Offseason changes add to senior circuit’s pitching depth, teams’ expectations
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
Milwaukee Could make its First LCS since 1982 with a Game 4 Win.
The Milwaukee Brewers will look to make the club’s first League Championship Series since 1982 when they take the field in Game 4 of the NLDS tonight in Arizona. The Diamondbacks staved off elimination in Game 3 with an 8-1 victory behind a solid performance from pitcher Josh Collmenter and five RBIs from Paul Goldschmidt.
The St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t muster enough offense yesterday and face elimination in St. Louis today. Meanwhile, rookie Josh Collmenter pitched the Diamondbacks to a win over Milwaukee, allowing Arizona to live another day.
Milwaukee at Arizona
If we are to believe what we saw last night, the Diamondbacks will force a Game 5 back in Milwaukee, which they will promptly lose. You see, the Brewers are practically unbeatable at home, quite vulnerable on the road. Why? Not sure, but it certainly seems that way. Milwaukee won a major league best 57 games at home this season, yet were below .500 on the road. The Brewers managed just two hits and one run off starter Collmenter before the rookie gave way to David Hernandez and J.J. Putz, who were just getting a little work in more than anything else.
In the first two games, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder practically beat Arizona by themselves. But last night, Collmenter pitched them very carefully and was willing to put the game in Rickie Weeks’ hands. Braun walked in the first inning with two outs and Fielder was hit. Weeks couldn’t capitalize. Weeks is 1-for-10 with a walk in the series. Nyjer Morgan, who hits in front of Braun, is 1-for-11 with a pair of walks. That’s not the kind of support that will force the D’backs to pitch to the big bats.
A pair of veteran lefthanders —Randy Wolf for Milwaukee, and Arizona’s Joe Saunders — will oppose each other tonight as both teams get their first looks at southpaws in this series. Current Diamondbacks have hit Wolf well over the past three seasons. Justin Upton is 5-for-15 with two home runs and four walks. Ryan Roberts is 6-for-13 with a homer. Willie Bloomquist and Gerardo Parra are both 3-for-9.
The crafty Saunders held the Brewers to two runs back on July 20 before leaving down 2-0. The D’backs scored a couple to get him off the hook prior to Arizona losing in extra innings. Over the past two seasons, Saunders had held the Brewers down. Braun, with two homers in six at-bats, has had the most success.
Playing at home and with the confidence they can get to Wolf, Arizona is expected to send this series back to Milwaukee.
Brewers will finish off Diamondbacks with sweep tonight
by Charlie Miller
Today is a day that Major League Baseball had in mind when it expanded the playoffs for what was to be 1994, but due to the strike, actually began in 1995. Four playoff games, three of which could be elimination games. All in one day.
It will be tough to match last Wednesday night for a four-game set that ranked as the best ever, but with three teams’ seasons on the line, today is must-see baseball.
Beginning today at 2:00 ET, Tampa Bay will attempt to stave off elimination at home against Texas. Then at 5:00 St. Louis hosts Philadelphia in the only non-do-or-die affair. At 7:30 the Yankees will be in Detroit trying to extend their season another few days and force a Game 5 back in New York. Milwaukee and Arizona begin at 8:30, but I suspect most of the nation will catch only the last few innings after the Yankees-Tigers tussle. The Diamondbacks will try desperately to avoid the embarrassment of being swept at the hands of the Brewers.
Milwaukee at Arizona
It’s easy to look at this series and believe that the Milwaukee Brewers have manhandled the Arizona Diamondbacks. And it’s also convenient to believe that the D’backs were happy with just making the playoffs after losing 90 games last season and being predicted by most to finish last in the NL West. But both assertions are incorrect.
The Brewers haven’t had their way with Arizona. Just Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. And content with just making the playoffs? Do you know who is managing this team? Kirk Gibson will never be content with anything short of a World Series title. He may celebrate a little with each step in that direction, but content? No way.
A quick glance at the two games played in Milwaukee shows that the Brewers outhit the Diamondbacks 20-14 and outscored them 13-5. Looks like a couple of mismatches. After all, the Brewers are batting .300 as a team. But, they’re not really batting that as a team, just as a tandem. Fielder and Braun have combined for a pair of home runs and a .563 batting average. The rest of the team has no home runs and is hitting .220 for the series. Think Gibson’s pitchers will allow Braun and Fielder to beat Arizona tonight? Doubtful. Someone else will have to step up for the Brew Crew.
And that someone is likely to be Rickie Weeks. After returning from his injury this season, Weeks has been moved to the fifth spot in the batting order. He should get at-bats tonight with runners on and the chance to be the hitting star.
The fate of the D’backs’ season rests in the hands of rookie pitcher Josh Collmenter. That’s right, Collmenter. The rookie joined the rotation in May and shut out the Dodgers and Braves over six innings each in his first two starts. The righthander had seven starts of at least five innings in which he did not allow a run. Two of those starts came in July against Milwaukee. One of those the D’backs lost 3-1, the other was a 3-0 Arizona win. So it appears there’s a chance.
However, leading MVP candidate Braun was not in the lineup for either game, dramatically changing the Brewers’ lineup. The Brewers are just too hot right now to be slowed by Collmenter. Gibson and his staff will have to take pleasure in building momentum for 2012.
Gonzo and the Big Unit are honored here. But who are the other two players on Arizona's Mt. Rushmore?
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
I am continuing the series of MLB Mt. Rushmores. The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Arizona Diamondbacks Mt. Rushmore
One of the two youngest franchises in baseball, the Diamondbacks joined the National League in 1998 and have enjoyed some postseason success, proving the world is different for expansion teams in recent years. Born the same year as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the D’backs won 100 games in their second season, still the high-water mark for the franchise. Free agent Randy Johnson was the ace of the staff. Three players — Steve Finley, Matt Williams and Jay Bell — hit as many as 34 homers and a fourth player, Luis Gonzalez, joined that group in driving in more than 100 runs. Tony Womack stole 72 bases, proving Arizona could win with speed and power. As with any franchise this young, the choices for Mt. Rushmore are few, and likely to change several times over the next 15 years.
Luis Gonzalez (1999-2006)
The only Diamondback with his number retired, Gonzo is the franchise leader in every offensive category other than strikeouts and steals. As a hitter in Arizona history, there is no equal. The leftfielder spent eight seasons in Phoenix and made five All-Star teams, and was third in MVP voting in 2001. During those eight seasons, Gonzalez batted .298 and averaged 98 runs and 97 RBIs with 39 doubles and 28 homers; pretty good numbers even in the Steroid Era. He was there for three of the team’s four division titles, and had the most memorable hit in franchise history, the bloop single over second base for a World Series walk-off in 2001.
Randy Johnson (1999-2004, ’07-’08)
The Big Unit arrived in Arizona as a free agent in 1999 as a 35-year-old ace and immediately won four consecutive Cy Young awards. He shared the 2001 World Series MVP award with fellow ace, Curt Schilling. In two stints with the team, Johnson was present for all four division titles. And during his eight seasons as a member of the Diamondbacks, the team averaged 85 wins per season. In the five full seasons without Johnson, the D’backs have been a 70-win team.
Steve Finley (1999-2004)
A top centerfielder, Finley won two Gold Gloves as a member of the D’backs. He scored 100 runs a couple of times and drove in 103 once. He hit more than 30 homers twice and was an All-Star in 2000. Finley ranks second behind Gonzalez on the D’backs career lists in most offensive categories.
Brandon Webb (2003-09)
Webb made 198 starts and won 87 games during his tenure with Arizona — all second to Johnson. The eighth-round draft pick in 2000 made his debut in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2006 before finishing second in the voting in 2007-08.
There is little doubt that Justin Upton will play his way onto the mountain if the Diamondbacks don’t trade him.
The 2001 World Series co-MVP, Curt Schilling, had too short of a tenure in Arizona to make the mountain. His career numbers in an Arizona uniform pale next to Webb’s.
Shortstop Stephen Drew is quickly moving up the stat lists for the D’backs, but he’ll have to earn the honor with longevity, not with dominant seasons.
Much like Drew, Chris Young is building a nice career in Arizona, but he doesn’t have the wow factor of Upton and has yet to have the longevity of Finley.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
You already know about the Dodgers and Mets financial issues, that Adam Dunn has two hits (in 58 at-bats) off of lefties this season, and that the Cubs are…well, the Cubs. Now it’s time to focus on the positive news from the first half of the baseball season. Here’s my starting nine:
Which MLB teams have spent the smartest over the last ten years?
“You’ve got to spend money to make money.” It’s a phrase that’s made millions of businesspeople rich. It’s also a motto that’s had millions of others moving back in with their parents, or possibly into refrigerator boxes.