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Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching depth to be in tested in AL wild-card series with Brandon Woodruff injury

Milwaukee Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff pitches in the first inning against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on Sept. 5. (AP file photo)

One of Milwaukee’s biggest strengths just got a little weaker on the eve of the postseason.

Right-hander Brandon Woodruff, slated as a potential Game 3 starter, will miss the NL Wild Card Series with a shoulder injury, leaving the Brewers without one of the top arms against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It’s tough to have one of your better arms go down,” Brewers Game 1 starter Corbin Burnes said on Monday. “Obviously we don’t know the extent of what’s going on and how long it’s going to be. But it means that it’s another opportunity for another guy to step up and fill his shoes and try to replicate what he would do out there on the mound.”

When Milwaukee and Arizona last met, the Diamondbacks were atop the AL West and the Brewers were scuffling, barely above .500 at 38-36.

That was June. The Brewers found the right gear, going 54-34 the rest of the way to win the NL Central by eight games.

The Brewers' Adrian Houser pitches during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 27, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP file photo)

The Diamondbacks went through a few difficult stretches after the series in Milwaukee, finally clinching their first playoff appearance since 2017 on the final weekend of the regular season.

Arizona closed the season with four straight losses and scored two runs in a three-game sweep by the Houston Astros. Now the Diamondbacks need to try finding a way to reignite their offense against a team that had time to rest players and line up its rotation.

Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, gets the ball for Game 1. Milwaukee’s ace has been sharp since allowing seven runs in five innings in a loss to the Diamondbacks on June 19. The right-hander won four straight starts in July and closed the season by allowing four earned runs over his last 22 2/3 innings.

After Burnes, Milwaukee likely will start Freddy Peralta for Game 2 instead of Woodruff. Peralta went 12-10 with a 3.86 ERA with 210 strikeouts in 165 2/3 innings.

The Brewers also have one of the best bullpens in baseball, a combination that allowed them to lead the major leagues with a 3.71 ERA. All-Star Devin Williams anchors the pen after finishing with a 1.53 ERA while converting 36 of 40 save opportunities.

“We’re familiar with them? Yes,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “But they’re a different team. They’re in the playoffs and anything’s possible.”

“I think we’re built to go all the way,” Brewers right-hander Adrian Houser said.

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DIAMONDBACKS ROTATION

Because the Diamondbacks had yet to clinch a playoff spot, they were forced to use Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly down the stretch, leaving neither available for Game 1.

That start will go to Brandon Pfaadt.

The rookie right-hander bounced between the big leagues and Triple-A Reno early in the season, but pitched better late in the season.

Pfaadt had scoreless outings in two of his final three regular-season starts.

Gallen, Arizona’s ace, will likely pitch Game 2 with Kelly getting the ball in a potential Game 3. Those two went a combined 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts against Milwaukee this season.

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STOPPING THE RUN

Arizona’s offense is loaded with speedy players who put pressure on opposing teams.

A big key for the Brewers to preventing the Diamondbacks from getting their offense going will be to slow them down on the bases.

Led by All-Star Corbin Carroll’s 54 stolen bases, Arizona finished second in the majors with 166 steals, converting on 86% of its attempts.

Milwaukee catchers William Contreras and Victor Caratini combined to allow 121 stolen bases at 84% success rate. The Diamondbacks went 8 for 8 in stolen bases against the Brewers this season.

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YELICH’S IMPACT

Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich had back issues that took him out of the lineup for a few games late in the year, but still had one of his best seasons since winning the 2018 NL MVP and finishing runner-up the next year.

Yelich hit .278 with 19 homers, 76 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. Get hot against the Diamondbacks, he could spark the Brewers, who were a better offensive team the second half of the season after struggling early.

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DIALING UP THE D

The Brewers and Diamondbacks were among baseball’s best defensive teams during the regular season.

Arizona led the majors with a .990 fielding percentage and had big league-low 56 errors. Milwaukee’s fielding percentage was .987 and the Brewers committed 77 errors.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

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