Diamondbacks-Brewers wild card preview: Pitching made Milwaukee a contender

Oct 2, 2023, 8:16 AM

Corbin Burnes...

Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 11, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks put together a multifaceted offensive series to take two of three games against the Milwaukee Brewers from June 19-21 this season. The D-backs knocked in 19 runs on 30 hits at American Family Field and jumped to a 35-20 record atop the NL West.

Timely hitting, stolen bases and a pair of rocket home runs by Ketel Marte and Alek Thomas drove the offense.

The Brewers were teetering along .500 at 38-36, but after that series, the Brewers went 54-34, largely due to some of the league’s best pitching. They won the NL Central by nine games.

It earned them a chance to host the Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card Series. The round is a best-of-three series, all at American Family Field in Milwaukee, that starts Tuesday at 4:08 p.m. The winner will advance to the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Since its 5-1 loss against Arizona on June 21, Milwaukee ranked No. 1 in MLB in ERA (3.47), opposing average (.213) and WHIP (1.11) while leading the NL with 9.51 strikeouts per nine innings entering the final day of the season.

That .213 opposing batting average was as far ahead of the No. 2 Los Angeles Dodgers (.228) than the Dodgers were to the No. 15-ranked Cleveland Guardians (.242).

The Brewers have thrown nine shutouts since their matchup with the D-backs, including three in a row over a red-hot Cincinnati Reds club in July.

“We have all of our data points, we have all of our information that we collected,” manager Torey Lovullo said on Sunday.

“They’ve changed. The Brewers are different a team than they were at that point in time. So, we’ve had our scouts sitting on them and we’re gonna sit down as a group and be as prepared as we can possibly be. We’re familiar with them? Yes. But they’re a different team. They’re in the playoffs and anything’s possible.”

Brewers’ starting pitching vs. the Diamondbacks

The D-backs won that series in large part because they clobbered Brewers ace and 2021 Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, who threw eight scoreless innings at Chase Field in April.

Arizona tagged Burnes for seven earned runs, including Thomas’ two-run shot on his first swing after getting recalled from Triple-A Reno.

“I faced him a few times last year and this year,” Thomas said Sunday.

“It’s cutter, curveball, occasional change. He’s got good stuff. But I felt like us as a whole, we have the right approach against him. We take the pitches that need to be taken, and I think it’ll be a good game for us if we stick to our plan.”

Burnes had not allowed that many earned runs in a game since 2019, and he went on a tear starting in July with seven straight quality starts.

His ERA from the start of July to the end of the season was 2.72, and Milwaukee won 10 of his 16 starts. He won NL Pitcher of the Month in July. Opponents swing and miss at his curveball at a 49% clip.

Arizona missed right-handers Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta in the regular season. Woodruff landed on the injured list (shoulder) in the second week of the season and did not return until early August.

Since then, Woodruff ranks No. 4 in the NL with a 2.59 ERA, right behind Peralta at 2.49.

All three hurlers have started postseason games, as Milwaukee clinched a spot for the fifth time in six years.

The Brewers have the flexibility to use all three in the wild card series. Woodruff and Peralta have had more than a week off, and Burnes pitched on Thursday.

They clinched the division with nearly a week left in the season, unlike the D-backs who punched their ticket on the penultimate day. For that reason, Arizona won’t have its top guns in Game 1, leaning on improving rookie Brandon Pfaadt, while Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly go in the second and third games (if there are three).

“Their starting pitching has been solidified, for sure,” Lovullo said. “I know that Corbin Burnes at that point in time wasn’t locked in and hadn’t hit his stride yet and wasn’t throwing the ball particularly well. He’s been extremely hot as of late. The two other starters, very similar. … I think their starting pitching for me is my main target. We got to be prepared for that.”

Brewers bullpen has a variety of styles

The Dodgers (2.74) and Brewers (2.88) are the only bullpens with sub-3.00 ERAs since the start of July.

Milwaukee closer Devin Williams is a two-time All-Star and 2020 NL Rookie of the Year winner who has filled in brilliantly after the club traded its former closer, Josh Hader, at last year’s deadline.

Williams boasts a 1.53 ERA with a 90% save percentage.

Joel Payamps is his setup man enjoying a breakout year. Payamps was in the D-backs’ organization for five years until November 2020. He’s been released, designated for assignment by multiple teams and traded twice but has helped solidify the back end of the Brewers bullpen with a 2.55 ERA.

He provides a slider-heavy look with a mid-90s fastball and sinker. Williams has one of baseball’s nastiest changeups. Lefty Hoby Milner mixes a sinker, curveball and four-seamer from a side-arm angle, while righty Trevor Megill leans heavily on his 99 mph heater.

“You can expect great pitching and the guys coming out of their bullpen have great, elite stuff,” D-backs outfielder Tommy Pham said. “So I wouldn’t expect anything else from them.”

A familiar face is Andrew Chafin, the veteran lefty whom the D-backs traded to the Brewers at the deadline for right-hander Peter Strzelecki.

Strzelecki threw one outing with Arizona, spending most of the second half in Triple-A Reno. Chafin had three tough outings in his first few weeks with the Brewers but settled in during September.

Diamondbacks’ hitters vs. the Brewers

The D-backs hit 13 doubles and six home runs in six games against the Brewers at a time when they were one of MLB’s top slugging clubs during the first half of the year. It has been more of a grind in the latter half, and the offense struggled to pick up the big hit in its last five games entering the postseason (six runs combined).

Lovullo said he’s looking for stubborn, mature at-bats for the Diamondbacks with an all-field approach to string together offense against the Brewers.

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