Brewers still in a race with Arizona

I’m not sure how many people have noticed, but there’s actually a darn interesting postseason race currently going on right under our noses.  No, I’m not talking about the suddenly close race between Atlanta and St. Louis, but the ongoing battle for the second-best NL record between the Arizona Diamondbacks and your very own Milwaukee Brewers. While it certainly isn’t the all-in one-winner affair that makes for such great entertainment each September, home field advantage and opponent (the winner heads to Philadelphia, the loser probably will face Atlanta at home) are still hanging in the balance.

If you’re the type that isn’t content with just watching the Brewers play out the string, this battle for second place might be the most exciting thing you’ll see over the next week.  As of Wednesday, the Brewers lead the D-Backs by one game with six to go for both teams. I’m not going to do one of those fancy charts, but there are several things to keep in mind if you choose to follow this “race” as a proxy for a real division battle:

· Arizona edged Milwaukee 4-3 in the season series, so a tie will go to the Diamondbacks. The Brewers will have to cling to their current lead if they don’t want to deal with the Phillies’ gauntlet of aces on the road.

· The Brewers finish their season with home series against Florida and Pittsburgh, and the D-Backs do the same against the Giants and Dodgers. It doesn’t take a huge amount of wishful thinking and/or homerism to give the Crew the edge as far as schedule goes.

· Yes, this is a lot of ado about something that may not end up meaning anything, but what else are you going to do? Count down to the revealing of the playoff rotation?

Keeping in mind that even “losing” this race and waltzing into Philadelphia well-rested and with a finely-tuned team beats sneaking into the postseason with an overused and depleted roster, there isn’t a whole lot of drama in this. But, as is obvious, there are significant advantages to playing a weaker opponent at home.

Doing some quick math, the probability of the Brewers winning a single road game against the Phillies is around 44 percent. (Using a linear version of the Log5 method) Against Atlanta and at home, the probability jumps to 53 percent. These numbers would also be somewhat compressed over a best-of-five series,  so you’re looking at a definite advantage to winning the second seed, but perhaps one that is greater in the minds of Brewer fans(a product of getting pounded by Philly a couple weeks ago) than in reality. 

The question, of course, is how much the club should value this, which leads to a mildly interesting dilemma over what course to take for the next week: If the Brewers play and are managed in an overly lax fashion to put the team in good position for the playoffs, they may lose enough games to put themselves in a decidedly unfavorable situation. Ideally, the club can find a balance, delegating a few starts to bench players (ideally bats like Mark Kotsay and George Kottaras who are likely to be called on for postseason PH duty), not overusing the back of the bullpen, and aligning their rotation as they see fit.

Hopefully, this can be done without filling the lineup with too many Counsells at once or having Marco Estrada throw the eighth inning of a tie game, but given Ron Roenicke’s self-defeating insistence to play both in higher-leverage situations than their skills warrant, it may be too much to ask. Either way, (jinx alert!) the Brewers will be heading to October, and will be doing so with a fully rested, healthy roster for the first time in decades.

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