After a 162-game battle that went down to the wire, it doesn’t seem fair for a team’s season to live or die based on another three to five games.
Especially if your team loses three of those games.
The typical knock on power-hitting teams is that, by relying on the long bomb, they don’t generate runs when the homers don’t come. Despite a pair of games in Citizens Bank Park (which isn’t as hitter-friendly as some say, but it’s hardly Petco), the Brewers found themselves in just that situation.
The Crew banged out 198 homers in the regular season, third in the National League behind the Phillies and Marlins. Along with that, they came in fourth in strikeouts and 10th in on-base percentage. It’s no surprise that, against good pitchers, those characteristics can result in an offensive drought.
And that’s just what happened. Milwaukee didn’t get a long ball until the 33rd inning of the series. The team walked a respectable 7 percent of the time, but struck out more than 25 percent. Basically, the entire club turned into Mike Cameron. On a bad day.
The pitching staff didn’t let the team down, but the seeds of disaster were sown before the Brewers flew to Philadelphia.
In September, Ben Sheets went down with a season-ending injury, and CC Sabathia pitched even more than usual to help pick up the slack. The Sheets-less rotation ended up including both Yovani Gallardo (capable, but not stretched out) and Jeff Suppan (also capable, but only in 2006).
Gallardo was fine, but Sabathia and Suppan weren’t. It’s possible to look over the disastrous third inning of Game 2, when Sabathia coughed up a grand slam to Shane Victorino, and find just a moment or two when CC wasn’t himself. But in truth, even when he got outs, Sabathia was showing signs of wear.
And Suppan…well, if the Brewers are back in the postseason when Suppan is still around, I’m guessing somebody else will pitch Game 4.
With the Brewers, it always comes down to the defense. In the rain-soaked Game 1, a couple of key plays made the difference for the Phillies. First, Bill Hall and Rickie Weeks combined to misplay a Cole Hamels sac bunt. Later in the inning, Mike Cameron reached for, but couldn’t pull down, a Chase Utley fly ball that plated two runs.
Either one of those plays could’ve kept the Phillies off the board that inning—the only one in which Philadelphia scored. It’s not really fair to play what-if—after all, if the inning had ended on schedule, the middle of the Phillies order would’ve had a chance the following frame—but given how well Gallardo and the bullpen performed, it’s tough not to dream about what might have been.
The fact that the Brewers lost to the Phillies does provide a nice silver lining. Last year, the Phils were crushed in the first round of a long-awaited postseason appearance. Similar to this year’s Milwaukee team, their offense just didn’t show up.
It remains to be seen whether the 2009 Brewers will be worthy of another shot in October, but if they make it, the 2008 Phillies remind us that, a year later, things could work out very differently.