Crew needs another dose of Miller Park magic

Crew needs another dose of Miller Park magic

Crew needs another dose of Miller Park magic
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers clinched the National League Central with five games to play, and they could have used those games to rest, line up a postseason rotation and generally take a victory lap. Instead they treated a secondary race -- with the D-backs for the NL's second-best record -- as equally important. They pitched Zack Greinke on three days' rest in the regular-season finale and won, earning the right to begin and potentially end a best-of-five Division Series at Miller Park.

Will that strategy pay off? We're about to find out.

The Brewers will be back home Friday to host the D-backs in a decisive Game 5, and Miller Park will once again be jumping. The Brewers won 57 games on their home turf during the regular season, most in the Majors and a franchise record, then added two more wins to the total in the NLDS. They need one more behind right-hander Yovani Gallardo to win a postseason series for the first time since 1982.

The home team has won each of the series' first four games. Game 5 is Friday at 4 p.m. CT on TBS.

"It's a huge advantage for us to play this game at home," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who had three hits in each of the Brewers' home games in this series.

"We like our chances going back to Miller Park," Braun said. "We like our chances with Yovani on the hill. ... [The D-backs] are a good team. They won 94 games. They've been resilient all year, and this was nothing different. They played great the last two days -- I don't think we lost any of these games, I think they won."

The D-backs had most of the fun in Games 3 and 4, erasing the Brewers' 2-0 series edge with a pair of thumpings by final scores of 8-1 and 10-6.

"These guys are like us -- really good at home," Brewers right fielder Corey Hart said. "Now we're home with our guy on the mound. We like our chances."

The reasons behind the Brewers' Miller Park magic remain illusory. They are a home run-hitting team playing in a home run-friendly ballpark, and that helps. They have one of baseball's most reliable closers in John Axford, and that helps particularly at home, where managers can be more liberal in their use of a closer. They also drew more than three million fans for the third time in three seasons, which is remarkable considering Milwaukee is MLB's smallest media market.

The Brewers scored 57 more runs at home than they did in the same number of road games, batted 31 points better, allowed 30 fewer runs and turned a triple play. Yes, they were better on the road after the All-Star break, much better. But they were at their best all season at home.

Why is that?

"Because we win at home -- all the time," Prince Fielder said.

But why do they seem to win all the time? For that, Fielder had no particular answer.

Neither did Braun.

"It started early in the year," Braun said. "Once our fans got behind us and started recognizing that we had a chance to do something special, it's created an atmosphere and environment where it's conducive to winning for us. It's challenging for the other team.

"Once you start a trend, whether it's a good trend or a bad trend, and you become aware of it, it feeds upon itself."

Manager Ron Roenicke hoped it would continue in the postseason, which is why he treated the team's final regular-season games with the same urgency as the first 157. He mostly played his regular position players, and he passed on an opportunity to more ideally line up the starting pitchers for the NLDS.

That meant starting Greinke on short rest in the regular-season finale. He did not pitch particularly well, but the Brewers improved to 16-0 in his starts and won the right to open the postseason at home.

"Talking with Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager], I was mentioning what's more important here -- to line up our pitching or to have home-field advantage?" Roenicke said. "And I think in the conversations that we had, I think we thought home-field advantage was more important. Talking to the rest of the coaching staff, I think they felt the same way.

"The reason we wanted it so much is because we know what can happen on the road. There are certain teams that play well on the road against us, and the Diamondbacks are one of them. They're a very good home team. Going in there, I know people thought we were going to win this thing in three games. That wasn't on my mind. If we did, great. But I knew we were going to have a battle going in there."

The D-backs had 51 regular-season wins at Chase Field, the third-most home wins in the NL. If the Brewers can hold serve again on Friday, they would move a step closer to the World Series.

"We've played plenty of meaningful games this year, so-called 'must-win' games," Braun said. "Nothing to this magnitude, obviously. It's exciting. You embrace the opportunity to play a one-game playoff. It's an opportunity to get to the National League Championship Series, and if we come out and play good on Friday, we'll be one step closer to where we want to be."

Said Fielder: "Home-field advantage is key. I'm glad we have it, and hopefully we do something with it."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.