A Simple Kind of Fan. The Playoff Preview. – 9.27.11
For this week’s playoff edition, I thought I would take a look at each player that will be on the roster starting from most important to the team’s goal of winning a World Series down the least important. I would think of this as more of an exercise in who has the most value to the team winning. Since the goal is a World Championship, a player in the playoffs may be more valuable to the Brewers than he was in the regular season. As a result, this list would look different than just a list reviewing overall talent.
The Top 3. These players need to play well or forget it.
1) Zack Greinke. He’s undefeated at home. The bar is set tremendously high, but Grienke needs to come out and be the ace everyone expects him to be. I’m a bit concerned about his ability to eliminate the media distractions that come with being a playoff ace. The extra media requests and commitments will be a bother to a guy who hates people in general. At a minimum he needs to play well to compensate for Yuniesky Betancourt in the lineup. His strikeout ability will be critical as a complement to the bad defense being played behind him.
2) Yovani Gallardo. The Milwaukee Brewers will not have postseason success without Yovani Gallardo continuing a recent stretch of dominance. He is the home grown golden boy and this is an opportunity for redemption after a somewhat forgettable 2008 postseason performance. He became the first Brewers pitcher to strike out 10 or more batters in three consecutive starts and he’ll need to continue to do so with a historically shaky defense behind him.
3) Shawn Marcum. Marcum is the team’s secret weapon on the road with an 8-3 record and a 2.21 ERA away from Miller Park. Looking further reveals opposing hitters also have a slash line of .202/.249/.317/.566 against Marcum on the road. This is a trend that must continue if the team happens to cough up any games at home. Regardless of the offense, a World Series victory is not possible without Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum being just as incredible as they have been at any point in the season as a group.
The Next 6. One of these six players could slump and the team could win, but I doubt it.
4) Rickie Weeks . In my opinion, Rickie is the key to the entire offense. Even an average Rickie is the best option for the five hole moving forward. A red hot Rickie Weeks will cause many runs to be scored by Braun and Fielder. If I had to pick one Brewer to get hot for the playoffs, it would be Rickie. Creating situations where opposing pitchers must pitch to Prince Fielder should be the goal for the entire offense.
5) Prince Fielder. I can think of no better way for Milwaukee to say good bye to Prince Fielder than during the World Championship rally following the season. Prince is the heart and soul of the Milwaukee offense and he will be dearly missed after the season. That being said, he needs to carry the offense and allow the starters to have just enough runs to work with before handing over the lead to the bullpen. Teams will attempt to pitch around him and his ability to impact the game will rely on production from his teammates. Prince truly deserves a king’s goodbye.
6) Ryan Braun. Braun has a habit of doing the biggest things on the biggest stages. It doesn’t get any bigger than the playoffs and I expect Braun to shine. His ability to drive fastballs in crucial situations will depend greatly on the ability of Hart and Plush to be on base consistently. Braun may look back on this season one day as the last year he truly had protection in a major league lineup. As such, he should not let the opportunity slip through his fingers.
7) John Axford. The franchise’s single season leader in saves looks to continue his dominance in the playoffs. In fact, I look forward to Axford expanding his innings this postseason and having quite a few two inning outings. He has been the team’s best pitcher in the second half and has only given up two earned runs in 21-1/3 August and September innings. He has been able to locate his fastball and use his off speed pitches to devastating effectiveness.
8) Francisco Rodriguez. Much like Axford, KRod also has the ability to go to two innings in an appearance. That is a tremendous weapon to have in a deciding game. KRod is reliable in tight spots and exhibits a closer’s coolness in the highest of leverage situations. If the Brewers can secure a lead after six innings, this team will be very difficult to defeat.
9) Corey Hart. Hart has much redeeming to do after a pathetic appearance in ’08. He was 3 x 13, but honestly it wasn’t even that close. On the flip side, Hart can also carry a team for short stretches when he gets hot. Ultimately, he needs to be less like the ’08 playoff Hart and more like the August 2011 version. That Hart had a slash line of .321/.385/.594/.979 and helped drive an offense during a long stretch of success. Corey needs to be on base frequently and he needs to be successful in cashing in on baserunners bunted over by Milwaukee pitchers.
Hero Time! One of these two guys could be the hero no one sees coming.
10) Nyjer Morgan. Plush needs to play superior defense while in centerfield. Doing so will help take some of the pressure off of the pitchers that will be hurt by a weak infield defense. Whether I like it or not, Plush will be doing plenty of bunting this postseason when given the opportunity. He needs to convert these opportunities. Finally, having a tandem as talented as Braun and Fielder loses some luster without players on base in front of them. A hot Nyjer Morgan could make any solo homers become game swinging two run homers.
11) Jerry Hairston Jr. If the Brewers are playing deep into October, it’s probably because Hairston is playing on a consistent basis. If he comes out and goes 5 x 7, RRR would have no choice but to start riding the hot hand. It appears as if this is already happening at third base. I truly feel that Hairston is a better overall option than either of the current left side starters and I’m optimistic he’ll get a chance to show it.
These guys just need to be themselves.
12) Takashi Saito. The rough start to the season might have turned out differently with a healthy Saito. RRR was forced to trot out Loe for many 8 th innings and the results were disastrous. Saito appears to be relatively healthy at this point and is critical to shutting down opponents in the seventh inning of regular season games. With Axford’s two inning ability, Saito become a luxury for RRR to use in the sixth inning of a tough contest. He excels against lefties and righties and is ideal to put out a fifth or sixth inning fire.
13) LaTroy Hawkins. Just like Saito, Hawkins has been limited to every other day in an attempt to stay healthy. The tactic worked all season and now we can eliminate that need to go every other day in the playoffs. I like the use of Hawkins in early bullpen situations or in a tie ballgame late in the game. He has been dominant all season and I see no reason that it should stop now.
14) Jon Lucroy. First and foremost, Lucroy needs to take charge of the staff and establish himself as the defensive leader of the infield. He can accomplish this by blocking balls in critical situations and by gunning down attempting base stealers. In my opinion, any offense supplied by Lucroy is gravy in the postseason.
15) Kameron Loe. Don’t kid yourself, Loe is going to see some important innings this postseason. There are going to be a few tied games in late innings that will seem like a good spot for Loe. In fact, at any point in the postseason that a team has three right handed hitters in the lineup coming up, Loe has to be considered an option. He has a 2.41 FIP and righties are only hitting .224 against him. This dictates that Loe may be a viable option at times this postseason.
One of these guys needs to step up and make an impact.
16) Randy Wolf . It doesn’t sound like the Brewers will go with a three man rotation. As a result, Wolf will get at least one start, and more in a couple of seven game series. I’m not the most comfortable with this based on Wolf’s 4.30 FIP on the season. For the Brewers to continue to advance, they will need Wolf to keep the ball down in the zone, and limit his walks. He has two career playoff starts, and hopefully he will use those experiences to succeed in this postseason.
17) Casey McGehee. McGehee’s season continues to border on disastrous as he is scuffling at an incredible pace. Ending things on such a skid certainly hasn’t helped things either. I have heard a few people speculate that McGehee could a playoff hero and make people forget the regular season. That’s the magic of the postseason, anyone can be a hero. It is probably more critical for McGehee than any other Brewer to get off to a good start in the playoffs to avoid being benched.
18) Yuniesky Betancourt. What can I say? For nearly seven months I have been pointing out the obvious flaws in Yuni’s game that have been hurting the team. His inability to work the count and produce impactful offense has hurt the Brewers all season. His woeful range produced a shoddy defensive result and makes him about as bad as any regular starter there is in baseball. I cannot envision any scenario that has Yuni playing daily and the Brewers advancing throughout the playoffs.
19) Chris Narveson. As we all know, I love the Narv Dog and he has had a terrific season. He was an anchor every fifth day, and if it wasn’t for a glove repairing accident, he would have eclipsed almost every single one of his career marks. His .210 Batting average against lefties means he could be summoned in a tight spot, likely in tie game, or with the Brewers trailing by a run. Having Narveson is a nice insurance policy in case options A,B,C, and D do not go according to plan. A long series will test every member of the pitching staff and I’m confident Narveson will be up to the task if called upon.
20) Marco Estrada. Marco Estrada will also make the postseason team. In an ideal world, he would act as a mop up pitcher for three innings of a Milwaukee blowout victory. In the worst case, he is the last option for RRR in the 15 th inning of a playoff game with Utley, Pence, and Howard coming up.
The Bench. Who is going to be this year’s Luis Sojo?
21) Mark Kotsay. I can’t imagine a scenario where Roenicke would give Kotsay a start this postseason. However, this is RRR we are talking about, so you just never know. Obviously Kotsay’s value lies in picking up a huge pinch hit off of the bench in a critical situation. He’ll be given numerous opportunities this postseason, hopefully he is up to the challenge.
22) Craig Counsell. I’ve written many times about the fact that Craig Counsell is on the team for what he provides in October, not in May. While he has scuffled, there is a great deal to like about is game. He plays terrific defense and he works the count virtually every single at bat. He has a history of coming up big in the postseason and could be prominent versus Right handed starters as the playoffs move on and Yuni and McGehee stink.
23) Carlos Gomez. It looks like GoGo will get the starts versus a left handed starter in the playoffs. I suppose Hairston could get the remaining starts, if Gomez struggles out of the gate, but as we all know, I’d rather have Hairston for infield cover on the left side. As a result, Gomez has an opportunity to make a positive impact with his defense and his speed. Both can be game changers in the right situations.
24) George Kottaras. The back- up catcher brings up an interesting dilemma. Of course, he will continue to be Wolf’s personal catcher regardless if the opposing pitcher is left-handed. What I find interesting is if RRR will have a third catcher on the playoff roster. If he chooses to do so, this will allow him to use Kottaras as a pinch hitter without reserve. However, if he only has Kottaras as the back-up, does RRR have the guts to use him as a pinch hitter and leave himself without a viable option should Lucroy get hurt?
The 25 th spot .
The Rest of the Offense. The tough call is Green vs Wilson for the final offensive roster spot. Both players bring limited upside, but from an experience standpoint I would like to see Green up just to learn about the playoffs and what it takes to win. The team will likely control his rights for another six years and this could help shape his future. He also has versatility to play 2 nd or 3 rd and a lefthanded bat off the bench is always a positive thing. The best case scenario is a late inning filler and no high leverage situations for either player. Finally, there is a chance that perhaps RRR keeps a third catcher in order to use Kottaras in pinch hitting opportunities.
The Rest of the Bullpen. I list this category because it hasn’t been made clear yet if Dillard will be on the postseason team. He is a good option to eat innings in a lopsided affair and right handers are only hitting .200 against him. To be clear, I don’t think he’ll be on the team, but if they carry a twelfth guy, it will be Dillard.
X Factors that could alter the game
Ron Roenicke. On the pitching side, I would like to see RRR have a quick hook on a starter that just doesn’t have it that particular night. Between Hawkins, Saito, KRod, and Axford the team has more than enough arms to cover a critical game, especially with an off day the next day. Offensively, he is going to continue to bunt early in games, start Yuni and McGehee, and use Kotsay liberally. These things have been driving me nuts all season, but it isn’t going to change now. I pray the pitching rises to the occasion and RRR stubbornness and misguided loyalty is not exposed.
Fans. Since I’ll be there for both opening round games, I would like to suggest a few things for the playoff series. Of course, fans will be loud and rowdy with a sold out Miller Park. I ask that fans show up on time and refrain from doing the wave. Finally, I will not allow people to complain about fans standing up during the game. Critical situations occur in playoff games in the first inning, as well as the ninth inning. Every pitch is critical and every decision could be the difference between victory and defeat. I implore fans to be on their feet throughout, living and dying with each pitch.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
October 1, 2011 . Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Shameless Self Promotion
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