Today we finally see the NL portion of the bracket catch up to the AL's, as today features Game 4 match-ups from both the Phillies-Cardinals and Diamondbacks-Brewers. Given the five-game series format, that means that two teams have their seasons are on the brink as tonight's games begin.
The Brewers are currently up 2-1 on Arizona after failing to sweep the Diamondbacks last night, as the Snakes showed some life and ended up crushing the Brew Crew by a score of 8-1. The Phillies have the same 2-1 lead on St. Louis after Ben Francisco's epic home run yesterday, leaving the Cardinals on the edge of concluding their 2011 season. Let's take a closer look at both of tonight's match-ups.
Cardinals (Edwin Jackson) at Phillies (Roy Oswalt)
As usual, we're looking at another very nice pitching duel for tonight's Cardinals-Phillies game. Neither Oswalt or Jackson is an ace of the caliber that we saw earlier in the series, but both are well above-average starting pitchers and could easily toss out gems even against top-level hitting.
Oswalt, 34, is no longer the pitcher that he was even a couple of years ago, but he's still more than good enough to start the fourth game of a division series. He only made 23 starts this season due to some injuries, but he posted a solid 3.69 ERA over those appearances, a figure that's backed up by solid peripherals. And while I'm not sure how important this is, people seem to enjoy bringing up that he held opponents scoreless while receiving the win in two of his last three starts.
On the other side of duel is Edwin Jackson, the enigmatic flamethrower that seems to show flashes of greatness every single year. He's already 28, so we're probably past the point of having him truly breakout as a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he should continue to be a solid mid-rotation starter for a few years. One of the most frustrating things about Jackson is that it seems like he should miss more bats given his raw stuff. He's held a SIERA of about 3.85 for two years now, so he's clearly an effective starter, but there's always been a sense that he could still be so much better.
At this point, you have to imagine that the Cardinals have a small advantage in tonight's game, given the pressure of avoiding a season-ending loss as well as having home-field advantage, but at this point those Red Birds are going to have an awfully tall hill to climb. If we do hit Game 5, the projected starters are twin aces Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter; I don't know about you, but that's a game that I would really, really want to watch.
Brewers (Randy Wolf) at Diamondbacks (Joe Saunders)
If you thought that Jackson v. Oswalt was a tad underwhelming after watching the likes of Halladay-Carpenter, you may not want to tune into this game. Unless you're curious to see what good offense looks like, that is.
Ignore that both pitchers finished this season with matching 3.69 ERA's; neither pitcher's SIERA is below 4.3. These are two of the weakest starters in the entire tournament, duking it out in a hitter's park against two very solid offensive clubs. This is a formula for some runs to be scored, and for some bullpens to be taxed.
I don't feel comfortable trying to fashion a prediction for tonight's game. The Brewers are probably going to win, because that's what superior teams do, but I'm getting the vibes that we shouldn't keep sleeping on the D-Backs. Saunders might be kind of sucky, but he's been decent at Chase Field this season, and you could see the momentum that Arizona was building last night.
But no matter how you twist this, the Brewers have the advantage. They're still leading the series, they still have Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and they still have homefield advantage should the series go to a fifth game. But they're a team that's built around starting pitching, and in tonight's game they don't really hold an advantage there. The Brewers probably planned on winning last night's Shaun Marcum-Josh Collmenter match-up, but Collmenter continues to confound MLB hitters with an unusual style and delivery.
If the Diamondbacks can force a fifth game, and they're absolutely capable, then pretty much anything can happen. The Brewers are perfectly justified in being confident, but they should probably do their best to put away this series tonight.