NLDS Notebook: Brewers remain confident; Weeks stays in lineup
The Brewers seemed well on their way to a three-game sweep of the National League Division Series last Sunday, after dispatching the Diamondbacks in Games 1 and 2 with relative ease.
But now, the Brewers are on the brink of elimination after Arizona evened the series, forcing a decisive Game 5 Friday at Miller Park.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke met with the media Thursday at Miller Park and stressed that his team still feels confident in their ability to win the series and isn't the least bit surprised that the NLDS has been stretched to the limit.
"I know people thought we were going to win this thing in three games," Roenicke said. "That wasn't on my mind. If we did, great, but I knew were were going to have a battle going in there.
"I'm not surprised that we're back here playing Game 5. That's not to take anything away from what I think our team is but I just have a ton of respect for their team. I think they're good.
But I don't think that takes away form what we feel. I think our guys are going to come out and play a good game. We're very confident where we are. We're confident with who's pitching that ballgame."
That would be Yovani Gallardo, who threw eight innings of one-run ball in Game 1 and is 6-0 lifetime against the Diamondbacks with a 1.18 ERA. In 38 innings of work, Gallardo has 41 strikeouts and just 10 walks.
The Diamondbacks will send their Game 1 starter, Ian Kennedy, to the mound. Kennedy was burned in the opener by the decision to pitch to Prince Fielder, who belted a two-run homer in the Brewers' 4-1 victory.
So who has the advantage when the same two pitchers face the same two teams for the second time in a week?
"Good question," Roenicke said. "I think if pitchers have their command and they can throw it where they want to, I think the pitcher has more advantage.
The Brewers will try to take advantage of the home-field advantage. They went 57-24 at Miller Park in 2011, the majors' best home record. And in this series, the home team has won each game.
"But if the pitcher is missing spots, it definitely goes to the offense because he's already used to arm slots. He's used to velocities. He's used to the break on, the off-speed stuff. And if you're missing with those spots, he should be able to take advantage more the mistakes, because he has seen that pitcher before."
"I think we played well on the road the second half, but I still think we're a better team at home," Roenicke said."
Sticking with Rickie: Unless his ankle says otherwise, expect Rickie Weeks to remain in the lineup and at second base so long as the Brewers stay alive in the playoffs.
Roenicke acknowledged that Weeks' ankle, severely sprained back in July, isn't fully healed, but as he and Weeks have said all along, it's good enough for the time being and the second baseman isn't being taken out of the lineup.
Weeks has just one hit in the series and carries a .067 average into Game 5 Friday night. Go back to Sept. 10, when he returned from a 39-game stint on the disabled list, and the All-Star is hitting just .142 (10-for-52) with a home run and seven RBIs (including the playoffs).
"You guys see the ankle, it isn't right," Roenicke said. "We knew it wouldn't be. But we were hoping that offensively, he would get locked in and be able to really hold down that fifth spot."
The Brewers acquired Jerry Hairston, Jr. at the trade deadline in part to cover for Weeks' injury. But he's since replaced Casey McGehee at third, leaving Roenicke limited options at second.
Craig Counsell would probably be the first choice, but he's had a disappointing regular season, hitting just .178. Rookie Taylor Green would be the next option, but he played just 26 games at second base at Class AAA Nashville and only seven since being summoned from the minors on Aug. 31.
"Those are always tough questions when you get into the playoffs, trying to stay with who's how and maybe try somebody new when somebody isn't swinging it well," Roenicke said. "Unless he comes in and unless something is going on with the ankle ... then maybe something would change."
The Prince factor: Friday could mark Prince Fielder's final game at Miller Park.
Of course, he's been down this road before. The first baseman, due to become a free agent this winter, was greeted with standing ovations in the regular season finale the last two years.
Though his departure has been all but inevitable, the situation hasn't been an issue or distraction for Fielder or the team. Roenicke doesn't expect it to be Friday, should it mark the end for Fielder in Milwaukee.
"I think he's kind of beyond that a little bit," Roenicke said. "I think the last game of the season here was a little bit emotional for him but right now he is so focused on what we need to do and trying to win this game so that we can go on, that I don't think it's going to come into play with him.
"He knows his at-bats are going to be important."
Back-up plan: Should Gallardo get knocked out early, Roenicke said he might be willing to turn the ball over to Zack Greinke, who hasn't pitched in relief since 2007.
"Zack would be available, not just if Yo isn't pitching well," Roenicke said. "Who knows, he could get a line drive back off a leg or something and he's got to come out.
"There has been a conversation with (Greinke)."
The waiting game: Should the Brewers win and advance to the NLCS, they'll have to wait and find out who and where they will be playing.
Philadelphia hosts St. Louis Friday night in Game 5 of that series. That game begins at 7:37 p.m. If the Phillies win, they would host the Brewers Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
If St. Louis wins, the Cardinals would travel to Milwaukee for Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS.
It's become almost the norm for the Brewers to have to wait to learn their fate. In 2008, the team had to wait for the Mets-Marlins game to conclude to learn whether they'd have a one-game playoff for the wild card in New York, or open the NLDS in Philadelphia.
This season, the Brewers had to watch the Cardinals-Cubs game to finish before they could celebrate their NL Central Division title and then had to sweat out the Diamondbacks-Dodgers games during the final home stand in order to determine home-field advantage and their first round opponent.
It makes sense, then, that the Brewers would have to wait around again Friday, should they defeat Arizona.
"I don't think we have a problem with that, to be honest with you," Gallardo said. "We'd rather be waiting than not waiting at all."
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