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SF@ARI: Kennedy earns his 21st win of the year

When the National League Division Series begins at Miller Park on Saturday, the host Brewers will be fulfilling a potential made clear last winter, while the visiting D-backs will be fulfilling what could only have been a warm and fuzzy dream then.

But when they get between the lines Saturday for Game 1 of the NLDS, it's back to square one at a whole new level.

"Everything that's happened, just throw it out the window," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said after his team's remarkable regular-season ride. "This is a new series."

Having claimed their first division title since 1982, when they were in the American League East, the Brewers take their NL Central crown into Saturday's opener against the NL West-champion D-backs, the true surprise entrant in the postseason tournament, even with last-minute shockers in the Wild Card races.

Right-hander Ian Kennedy, a 21-game winner and one of the main reasons the D-backs' success shouldn't be much of a surprise, will take the ball for the opener against right-hander Yovani Gallardo, named to his second Game 1 NLDS start, a 2 p.m. ET tilt on TBS.

With dual MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, Kennedy will be faced with one of the game's most imposing lineups. But Gallardo will be facing the lineup that averaged more runs per game, with Arizona checking in at fourth in the league at 4.51, just ahead of Milwaukee's 4.46.

The teams have one thing in common: They're exactly where they want to be.

"You work all year to get to this point," said Braun. "You put in your work starting the middle of February with one goal in mind: Get to the playoffs. And now that we've accomplished the first part of that goal, we're excited to get started."

Of course, the one advantage that the Brewers can boast in this series before it starts is home-field advantage, and that's a rather large one in this case.

Milwaukee led the Majors with a 57-24 home record, shattering the franchise mark for home wins among its club-record 96 overall. The Crew also drew 3,071,373 fans to set a new Miller Park standard. That said, the D-backs did win two of three games there in July, joining the Mets (2-1) and Phillies (3-1) as the only teams to have a positive ledger in Milwaukee this season.

The roof is expected to be closed at Miller Park for Game 1, so it's certain to be a loud and intense atmosphere.

"It's going to be noisy," Gibson said. "All the things that we work on -- communication, understanding each others' body languages -- this is when it all comes into play."

Both managers will be making their postseason debuts in that role Saturday, although Gibson obviously has a memorable October resume as a player. Gibson, in his first full season after taking over the club in July 2010, put his stamp of intensity on this team from the first day of Spring Training, and it worked.

"One thing that will be similar is that we'll just compete, continue to compete as a manager, keep our players competing," Gibson said.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, hired last winter for his first managerial assignment after 10 years coaching with the Angels, also put his stamp on the Brewers as the picture of calm focus through a trying spring and some occasional turbulence. He said his postseason experience with the Angels and during his playing career can only help.

"The more times you're in the playoffs, the more you're around the atmosphere, the more that you see what happens to players and what happens to outside influences on those players, the easier it gets," Roenicke said.

The pitching matchup says a lot about why these two teams are where they are. Kennedy is the leader of a strong, young rotation, and Gallardo is the incumbent in a rotation that added two more aces in Zack Greinke -- announced Friday as the Game 2 starter on short rest -- and Shaun Marcum.

Kennedy, a former Yankees first-round Draft pick, lived up to his career promise with consistent ace-quality performances throughout 2011. Now 26, he went at least seven innings 20 times in 33 starts and allowed one run or fewer in 16. He'll be pitching on six days' rest when he takes the mound Saturday for his postseason debut.

"It's going to be a battle through the whole game," Kennedy said. "It's going to be fun, just because it's the playoffs."

Gallardo pitched Game 1 of the 2008 NL Division Series as a 22-year-old and, coming off a knee injury that limited him to one September start, lasted seven innings in a loss to the Phillies. Three seasons later, he led the Brewers in wins (17) and strikeouts (207) in 2011, finishing strong with a 1.77 ERA and 36 strikeouts over 20 1/3 innings in his last three regular-season starts.

"I'm just going to go out there and do the same thing I've been doing all year," Gallardo said. "I'm sure all the guys, we're all very excited. We can't wait for [Saturday]. But yet again, we still have to go out there and it's going to be tough but you have to look at it as another game."

Gallardo, who went 10-2 with a 3.00 ERA at home this year, scored two of his victories this season against the D-backs, allowing one run on four hits each time. The 25-year-old will be pitching on seven days' rest, but threw a simulated game Tuesday to beef up his between-starts regimen.

On July 21, Kennedy threw seven shutout innings at home against the Brewers for a victory in a four-game series the teams split. In that start, he struck out Fielder twice but allowed Braun a double, one of just four hits against him, and the only one for extra bases.

Kennedy might be new to this postseason thing, but he knows those two sluggers are at the heart of his challenge as he steps to the mound for Game 1.

"It's no secret that Braun and Fielder are a bit part of their lineup," Kennedy said. "They have a lot of other good players, but Braun has had an MVP-type season and so has Prince. Those two guys can hurt you." Comments