LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers are a win away from ending the Milwaukee Brewers season and earning a second-straight appearance in the World Series. That’s after a 5-2 victory on Wednesday in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series to take a 3-2 series lead.
Here’s what we saw at Dodger Stadium:
Didn’t see it coming
Craig Counsell continued his unusual managing of Milwaukee’s pitching staff on Wednesday, sending left-handed starter Wade Miley to the dugout after just one batter and inserting righty Brandon Woodruff.
“Yeah, that’s what we were going to do all along,” Counsell said. “Wade is going to pitch Game 6. If we went down 3-1 [in the series] we were considering having Wade pitch this game. But other than that, this is kind of what we decided we were going to do.”
It was the plan and Miley, as Counsell said, will get the ball again on Friday in Game 6. According to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, Miley is the first pitcher since George Earnshaw of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1930 to start consecutive postseason games. He’ll also be just the fifth starter to pitch in three league championship series games.
There was criticism from the FOX announcers about Counsell’s move and a reporter asked the Brewers’ skipper why he used “subterfuge” and didn’t just run Woodruff out as his starter.
“Look, they’re trying to get matchups, we’re trying to get matchups,” Counsell said. “They’re a very tough team to get matchups against. And we weren’t able to give Woody some matchups.”
Woodruff held up his end of the deal. He went 5 1/3 innings before the Dodgers were able to get to him in the sixth inning. He took the loss giving up three runs — two earned — on five hits while striking out eight.
But the talk afterwards was all about Miley exiting quickly and who knew what and when. Ryan Braun said he had heard about it well before the game, Christian Yelich said someone mentioned it to him about 20 minutes before and Mike Moustakas said Counsell told him to expect a quick mound visit. Woodruff was seen out in the bullpen by one reporter but no one put the move together.
So why did Counsell do it? The easy answer is the one he first gave about trying to get the best matchups. The better answer is how it sets Milwaukee up for two must-win games back at Miller Park. The Brewers will have Miley and Jhoulys Chacin on nearly full rest to start the two games and key bullpen guys such as Josh Hader, Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress on multiple days rest.
“We’re going back home, to me, in a position of strength. And that’s part of it,” Counsell said.
“We’re in a good spot, man. We’re going home. And I know you’re going to play what-if if we could have captured another one of these games [in Los Angeles], but we’re still going home and have a chance with this thing with a bunch of guys in really good shape.”
Where did the offense go ?
Milwaukee’s offense went ice cold over the last two games, managing just three runs in 22 innings. And a big part of the problem has been the guys that got the Brewers to where they are today — Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Jesus Aguilar — haven’t found much success in the postseason.
The trio is just 16 for 93 after Wednesday’s game, a day that included Aguilar striking out with the bases loaded in the third inning. It was an opportunity missed to chase Clayton Kershaw from the game and one the Brewers would regret as he retired the next 13 batters and ended up dominating over seven innings to get the win.
“Regardless of the situation you have to go out and perform,” said Cain, who actually went 2-for-4 with an RBI. “I haven’t been playing like I know I can. For me, being the leadoff batter, being one of the leaders on this team, I need to step up and do a better job.”
The struggles by Yelich are the most complexing. He was otherworldly down the stretch, dragging Milwaukee into the postseason and putting himself in position to win NL MVP honors. But he’s got three hits in five games this series and is batting .150 in the postseason.
“There’s times when you feel dialed in and locked in at the plate. There’s other times where you’re searching for it. You miss pitches you normally handle,” Yelich said. “It’s part of the game. It happens to everybody. It’s not an ideal time, but there’s no excuses at this time of year. You have to figure it out. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Braun was willing to credit the Dodgers’ pitching staff that has been very good in four of the five games. But he also knows it’s on them to overcome.
“We picked a bad time to go through a rough stretch offensively, going through a period where there’s a lot of guys who aren’t seeing the ball well,” said Braun, who leads the team in hits this postseason. “I think you combine all those factors and we end up in the position we’re in offensively right now.”
The hope, at least for Milwaukee, is a return home to the friendly confines of Miller Park will jump start a stagnant offense.
Now or never
It’s do-or-die time for the Brewers. After jumping out to a 2-1 series lead, they now trail the Dodgers 3-2 and face two must-win games on Friday and Saturday if they are to earn a berth in the World Series.
“You win Game 6, anything can happen in Game 7,” infielder Travis Shaw said. “One at time. No room for error.”
You’d think Milwaukee would be comfortable in the situation its facing seeing as the Brewers have been playing essentially must-win games since early September as they chased down the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Central.
“We’re in familiar territory,” Yelich said, before echoing Shaw’s sentiments. “It’s win or go home now. We’ve got no other choice. One at time. We’ve got to win the first one to get to the second one. All of our focus is on winning Game 6.”
That will be a tough task considering what we’ve seen from the Brewers offense in Los Angeles, but Braun put the situation in perspective.
“If at the beginning of the year you would have told everybody in this organization you get to play two games at home, and if you win those two games you go to the World Series, we’d all be thrilled and take it,” Braun said “We’re still in a fortunate position and we’re looking forward to Game 6.”