The 2023 MLB regular season is in the books, and the dust has settled on the postseason bracket.
With the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers locking up their respective divisions earlier in September and the Chicago Cubs fading, the Brewers knew for the better part of the month that they would be the No. 3 seed in the National League field. The question was which team they would host at American Family Field for the NL Wild Card Series, which remained unanswered until the final afternoon of regular-season play.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks fell to the Houston Astros on Sunday by a score of 8-1, it pushed Arizona into the third Wild Card slot. The Miami Marlins, who seemed to be the Brewers’ most likely opponent a few days ago, ended up with the second spot.
As the No. 6 seed, the Diamondbacks will come to American Family Field for the three-game series. At this moment, all three games are scheduled for 6:08 p.m. CT on ESPN2, but those times are subject to change.
The two teams are on differing trajectories after the last few days. The Diamondbacks’ loss was their fourth straight. The Brewers wrapped up their regular season with consecutive series wins against the St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs. However, momentum can turn on a dime in baseball, and the Diamondbacks have the pieces to oust the Brewers in a short series. The Brewers have a clear path to victory but should not treat the matchup as a walk in the park.
Neither the Brewers nor the Diamondbacks have potent offenses. The Brewers finished the season with a 92 wRC+, giving them the worst offense of any playoff team.
Whether Milwaukee can do enough offensively in a playoff series remains debatable. The trade deadline additions of Mark Canha (.373 OBP and 120 wRC+ since joining the Brewers) and Carlos Santana (11 home runs, 107 wRC+) added needed production to the middle of the order, and the Brewers posted an above-average 107 wRC+ as a team from August 18 through the end of the regular season. Still, Milwaukee’s propensity for hitting ground balls and lack of power could leave them vulnerable in October.
Like the Brewers, the Diamondbacks do not hit for much power. Milwaukee finished the season with 165 home runs and a .146 ISO. Arizona hit 166 home runs and posted a .158 ISO.
The Diamondbacks’ best bats are better than the Brewers’ top hitters. First baseman Christian Walker (33 HR) and second baseman Ketel Marte (25 HR) would both lead the Brewers in home runs. Outfielder and likely Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll (133 wRC+) would be the Brewers’ top offensive player.
Arizona finished the season with a 98 wRC+ as a team, a few ticks better than the Brewers. However, they do not pose a major threat to a Milwaukee run prevention unit that led baseball in ERA this year.
Arizona is a threat to the Brewers mainly due to its top arms. While the Diamondbacks’ rotation and bullpen depth fall well short of the Milwaukee’s, they boast two of the better starters in the NL and a pair of tough late-inning arms.
Since the start of the 2022 season, Zac Gallen ranks third among qualified starters in ERA, fifth in FIP, and fourth in fWAR. The 28-year-old is having another strong season, posting a 3.47 ERA and 3.27 FIP in 34 starts, including a complete game.
Arizona’s co-ace is veteran Merrill Kelly, who has had a similarly strong two-year run in the desert. In that same span, Kelly ranks 13th among qualified starters in ERA, 19th in FIP, and 17th in fWAR. He logged a 3.29 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 30 starts this year.
Both starters can shut down a questionable Brewers lineup en route to a pair of Diamondbacks wins and will appear at some point in the series. Fortunately, the Brewers will see neither in Game 1. After Torey Lovullo indicated his plan to keep Gallen on regular rest for Game 2 of the series, the Diamondbacks announced rookie Brandon Pfaadt as their Game 1 starter.
The bullpen is led by closer Paul Sewald and setup man Kevin Ginkel. The former posted a 3.57 ERA and 25% strikeout rate after joining the Diamondbacks as a trade deadline pickup. The latter put up a 2.60 ERA and 27.5% strikeout rate in 65 1⁄3 innings. Miguel Castro, Kyle Nelson, and Joe Mantiply are also on hand but battled inconsistency throughout the season.
On the whole, Milwaukee’s pitching staff is far mightier than Arizona’s. In addition to the two-headed monster of Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta set to start (Brandon Woodruff is expected to miss at least this series and possibly more with a shoulder injury), they have Joel Payamps, Abner Uribe, Hoby Milner, and Trevor Megill behind Devin Williams as high-leverage arms. However, the Diamondbacks have a chance to close that gap in a short series by leaning more heavily on Gallen, Kelly, Ginkel, and Sewald. Jumping on the rookie Pfaadt in the opener may be the Brewers’ chance to take control of the series.
Probable Pitching Matchups
Game 1, Tuesday, October 3 @ 6:08 p.m. CT: Corbin Burnes vs. Brandon Pfaadt
The Brewers have kept their top three starters on their regular rotation, so Burnes will get the ball in Game 1. The former Cy Young Award winner has had a down season for his standards. He made 32 starts but posted a 3.39 ERA and 3.81 FIP, both his worst marks since 2019.
Pfaadt was inconsistent in his debut season. He battled the home run ball, allowing 22 round-trippers in 96 innings. Pfaadt pitched to a respectable 4.14 ERA and 3.89 FIP over his final 11 outings but is still a better matchup for the Brewers than Gallen or Kelly.
Neither team has announced starters for Games 2 and 3.
Game 2, Wednesday, October 4 @ 6:08 p.m. CT: TBA vs. Zac Gallen
While neither team has officially announced its Game 2 starter, Gallen is lined up to toe the rubber on Wednesday.
A shoulder injury has once again shelved Woodruff after he missed four months and made just 11 regular-season starts, but he looked strong as ever when healthy. It seems possible that the Brewers go with a bullpen game or rely on a starter like Wade Miley with a short series to play.
Game 3 (if necessary), Thursday, October 5 @ 6:08 p.m. CT: Freddy Peralta vs. Merrill Kelly
Should the series go to a third game, Peralta and Kelly are lined up to start. Lovullo has not revealed if Kelly could appear out of the bullpen in Game 2 if his team is staring down elimination, but such a scenario would force the Diamondbacks to change their plans for Game 3.
Peralta is perhaps the hottest pitcher in Milwaukee’s rotation, posting a 2.44 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and 38.6% strikeout rate over his final 11 starts.
The Brewers should not take the Diamondbacks lightly in a three-game series. However, Milwaukee is the better team and should come out on top if they can muster enough offense. I don’t expect the Brewers to sweep the series but I think they will win in three games.
Note: This article was updated after the announcement of Brandon Woodruff’s injury Monday afternoon.