Diamondbacks-Brewers preview: Where do the advantages lie?
Oct 3, 2023, 10:15 AM | Updated: 12:17 pm
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE — The Arizona Diamondbacks enter the postseason as an elite base running and defensive team. They face the Milwaukee Brewers, who boast one of if not the deepest pitching staffs in the playoffs.
Both clubs have capable offensive pieces — particularly Arizona with Corbin Carroll, Ketel Marte and Christian Walker as the top three hitters in the series via OPS — but have had lumps scoring in stretches this year.
Winning the inch has been manager Torey Lovullo’s philosophy, and that mantra could be especially prevalent with the stakes upped and a pair of teams that may just need one breakout inning or at-bat to make the difference.
Game 1 starts Tuesday at 4:08 p.m. at American Family Field.
Diamondbacks Brewers Wild Card Series matchup advantages
The Diamondbacks quickly established themselves as a team willing to put pressure on opponents on the bases.
They shattered their team record with 166 stolen bases led by Carroll’s 54, as he became the first MLB rookie with 25 home runs and 50 steals. Arizona also set its franchise mark with an 86.46% stolen base success rate.
“I can see it on pitchers’ faces when I’m hitting that they’re worried about a guy on first, the guy on second and also not making a mistake,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “You can feel it, you can feel it change the moment.”
Only the Cincinnati Reds swiped more bags in 2023, the first year with larger bases and pick-off limits.
Beyond steals, the D-backs finished second in extra bases taken with 177 via fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks and defensive indifferences, per Baseball Reference.
“It’s part of the fabric of what we do, it’s part of our DNA as a team. It’s why we’re here,” general manager Mike Hazen said on Monday. “We have speed, we have smart base runners, we are capable of taking extra bases. We’re capable of putting pressure on the opposition in ways that doesn’t necessarily necessitate a three-run home run.”
Full on chaos. pic.twitter.com/RPxrkudQJd
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) September 20, 2023
The D-backs swiped six bases in a win over the Brewers earlier this season, and Milwaukee has a high stolen base allowed percentage at 84%. Its catcher, William Contreras, is metrically a terrific blocker and framer but below league average at throwing out runners.
The Brewers have 129 steals of their own, and outfielder Sal Frelick has great speed. Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno is MLB’s best at controlling the run game with 48% caught stealing, though. That’s 6% higher than Colorado’s Austin Wynns in second and 15% better then Baltimore’s James McCann in third.
Both clubs are among the league’s best on defense with strong backbones.
The D-backs have their “no fly zone” with centerfielder Alek Thomas making highlight reel catches throughout the second half of the season. Walker is on track toward a second straight Gold Glove at first base.
Brewers shortstop Willy Adames anchors the infield, while rookie Joey Wiemer’s 12 defensive run value ranked third in MLB this year among primary center fielders.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) July 25, 2023
Statistically, the Brewers lead the league with 40 outs above average, while the D-backs are second with 32.
In defensive runs saved, Milwaukee ranks No. 2 with 66 and Arizona No. 4 with 43, but Arizona committed the fewest errors in baseball.
The Brewers lost starter Brandon Woodruff for the series, a major blow considering he had a 2.28 ERA in 11 starts this year and eight postseason games under his belt.
But as their manager Craig Counsell said on Monday, they still have very good pitching.
Corbin Burnes is the ace of the staff and Game 1 starter after a stellar second half of the year in which he produced a 2.72 ERA since the start of July. Freddy Peralta is a capable No. 2 (3.86 ERA) with veteran lefty Wade Miley an option for Game 3 (3.14 ERA).
Corbin Burnes, Dirty 82mph Curveball. 😨 pic.twitter.com/YXxc8lffhq
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 28, 2023
Arizona turns to rookie Brandon Pfaadt in Game 1, whose up and down first season ended on a high note with a 4.14 ERA since the start of August. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, who combined for 27 innings and five earned runs in four starts against the Brewers earlier this year, will go in the second and third games.
Both bullpens closed the year on heaters, ranking Nos. 2 and 3 in MLB in ERA in September: Milwaukee at 2.16 and Arizona 2.31.
Brewers All-Star closer Devin Williams and setup man Joel Payamps have locked down the back end of games.
The D-backs’ bullpen effectiveness has wavered, but trade-acquired closer Paul Sewald, late-season signing Ryan Thompson and rookie lefty Andrew Saalfrank have bolstered the group, along with setup man Kevin Ginkel’s breakout.
“We have three really good starting pitchers, I think our bullpen is certainly much better than it was at the deadline. That’s a weapon in a playoff series to have 4-5 deep in your bullpen that you feel really good about running out there and shortening the games up,” Hazen said.
Arizona has had more power up and down the lineup this year with four 24-home run hitters: Walker, Carroll, Marte and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Milwaukee has one in Adames. The D-backs’ season slugging is also higher at .408 compared to Milwaukee’s .385.
But the Brewers gave a boost to their lineup by trading for veterans Mark Canha (.800 OPS) and Carlos Santana (.773 OPS) at the deadline. The’ve also have the advantage dating back to the trade deadline with a 100 wRC+ compared to 87 from Arizona (100 is average).
It has been an inconsistent year scoring runs for the Diamondbacks after a red hot start. Hitting with runners aboard has come and gone, especially lately, as they enter the postseason having scored three runs in four games.
“We have not swung the bat great the last few days, but that’s over now,” Hazen said. “It’s brand new, guys have to be able to go out there and relax, have the at-bats they need to get the barrel on the baseball. I don’t necessarily think it’s going to translate just because for the last couple days, this is how we swung the bats … the environment changes completely.”
There are some similar tendencies here, as neither team chases much and they both have top 10 walk rates in the second half of the year.
In the playoffs and with two imperfect offenses, a timely three-run home run for either side could end someone’s season.
To break a tight comparison, the D-backs have the best offensive player in the series in Carroll, who finished his rookie campaign with an .868 OPS.
Corbin Carroll is the first player to have 50+ steals, 25+ homers, and 10+ triples in one MLB season. Dude’s a rookie. This is ridiculous.pic.twitter.com/TV2ulw8zoD
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) September 28, 2023