NLCS Preview: Brewers vs. Dodgers

For just the second time in franchise history the Milwaukee Brewers are participants in the National League Championship Series.

The Brewers will be squaring off with the Dodgers, who are appearing in their third consecutive NLCS.

How they got here:

The Dodgers, like the Brewers, finished in a tie for the lead in their division. Los Angeles had to play in a Game 163 just like Milwaukee, and just like the Brewers, the Dodgers were victorious.

That victory set up a matchup in the NLDS with the Atlanta Braves in which the Dodgers won in four games.

The Brewers — after winning their own Game 163 over the Cubs — made quick work of the Colorado Rockies, sweeping them out of the NLDS in three games.

Playoff Performers:

Christian Yelich is going to win the 2018 NL MVP Award, and that will come as a surprise to no one. His second half for the Brewers was historic as he was one of the biggest reasons as to why the Brewers were able to qualify for the playoffs and ultimately win the division.

In the NLDS Yelich was largely pitched around, although his Game 1 home run put the Brewers in front early before they knocked off the Rockies 3-2 in extra innings. Hs presence in the lineup is undeniable, but the Rockies clearly were not going to let him be the one to beat them night after night. That’s something that won’t be changing with the Dodgers.

Erik Kratz was the team’s MVP in the NLDS. Yes, that’s a real sentence just typed in the year 2018.

Kratz was fantastic in his first playoff series ever, Kratz went 5-for-8 with a double at the dish with a pair of runs batted in. For a playoff first timer, he stepped up and delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

On the flip side, the Dodgers didn’t exactly hit against the Braves, but they did crush eight home runs in the series. Trade deadline acquisition Manny Machado hit a pair of those as did Max Muncy. Los Angeles also drew an average of nearly seven (!!) walks per game against the Braves. Both of those are trends that cannot be counted on to continue against the Brewers.

Pitching:

There’s no question that the Milwaukee Brewers have a stellar bullpen. That’s been advertised everywhere one looks, and it was proven in Game 1 of the NLDS as they used nothing but relievers in the 3-2 extra inning win.

The starting pitching for the Brewers has been undervalued for much of the season, as well. Although if Gio Gonzalez was told on August 31 that he would be starting Game 1 of the NLCS, there’s no way he would have believed it.

The staff that the Brewers have to begin games as “initial out-getters” as manager Craig Counsell affectionately refers to them, isn’t as talented as the one that the Dodgers have.

Los Angeles will be sending out three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 on Friday night at Miller Park. Although he didn’t have the best year of his career, partly due to injury, he did still post a record of 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA. The left-hander hasn’t had terrific success throughout his career in the postseason, although he did pitch eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball in Game 2 of the NLDS. He will be followed by Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 2 on Saturday. In his four career postseason starts Ryu has a 1.96 ERA and is coming off of seven scoreless innings against the Brazes.

Managers:

Craig Counsell should win National League Manager of the Year for his efforts in guiding Milwaukee to the best record in the league. He’s a very deserving candidate without question. He has tons of postseason experience as a player, and now has never lost a playoff game as a manager, even though that’s an extremely small sample size through three games.

Los Angeles’ Dave Roberts is fresh off taking the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988 last season and looking to do it again. After the team got off to a putrid start he’s got them playing their best baseball at the right time.

Schedule and Probables:

Game 1: Friday, Oct. 12, 7:09 p.m. CT, Miller Park
| Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 2.73 ERA)
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 13, 3:09 p.m. CT, Miller Park
| Wade Miley (5-2, 2.57 ERA) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 1.97 ERA)
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 15, 6:39 p.m. CT, Dodger Stadium
| Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50 ERA) vs. Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62 ERA)
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 16, 8:09 p.m. CT, Dodger Stadium
| TBD vs. Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66 ERA)
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 4:05 p.m. CT, Dodger Stadium
| TBD vs. TBD
Game 6*: Friday, Oct. 19, 7:39 p.m. CT, Miller Park
| TBD vs. TBD
Game 7*: Saturday, Oct. 20, 8:09 p.m. CT, Miller Park
| TBD vs. TBD

*denotes if necessary

Zone Predictions:

Zach Heilprin: Dodgers in 6
Joe Miller: Brewers in 7
Ebo Thoreson: Brewers in 6
Danny Cunningham: Dodgers in 6

Last strikes: Brewers 3, Rockies 2

MILWAUKEE – Twenty-five last strikes for the 25 pitches thrown by Milwaukee reliever Corey Knebel in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the 2018 NLDS.

1. What a way to start October baseball.

2. Yes, the Brewers essentially played a playoff game on Oct. 1 in Game 163 at Wrigley Field against the Cubs to decide the NL Central and the right to be in the position they’re currently in. But this game was the true start of the playoffs for Milwaukee, and it could not have been more riveting.

3. Third baseman Mike Moustakas ended the game in the bottom of the 10th inning on a walk-off single scoring Christian Yelich from third base. This came after the Brewers allowed a pair of runs to the Rockies to tie the game in the top of the ninth off of closer Jeremy Jeffress.

4. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has been attempting to get away from the way pitchers are traditionally used throughout the course of the season. Rather than refer to certain pitchers as “starters” or “relievers” he tends to use the term “out-getters” for everyone.

5. That strategy worked to near perfection for the first 24 outs of the game. If you’re bad at math, that adds up to the first eight innings.

6. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel, and Josh Hader were all fantastic for the Brewers. The problem for the Crew was that Jeffress was not.

7. That first foursome totaled eight innings of shutout baseball, allowing just one hit to Colorado while striking out 10. It may have been odd to see the Brewers use a bullpen game in the first game of the NLDS, but it could not have gone better for them.

8. That is, until Jeffress entered.

9. In the ninth inning Jeffress allowed a pair of hits to Colorado on his first three pitches to Rockies’ hitters. Charlie Blackmon then nearly hit an RBI double – ruled just foul upon review – before cashing in with a single to cut the lead to 2-1. After that, the normally sure-handed Orlando Arcia made an error at shortstop to load the bases with one run in and no one out.

10. Colorado’s most dangerous hitter, Nolan Arenado, then stepped up to the plate with the tying run just 90 feet away. He hit an 0-2 pitch to center field for a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 2.

11. Jeffress was able to recompose and escape the inning without any further damage being inflicting, which seemed like a giant win for the Brewers.

12. “It was a big punch because of the way that we pitched the whole game, because we pitched beautifully the whole game,” Counsell said. “That inning could have fallen apart really bad after we gave up two runs with first and third and one out, and they’re looking really good still.”

13. Counsell is right. That was a huge gut punch. It felt as if the wind was sucked out of the enclosed Miller Park when the tying run scored. The Brewers worked the bullpen strategy to perfection for the first eight innings of the game only to see it come undone in the ninth inning.

14. There can be quite a bit of irony in all of this too. When the bullpen is employed the way it was by Counsell in Game 1, there can be quite a few very difficult decisions to be made in terms of which “out-getter” enters at certain times.

15. The one constant – whether it be a bullpen game or a game pitched traditionally – is that the closer is typically saved for the ninth. Bringing Jeffress in for that inning was the easiest decision that Counsell had to make on Thursday night. It’s also the only one that didn’t work.

16. “I mean, look, it worked the way we wanted. I mean, it worked beautifully,” Counsell said. “Any time we can get J.J. into a game at the end of the game or Corey or Josh, the game has worked.

17. “You work hard to try to put yourselves into that position. We had the game right where we wanted to, and I thought J.J. made some good pitches, just they hit some ground balls – got a solid base hit to Parra and then they hit a couple balls to the infield and then he made some big-time pitches to keep the score tied.”

18. At this point, it’s fair to question whether or not the Brewers should be required by MLB to send the Miami Marlins more prospects for Christian Yelich.

19. Yes, that’s said in jest, but he’s been the best player in baseball for the past month or so and has had a second half that rivals the play of Barry Bonds. He’s been that good. It was Yelich’s two-run blast in the third inning to put Milwaukee in front. Then, to make things even better, he fought back from an 0-2 hole against Colorado’s Adam Ottavino in the 10th inning to draw a lead-off walk and eventually score the winning run.

20. “Definitely an unbelievable moment,” Moustakas said of his walk-off single while sharing the podium with Yelich. “Bit wouldn’t have been able to be there unless this guy didn’t do his job and everybody else on that field didn’t do their jobs.”

21. Maybe, just maybe Moustakas was able to steal some magic from the man that threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday, too.

22. Nyjer Morgan made his return to Miller Park to throw out the first pitch at the same place he delivered for this franchise seven years ago. Back in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS Morgan sent the Brewers to the NLCS with his walk-off single in the 10th inning to give the Brewers a 3-2 victory.

23. The stakes were higher in a Game 5 than a Game 1, naturally, but it was still a cool moment to have such a similar finish with Morgan in the building.

24. “It was really cool, it was special,” Braun said of catching the first pitch from Morgan. “T-Plush meant so much to this organization when he was here in 2011. It was special year. I don’t know if there was anybody that could get the crowd hyped better than he could. You know you could have Prince [Fielder] or Rickie [Weeks], or some of the other guys that played here longer, but T-Plush has a unique ability to get the crowd fired up so it was a fun way to start for all of us.”

25. There’s no doubting that it was a fun start to the night for Miller Park, and just like that night in October seven years ago, it was a fun finish, too.