and struck out 199 times for the second straight year whereas “The Big Hurt” hit .317/.426/.607 and whiffed just 54 times. You pitched to Thomas at your own risk back then, but while Howard has big power and was red hot in September, it’s still a guy to whom you can pitch.

Bill: Ryan Howard drew five walks in the series, but three were intentional—one in each of Games 1, 2 and 4. Oddly enough, they won in the only game in which they didn’t IBB Howard. Not that there’s any real correlation, of course. Giving the free passes to Howard didn’t really pay off: in Game 1, Gallardo walked Howard intentionally, then unintentionally walked the next two batters, forcing in a run; in Game 2, they IBB’ed him and no damage was done; in Game 4, they IBB’ed him and Pat Burrell promptly deposited a three-run home run over the left field fence. Avoiding Howard didn’t help the Brewers too much. Conversely, the Phillies went after the Brewers’ left-handed masher, Prince Fielder. He was only IBB’ed twice, and went 1-for-14 with a solo home run in the series.

Me: Served them right in my opinion. The intentional walk is a lot like bunting—it should be used very judiciously and not automatically in certain situations. Putting a man on base that made 475 outs last season with that kind of firepower behind him is the sort of behavior that should be punished with extreme prejudice. I wondered in our preview whether the running game might come into play in the series. The Phillies obviously had to be cautious with Jason Kendall’s cannon behind the plate, but when the Brewers had their “power outage” I found it odd that they didn’t give some of their speedsters many chances at nabbing some bases.

After they were down 2-0 and Runge decided to become a strike zone atheist the Brewers had a lot of base runners. Mike Cameron and J.J. Hardy were on base 13 times but never put their speed to much use. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention at the time being more concerned with their power hitters—did they try to run at all?

Bill: The Brewers never attempted a single stolen base, a part of their offensive futility and somewhat due to the fact that Rickie Weeks was injured in Game 3, but regardless, they hadn’t attempted it at all prior to that. Additionally, Mike Cameron put up an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .154/.353/.154 and Corey Hart went .231/.333/.231—both have more than enough speed to swipe a bag but weren’t getting on base enough to put it to use. It’s not like Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has a fearsome cannon, as he threw out a paltry 17.7 percent of base-stealers in 2008. If he had enough defensive innings to qualify, that’d rank dead last in the National League.

John: What surprised you the most in the series?

Bill: Even though the Brewers committed fewer errors than the Phillies—1 to 2—their defense wasn’t particularly impressive, especially in Games 1 and 2 when Mike Cameron misplayed two line drives in center field. One, hit by Chase Utley, allowed two runs to score in Game 1, which ended 3-1; the other, hit by Shane Victorino, gave the Phillies a runner in scoring position to lead off the sixth inning in Game 2. In Game 3, Jayson Werth smoked a fly ball to deep right field. Corey Hart gave chase and very nearly caught it, as the ball went in and out of his glove and was jarred out when Hart collided with the fence and tumbled backwards. Werth got a triple and later scored on a ground ball hit by Ryan Howard. The Brewers still won the game but it was a run that never should have scored.

In Craig Counsell’s defense, he made a very impressive catch (http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200810053594057) on a fly ball that hit the roof of Miller Park.

John: Probably what stood out for me was how well they handled Prince Fielder—he hit a mammoth shot off of Joe Blanton but other than that had him well contained. I think his girth has made him extremely vulnerable to being pitched inside, and that is something that will have to be addressed. I also came away very impressed with Blanton’s performance. Admittedly I was very worried about him starting after he had that four-outing stretch in late August/early September when he walked 14 in 20.2 IP. I really thought the Brewers were going to approach him the same way they did Moyer and simply wait for him to throw a strike.

I guess without Runge working home plate that strategy wouldn’t be as effective. Regardless, his 0 BB/7 K performance will make me feel a lot easier in the NLCS. O.K. Bill, once again, parting shots…

Bill: The Phillies won because they simply outplayed the Brewers in every aspect of the game (sans the bullpen, which didn’t matter). The Phils depended on the long ball offensively—67 percent of their runs came from dingers—but stole five bases and drew 33 percent more walks. And, as they say, “pitching wins in the postseason,” and a 5.21 ERA from your starters won’t bring you much success, especially if one of those starters is C.C. Sabathia and he doesn’t even reach the fourth inning.

John: I’m not worried about Moyer for reasons stated above, and Blanton’s solid outing has me feeling pretty good heading into the series against the Dodgers. They’re no slouches from the mound themselves; the Phillies, however, have a much better offense. Of course we’ll get into that in a bit more depth when we sit down and discuss why the Phillies will beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Thanks again for the input Bill.

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