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.

Brewers celebrate as they claim NL Central with win over Cubs

What once seemed like just a dream is now a reality. The Milwaukee Brewers clinched the National League Central Division with a 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The two teams finished the first 162 games of the regular season tied with 95 wins apiece, requiring a 163rd game to serve as the tiebreaker. Due to the Cubs winning 11 of the 19 head-to-head contests during the season they earned the right to host the game.

The Brewers struck first with a run in the third inning on a RBI-single from outfielder Christian Yelich scoring Orlando Arcia from third. Those two went a combined 7-for-8 at the dish on the day as Yelich was 3-4 and Arcia was a season-best 4-4 in the win.

The Cubs then tied the game on an Anthony Rizzo solo home run off of Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin in the fifth inning. That home run was the only damage allowed by Chacin. He pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing just the one run on one hit and two walks while striking out three.

From there the bullpen was mostly good as Xavier Cedeño struggled, but Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader well pitched very well.

Knebel earned the win as he pitched a perfect seventh inning and Hader recorded a two-inning save, allowing only a two-out base hit to Chicago’s Javy Baez in the ninth. He then retired Rizzo on a fly ball to right field and the celebration was on.

The Brewers now advance to the National League Division Series where they will take on the winner of the NL Wild Card Game between the Cubs and the loser of the Game 163 between Colorado and Los Angeles.

The NLDS will begin on Thursday at Miller Park. A start time has not yet been announced.

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Last strikes: Brewers 4, Giants 2

MILWAUKEE – Ten last strikes for the putouts for Milwaukee catcher Manny Piña in the Brewers’ 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Friday night.

1. It’s a rarity in baseball that a team wins a game in which they finish with more runs on the board than hits. That’s exactly what happened on Friday night in Milwaukee as the Brewers went from the first inning until the seventh without a hit and only finished with three total in their 4-2 victory.

2. This is the second time this season that the Brewers won a game with three or fewer hits. The first came back in June against St. Louis. Prior to this year Milwaukee had only had one such victory in the past four seasons. So, yeah, it’s pretty rare.

3. Ryan Braun got the scoring started in the first inning for the Crew as he launched a two-run home run into the Brewers’ bullpen after Lorenzo Cain led off the bottom of the first with a single.

4. After Braun gave Milwaukee the lead, the bats went silent. Derek Holland was fantastic for San Francisco as he made it through six innings allowing just those two runs on two hits while striking out eight. The downside for him was allowing five walks, but he negated any possible damage as the Brewers left eight runners on base.

5. Milwaukee finally broke through in the seventh inning after Holland was removed. Curtis Granderson and Eric Thames both walked off of reliever Hunter Strickland to begin the inning before Cain and Christian Yelich were retired. First baseman Jesús Aguilar stepped to the plate and laced a double into right field scoring both runners to give Milwaukee the lead back.

6. That lead would stand as the bullpen for the Brewers had a stellar night. Josh Hader, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress totaled four innings of work and only allowed one base runner via walk. That trio struck out eight of the 13 batters that they faced.

7. Chase Anderson pitched well once again for Milwaukee as he moves to 9-7 on the season. He made it through five innings allowing a pair of runs on five hits. Anderson only threw 79 pitches before turning things over to Hader and the rest of the bullpen.

8. With 20 games remaining in the season it’s hard to paint any game as a “must-win” and this one wouldn’t rank high on the list of importance anyways. With that being said, every win obviously helps the playoff cause for the Brewers as they continue this September push.

9. It’s refreshing to see the team win a game that they really didn’t have much business winning, but baseball can be weird like that sometimes. Baseball’s weirdness couldn’t have come at a better time for the Brewers, though.

10. The win pushes Milwaukee’s lead for the first wild card spot in the National League to 1.5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals who lost in Detroit 5-3 on Friday night. The Brewers and Giants resume this three-game set on Saturday evening at Miller Park. First pitch is at 6:10.

Brewers knock off Cubs 11-1

The Milwaukee Brewers just keep winning. For the fifth straight series the Brewers will win at least two out of three, and they’ll go for a sweep on Wednesday night.

The Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs 11-1 on Tuesday night behind a strong pitching performance from Wade Miley and a bit of a weird night offensively. The first seven runs of the night for the Brewers came via something other than an RBI hit.

Miley continued his terrific stretch of pitching as he threw six innings allowing just one run on three hits and striking out five as he earned the win. The bullpen picked up where Miley left off as they struck out five and allowed just two hits in three scoreless innings.

Offensively for the Brewers, Lorenzo Cain found himself on base five times. He was officially 1-for-1 with four walks and two runs scored. Christian Yelich stayed hot as he drove in a pair of runs, and Jonathan Schoop drove in three runs late in the game to pad the lead.

The Brewers will go for a three-game sweep of the Cubs on Wednesday night at Miller Park. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.

Brewers busy on final day of waiver deadline

The Milwaukee Brewers were busy prior to the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July, and they were once again busy at the end of August.

Milwaukee bolstered both the pitching rotation and the outfield situation with the acquisition of starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and outfielder Curtis Granderson.

In the Gonzalez deal, which has been confirmed by the team, Milwaukee sends prospects Gilbert Lara and K.J. Harrison to the Washington Nationals. Milwaukee also receives $250,000 in international slot money in the deal.

The terms of the Granderson deal, which was first reported by The Athletic, sends minor league outfielder Demi Orimoyole back to Toronto.

On the season Gonzalez has a 7-11 record with a 4.57 ERA for the Nationals. The left-hander has had better seasons, but does bring depth and postseason experience to the Milwaukee rotation. In his career he has made six postseason starts without a decision and holds a 4.78 ERA.

Granderson has hit .243 with 11 home runs and 35 runs batted in for the Toronto Blue Jays this season. He, like Gonzalez, has postseason experience for the Tigers, Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers in his career. The 37-year-old has played in 57 playoff games in his career.