The Milwaukee Brewers should claim the third seed in the playoffs, with a six-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds with just 12 games remaining. Thus, let’s take a look forward at a potential Wild Card Series opponent in the Diamondbacks, who have revived their fortunes of late--after a terrible run across July and August saw them lose what was momentarily a comfortable division lead.
Who’s in Form?
Since the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Brewers are 27-16 (a 101-win pace over a full season), all without extreme luck playing a part. The lineup upgrades (in the form of Mark Canha, Sal Frelick and Carlos Santana) have covered for the hampered Christian Yelich, while providing a solidity and on-base nous that has translated to scoring almost an extra run per game. The offense can fluctuate at times due to a lot of ground balls, but the regularity with which balls have been put in play has been a recipe for success, alongside the pitching contributions.
Meanwhile, since the return of Brandon Woodruff, the head of Milwaukee’s rotation has been as powerful as they come, with Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta finding their straps en route to winning July and August NL Pitcher of the Month awards (with Woodruff the dominant pitcher so far in September).
The Diamondbacks have found a winning formula again, going 10-5 in September, but they will have concerns. Zac Gallen has been as Jekyll-and-Hyde as they come, with a 4.24 ERA since the trade deadline. He followed up a shutout of the Cubs with giving up seven runs (six earned) in five innings against the Mets. Merrill Kelly has pitched to a 3.80 ERA over that span, and Brandon Pfaadt has found some form to at least give them the makings of a sturdy playoff rotation.
Offensively, however, they have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season, with Corbin Carroll leading the charge for Rookie of the Year, and Gabriel Moreno getting red-hot since the All-Star break, alongside solid contributions from other key players in the lineup. This is an offense that can score in a multitude of ways, able to hit the long ball or grind you down by scratching runs across in any way necessary.
Players to Watch
With 21 stolen bases since the break alone, Carroll remains a threat. His power numbers have dwindled from his early-season prominence, but he has found a way to set a platform and get runs across, scoring 41 times in his last 59 games. He has six doubles, six triples and six home runs in that span, and the Brewers' outfield defense would need to be at its best to nullify his gap-to-gap power.
Moreno has seen fit to carry this offense out of its slump, with a .333/.394/.576 slash line since his return from the IL on Aug. 13. He's been getting on base and hitting like a machine. On top of this, he leads baseball in “caught stealing above average”, as well as being in the 90th percentile blocking pitches. His framing isn’t standout, but he has been mighty impressive for the Diamondbacks of late.
Likely Starting Matchups (on recent form)
Corbin Burnes vs Zac Gallen
As mentioned earlier, Gallen has struggled mightily with the consistency he showed earlier in the year, with two separate stretches off 44 1/3 innings and 28 innings scoreless. For a pitcher who is renowned for having both excellent stuff and command, the latter has waned of late. Gallen's not quite locating, and struggling to sequence his pitches to great effect. That being said, he holds a 1.75 ERA with 44 strikeouts in six career appearances against the Brewers, including seven innings of one-run ball against them in June. An odd stat this season is how his performance has differed home and away, with a 2.18 ERA at home compared to 4.68 ERA on the road.
Burnes, on the other hand, has been as mercurial as they come, which may be no bad thing for Game 1. He could light up the Diamondbacks hitters, or crumble to a big inning, with another twist being who the Brewers have catching Burnes, with Caratini as his personal catcher most of the year, but a recent dalliance with Contreras behind the plate may suggest they want to use their DH slot for a more proficient offensive player, such as Canha.
Brandon Woodruff vs Merrill Kelly
Kelly has been a horse for the D’Backs this season, with his signature changeup ranked as the best offspeed pitch in the major leagues in terms of defensive run value, per Statcast. Hitters are hitting just .170 and slugging .222 against it. He has a genuine six-pitch arsenal, all of which are effective and used regularly, making him difficult to read and attack in any count, producing a well-deserved 3.45 ERA on the season. He has outperformed his expected numbers fairly significantly, but his increase in strikeout rate this season has enabled him to get out of jams with more regularity, he could be a very tough opponent on his day.
Freddy Peralta vs Brandon Pfaadt
Pfaadt has been getting over what was a really rough start to the year by producing a 4.20 ERA in September. His xwOBA since Aug. 1 has been roughly league-average, with his biggest weakness a four-seam fastball that’s been hit hard all year long--to the tune of a .322/.638 AVG/SLG line--and generating very little swing-and-miss. He balances this out with an exceptional sweeper that’s done a lot of damage. Hitters have just a .159/.292 line against that offering, so you can see how important pitch recognition will be for the Brewers should they face up against him. Pick the fastball and you’ll do damage.
It might be irrelevant, however, given just how dominant Peralta has been through August and September--perhaps the best pitcher out of the three aces the Brewers have of late. No playoff matchup is a given, but this is certainly one the Brewers may fancy.
While the Diamondbacks hold a 4-2 record over the Brewers this year, these wins all happened before the Brewers solidified their lineup and became an actual threat with the bats, and before the three-headed monster that is their rotation hit its stride. This seems to be an entirely different beast, and it’s hard not to make the Brewers favorites.
That being said, the Diamondbacks offense can score runs against anybody, and it makes for an incredibly intriguing series. The form of Gallen and Kelly would play big parts in it, and as always, winning game one may be crucial to the final outcome. One extra factor to note is that if Gallen or Kelly need to be used in the final games of the season, it could push back their availability for the postseason with only one day off between game 162 and the start of the playoffs, whereas the Brewers should have theirs lined up and well-rested.
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