These Brewers are down, 3-2, in the National League Championship Series. And their Game 6 starter on Sunday will be Shaun Marcum. Considering how Marcum has pitched over most of the past six weeks, an objective observer could easily reach this conclusion:
The St. Louis Cardinals are going to win the pennant.
Edwin Jackson will start Game 6 for St. Louis. Jackson would win the clincher in this scenario, if this is the rare postseason occasion when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa allows his starter to go five or more innings.
But Marcum is the big variable here. He was one of Milwaukee's most consistent and effective starters over the first five months of the season, but he had a 5.17 ERA in September and has pitched to a 12.46 ERA in two postseason starts. In Game 2 of the NLCS, with Marcum matched against Jackson, the Brewers lost, 12-3.
"I feel good," Marcum said Friday at Miller Park. "I feel great, actually."
The Brewers remain confident in Marcum, from the manager to the pitching coach to his teammates. "It's nice to have that kind of support," Marcum said.
The Brewers, who have been baseball's best home team in 2011, take comfort from the fact that Game 6, and they hope, Game 7, will be played in Miller Park. Marcum has pitched better on the road this season, but the overall team record cannot be disputed.
"I have a lot of confidence in our guys," said Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. "They are confident at home. We can win two ballgames at home."
And, the Brewers maintain -- frequently, repeatedly, without being asked -- that they have not lost an ounce of faith in Marcum. Roenicke has rejected the notion of starting fifth starter Chris Narveson in Game 6, although Narveson has good numbers against the Cardinals. And the manager has also stated that he would not bring back his ace, Yovani Gallardo, on short rest for this start.
"We expect a real good game from Shaun," Roenicke said.
For a time, the Brewers were seemingly in denial about Marcum's slump, chalking up his poundings to pitching with bad luck. Now, cognitive progress is being made. The first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have a problem. The slump is being seen as a combination of not being as sharp as he was earlier in the season and bad luck.
On the topic of Marcum's work, Roenicke spoke about as passionately as he ever speaks in public. For a manager who has attempted to build confidence and trust in his players, yanking Marcum out of the rotation at this late date would be out of character. And Roenicke seems convinced that Marcum's next start will be the one in which he returns to his best form.
"The first two months of the season, he was probably our best pitcher," Roenicke said. "And then I thought he was pretty steady from there on out. He still finished with a good year. I know you look at the last few games, and we talk about whether it's luck, whether he's not quite as sharp; his numbers aren't as good.
"But I still think Shaun is capable of getting back to where he was like he started at the beginning of the year. He's a command guy. He needs to have his command. He needs to change speeds. And sometimes, just that feel of throwing the ball, the confidence that you have, changing speeds on people, he's a very sharp guy as far as recognizing what a hitter is doing to him. And I think he needs to get back to that feeling he used to create stuff out there. So I think he just needs to relax, pitch the way that we really feel like he's going to do."
Marcum depends upon command and changing speeds. He has to be precise to succeed. Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz said the focus for Marcum has to be working down in the strike zone and getting ahead in the count.
"Shaun is a feel guy," Kranitz said. "He's a very, very smart pitcher. There are some games that he didn't use his changeup quite as much, and he has those reasons. You know, we have talked about certain things. Things that I'm not going to talk about because I'm not going to, say, give up a game plan on what we are trying to accomplish, because it's going to be a big game. You know, we are going to go over each hitter and talk about what he needs to do to get each guy out; if it's throwing more changeups to that guy, then so be it.
"But you know, overall, he's got a nice frame of mind and a good game plan going in, so I'm looking forward to watching him pitch."
In Game 2, Jackson worked what has become a fairly typical outing for a St. Louis starter in this series -- he was pulled in the fifth inning, but he pitched well enough not to get beat and left with a lead. He has been a valuable addition to the Cardinals' rotation and has pitched successfully in the postseason, both in relief and as a starter, over the course of his career.
Jackson seems like a relative given in this matchup. Expectations for Marcum are all over the map, depending on not only rooting interest, but on how much weight you give to recent trends as opposed to overall performance. He has gone from very good to inadequate.
And now, with no margin for error left for Milwaukee, he gets the ball in Game 6. If the Brewers' confidence in Marcum is to be rewarded, now would be the time.