Down in the standings or down to their last out, the Arizona Diamondbacks found a way to rally all season, riding their comebacks into the playoffs.
After two lackluster games in Milwaukee, the Diamondbacks need another big comeback or it’s going to be a short return to the postseason.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed Milwaukee as $1.15 road favorites, with the total set at nine ‘under’ (minus $1.20).
Trailing the bashing-and-bunting Brewers 2-0 in the NL division series, Arizona returns home for Game 3 on Tuesday night, sending out rookie right-hander Josh Collmenter to face Milwaukee righty Shaun Marcum in what should be a raucous atmosphere at Chase Field.
“I think it’s good that we came from behind all year,” Diamondbacks third baseman Ryan Roberts said Monday. “There’s no panic mode here.”
There at least has to be some concern.
Arizona put up a monster May after falling behind by 6 1/2 games in April and mastered the art of the comeback, rallying to win a major league-high 48 times on its way to the NL West title.
Unable to catch the Brewers in the regular season to secure home-field advantage in the first round, the Diamondbacks opened the NLDS with two games in Milwaukee.
They return to the desert searching for answers after two deflating losses.
Playing like the team to beat in the National League, the Brewers put the Diamondbacks on their heels with a tough-to-beat combination of good pitching, power and some small ball mixed in.
Milwaukee touched up Arizona’s two best pitchers to start the series, getting to 21-game winner Ian Kennedy for four runs to win the opener 4-1, and 16-game winner Daniel Hudson for five in a 9-4 victory in Game 2.
The Brewers’ brawn of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have been brutally effective, combining to go 9 for 16 with two homers, six RBIs and six runs.
Milwaukee also has done the little things right, including Jonathan Lucroy’s deftly placed safety squeeze that triggered a five-run sixth inning in the Brew Crew’s Game 2 win on Sunday.
It’s been just two games, but the Brewers have been monsters, their “Beast Mode” celebrations against the Diamondbacks putting a scare into the rest of the playoff field.
“We’ve done a really good job of staying in the moment, embracing the moment and trying to accomplish as much as we can every day,” Braun said.
Next in line to try to stop Milwaukee is Collmenter, the Paul Bunyan-esque right-hander with the over-the-top delivery crafted from his tomahawk-throwing days as a kid.
Buried deep in Arizona’s farm system just a year ago, Collmenter had a superb start to his rookie season, starting with an impressive stint as a reliever after an April call-up, followed by a pair of scoreless starts after being added to the rotation. He couldn’t keep up that pace as teams figured out how to hit against his quirky delivery, but still finished the regular season 10-10 with a 3.38 ERA.
The Brewers were among the teams unable to figure out Collmenter. He pitched 14 scoreless innings and allowed six hits in consecutive starts against Milwaukee in July – a big reason Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson went with the big right-hander for Game 3.
“Against the Brewers, I had a lot of things working,” Collmenter said. “I was able to establish the fastball, work a changeup in on them and really kept them uncomfortable.”
The Diamondbacks may have the right man on the mound and the advantage of playing at home, but Milwaukee might have the perfect anti-venom in Marcum.
A counterbalance to Zack Greinke’s home dominance, Marcum was Milwaukee’s big man on the road.
Just 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 17 home starts, the 29-year-old went 8-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 16 games away from Miller Park. After a strong start to the season, Marcum had some struggles down the stretch, putting up a 6.66 ERA in his final four outings, but he does have postseason experience and has proven to be resilient.
“He’s not lights-out maybe like he was earlier,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He has those stretches where he is, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he came out and did the same thing he did early in the season and occasionally during the season.”
Marcum will have to do it against a desperate team that doesn’t like being told it can’t do something.
Playing with a chip-on-their-shoulder mentality all season, the Diamondbacks gave all the naysayers a big shush with all those comeback wins and their first NL West title in four years. Now, with everyone counting them out again, they’re looking to do it again.
“We prospered together and we failed together and that’s the way it will remain,” Gibson said. “We understand people are going to have opinions on how things are happening. It’s not over yet, so it’s almost amusing. We’re still competing, we’re still in the series.”
If the rest of the season was any indication, a chance is all the Diamondbacks may need.