MILWAUKEE – As they chase the goal of a National League pennant, the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers share plenty of commonalities.
Both rank highly among the most analytically driven clubs, helmed by sharp young executives. The Brewers are owned by a Los Angeles resident, Mark Attanasio, and boast a trio of former All-Stars who hail from SoCal.
Neither club likely would be in this NL Championship Series were it not for a bevy of trade acquisitions, with Manny Machado leading the Dodgers cavalry and Mike Moustakas lending the Brewers some late-season gravitas.
The manner both teams will chase that pennant, however, will vary greatly, in an NLCS that on paper would favor the Dodgers, though it’s the Brewers who haven’t lost since Sept. 22.
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A look at the first playoff meeting between the clubs:
Game 1, Friday – Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 2.73 ERA during regular season) vs. Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21), 8:09 ET, Miller Park
Game 2, Saturday – Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62) or Hyun-jin Ryu vs. Wade Miley (5-2, 2.57), 4:09 ET, Miller Park
Game 3, Monday – Buehler or Ryu vs. Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50), 7:39 ET, Dodger Stadium
Game 4, Tuesday – Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66) vs. TBA, 9:09 ET, Dodger Stadium
Game 5*, Wednesday – 5:05 ET, Dodger Stadium
Game 6*, Oct. 19 – 8:39 ET, Miller Park
Game 7*, Oct. 20 – 9:09 ET, Miller Park
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts proved last postseason how aggressive he can be running a pitching staff in a playoff environment.
Craig Counsell, his Brewers counterpart, might reply with, “You haven’t seen anything, yet.”
The Brewers swept the Rockies in the NL Division Series while getting just 12 2/3 innings from their starting pitchers – much of that by design. Chacin, their de facto ace, hasn’t completed at least six innings since Aug. 31. Lefty Wade Miley carried a shutout into the fifth inning of the NLDS clincher – but was out before he could qualify for the win. And Miley figures to be on an even shorter leash against a Dodgers lineup that will throw a bevy of right-handers at any southpaw.
And now Counsell pulls out a significant surprise: The lefty Gonzalez, who did not pitch at all in the NLDS and made just five starts after an Aug. 31 trade from Washington, will get the ball in Game 1.
The Dodgers’ dominance of Atlanta in their NLDS was so thorough that Roberts didn’t have to show many cards: Kershaw pitched eight shutout innings and Ryu seven, giving up six combined hits. Given Kershaw’s diminished velocity and plunging strikeout rates (8.6 per nine innings, compared to 10.4 the previous two seasons), it will be interesting how long the veteran will be allowed to go if the Brewers provide greater resistance than Atlanta.
Buehler gracefully wrested the “ace” designation from Kershaw down the stretch and gained notoriety for both his dominant performances and his cocksure mentality. A grand slam off the bat of fellow rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. in Game 3 of the NLDS knocked him down a peg, but may serve as more a teachable moment in execution than a referendum on the 21-year-old’s playoff readiness.
Keep an eye on….
Josh Hader. The Brewers’ dominant All-Star lefty – he struck out 143 in 81 1/3 regular season innings – was perfect in the division series, retiring all seven batters he faced. The format of the NLCS, however, could prove a challenge for manager Craig Counsell in his Hader usage. Counsell preferred deploying him for multi-inning stints during the season and then giving him a day of rest; he pitched on consecutive days just five times. In the NLDS, he recorded one out in Game 2 the day after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Game 1. But Games 3-5 come on consecutive days, which may force Hader into shorter stints.
And the Dodgers’ deep, platoon-friendly roster poses another issue. While Hader held right-handed batters to a .153 average – only a little worse than the .090 mark he posted against lefty hitters – eight of his nine home runs given up were to right-handers. Keep that in mind as Chris Taylor, David Freese, Matt Kemp and Enrique Hernandez lurk – in the lineup or on the bench – as the game goes on.
Close and late
The Brewers’ heavy reliance on Hader, closer Jeremy Jeffress and erstwhile closer Corey Knebel is well-documented; less renowned of late has been the Dodgers’ late-inning handiwork.
They trailed only the Brewers in September bullpen ERA as closer Kenley Jansen returned from a bout with an irregular heartbeat and restored order to the late innings. Kenta Maeda is now well-conditioned to the role of playoff set-up man; the resurgence of Pedro Baez – who absorbed 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief in the NLDS lengthens the corps significantly and gives Roberts the luxury of matching up lefties Scott Alexander and Caleb Ferguson at his leisure. While Jansen has not returned to his dominant form, he’s at the least performed like a capable ninth-inning out-getter, posting a 1.03 WHIP over his final 14 regular-season appearances.
In the end
After striking a go-ahead home run in Game 1 of the NLDS, presumed NL MVP Christian Yelich was quiet thereafter – only because the Rockies walked him six times in 14 overall plate appearances. The Dodgers, meanwhile, maintained their air-based attack against Atlanta, clubbing eight home runs after hitting an NL-best 235. The Brewers were second with 218 and also just trailed the Dodgers in hard-hit ball rate. There will be few secrets or errors on the margins in this series. Expect the Dodgers to pitch just a little bit better – and hit just a few more long balls – to repeat as NL champions.