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MILWAUKEE -- It took every bit of the 162-game schedule to sort things out, but the Brewers' postseason plans are finally set: They will host the D-backs at Miller Park on Saturday for Game 1 of the National League Division Series on TBS.
The NL postseason picture crystallized in about an hour on Major League Baseball's wild Wednesday, a combination of the Cardinals' win in Houston, the Brewers' 7-3 win over the Pirates in Milwaukee and a Braves loss to the Phillies in Atlanta.
The Brewers clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL and the right to begin the postseason at Miller Park, where they notched 57 of their franchise-record 96 wins as baseball's toughest team to beat at home. The Cardinals clinched the NL Wild Card and will open the NLDS in Philadelphia.
"This is what it's all about," said rookie manager Ron Roenicke, one of Milwaukee's key offseason acquisitions. "You talk about playing meaningful games in September so you can get to October, and once you get into October it's really fun to see who's going to be that guy who steps up and likes that moment where it's on him. You see it every year -- somebody steps up that you don't think is going to. Those are special times."
The Brewers will celebrate on Thursday at Milwaukee's Summerfest grounds in a free fan rally that begins at 4 p.m. CT. Players will arrive just after 5 p.m. CT.
Players can celebrate with the postseason picture in focus. That was not the case as late as Wednesday afternoon, when the Brewers had the NL Central crown locked up but were unsure who they would play in the NLDS, or where they would play Game 1. Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin called a team meeting to lay out the various scenarios, one of which had the Brewers attending Thursday's fan rally, then returning to Miller Park to watch a potential Braves-Cardinals playoff for the Wild Card.
Wednesday's down-to-the-wire finish eliminated most of the uncertainty, but not all of it. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo will start Game 1 of the NLDS for the second time in three years, but the Brewers' rotation after that remained murky, even after Arizona emerged as the opponent.
The primary question is whether the Brewers bring back prized offseason acquisition Zack Greinke to pitch Game 2 on Sunday, on three days' rest for the second straight start and only the third time in his career. Roenicke at first said Wednesday that he was against the idea, but Greinke delivered six very sharp innings to beat the Pirates, and indicated to reporters that he was interested.
If the Brewers keep Greinke on regular rest, he would pitch Game 3 in Arizona on Tuesday and Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf would work Game 2 at Miller Park. Wolf has far more experience against Arizona, 10-5 with a 4.64 ERA in 20 starts. Marcum was better this season on the road.
The numbers are compelling for bringing back Greinke to pitch Game 2. He went 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA in 15 Miller Park starts this season, all Brewers wins.
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz said, "we're not going to close any doors on anything," and Roenicke softened his own stance after the game. If Greinke asks for the assignment, Roenicke would consider it.
Publicly, Roenicke was more firmly against the idea, telling reporters, "I would say he's ruled out of Game 2. I was a little uncomfortable bringing him back today, and I don't think it's fair to bring him back again on three days', unless he comes to me and says, 'I feel great. Things are locked in.' I don't even know if I'll let him have that option."
"We've got some good starters, so I'm not really worried about it," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I'm pretty sure that [Greinke] is going to get the job done for us no matter where he pitches."
The pitchers from both teams could have their hands full in the series, which will be staged at two of MLB's best launching pads. The Brewers led the NL with 185 home runs; the D-backs were fourth with 172.
Ian Kennedy will face Gallardo in Game 1, and had an eye on Brewers sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
"Braun and Fielder as their three and four -- that's a 1-2 punch," said Kennedy, who shut the Brewers out for seven innings on July 21. "That's the key to any lineup. Keep those guys from scoring those runs."
The D-backs won four of the seven regular-season matchups between the teams, all in July.
The Brewers treated Wednesday's regular-season finale against the Pirates, with home-field advantage in the balance, not as a "must-win" game, but the next closest thing. They coveted the right to remain home over the following three days to host Games 1 and 2 at Miller Park, where the Brewers drew three million fans -- 3,071,373, to be precise -- for the third time in four years.
Gallardo and Greinke were both more effective in front of those fans, combining to go 21-2 in home games, with the Brewers winning 28 of their 31 starts. Gallardo was 10-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his 16 Miller Park starts, versus 7-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 17 starts on the road.
He would be available again for a potential Game 5 at Miller Park if the series goes that far.
"This is the reason why we're here," Gallardo said.
"It's nice to know we've got home field, and it's also nice to know we did it by ourselves," Roenicke said. "All season long, nobody helped us out. The guys stepped it up and took control, and that's what I'm really happy with."