NLCS Game 7: Dodgers 5, Brewers 1

MILWAUKEE — Wade Miley had it all planned out. Following the Milwaukee’s Game 6 win over Los Angeles in their National League Championship Series, the Brewers’ pitcher stood at his locker in the home clubhouse and told reporters what he envisioned Game 7 looking like.

“(Jhoulys) Chacin go six. (Josh) Hader go three. We go to the World Series,” Miley said.

The lefty hit just one out of three in that plan. And for that reason, Milwaukee’s season is done. Chacin gave up a pair of runs and lasted just two innings, giving way to Hader, who was dominant over three innings of work to keep the game close. But those that came after him, combined with a lackluster offense, spelled doom for the Brewers in a 5-1 loss that sent the Dodgers to the World Series for a second straight year.

The game turned in a period of 15 minutes. First, Los Angeles’ outfielder Chris Taylor robbed Christian Yelich of a game-tying hit in the bottom of the fifth. Then, in the top of the sixth, Yasiel Puig took Jeremy Jeffress deep for a three-run homer. Despite there still being 12 outs to work with, the hit felt like a dagger to Milwaukee’s playoff run.

It was a brutal end to a special season, one that saw the Brewers chase down the Chicago Cubs in the final month to win the NL Central, sweep Colorado in the NLDS and push the defending NL champs to a seventh game. No one wants to talk about moral victories — and this certainly wasn’t one — but once everyone gets further away from the anger and disappointment of what took place Saturday night at Miller Park it’ll be more than clear how remarkable the run they went on was for the franchise, the fans, the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.

“What I just told them is that they took us on an amazing journey,” manager Craig Counsell said. “They really did. They took us on an incredible journey that we should all be grateful for being able to see, because it was a magical run, especially in the month of September and into October.”

The Brewers set a franchise record for most wins in a season with 102 and did it just three years after losing 94 games. The rebuild under General Manager David Stearns went faster than anyone thought it could and it left the club with a very good foundation for the future.

“It’s something to be proud of. We accomplished a lot, especially down the stretch,” Yelich said. “Once all this settles down you can really assess what we accomplished as a team. We can be proud of that and take it into the offseason and use it as motivation for next year.”

Coming up short, though, is not a feeling that’s going to go away anytime soon. Certainly not for sports fans in the state. Heartbreak has become a common occurrence for those that support the Green Bay Packers or Wisconsin Badgers. Sure, the former won a Super Bowl in 2010, but that was preceded and since followed by some of the most gut-wrenching playoff losses any franchise could experience, including blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead to Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Fans of the Badgers had to witness a soul crushing loss for the basketball team in the NCAA title game in 2015, while the football team came up 43 yards short in 2017 of winning a Big Ten title and playing in the College Football Playoff.

But all of those instances only hurt as much as they do because of the success the teams have had. When you get invested in something, be it sports or other aspects of life, and it doesn’t go your way, it can sometimes feel like someone ripped your heart out, stabbed it a million times and then put it back with no care or worry. And while that scarring will always be there, opportunities to add layers over it with division titles, playoff wins and world championships keep fans coming back for more.

So, in the Brewers’ case, Saturday didn’t mark the end of anything but the season. Yeah, Milwaukee won’t play in the World Series for a 35th straight year, but the product they put on the field is just getting started. With a number of key minor leaguers playing at a high level, position players like Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun and Orlando Arcia due to return, and a pitching staff with several talented young arms, including Hader, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and a potentially healthy Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers will have a chance to push to get back to the same place, but with an opportunity to go further.

NLCS Game 6: Brewers 7, Dodgers 2

MILWAUKEE — There will be a Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The Milwaukee Brewers saw to that with a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers to tie the series at three games apiece.

Here’s what we saw at Miller Park on Friday night:

‘Picture perfect’

Almost before Game 6 was done, Milwaukee was already looking toward Saturday night and the first Game 7 for the franchise since the 1982 World Series.

“There’s one option,” second baseman Travis Shaw said. “It’s win. It’s all hands on deck (Saturday). To come back here and give ourselves a chance, that’s all you can ask for.”

But the Brewers will be getting much more than just a chance. They’ll be getting a near perfect chance. Not only will Game 7 be played under their roof, they’ll be sending their top starting pitcher — Jhoulys Chacin — to the mound and have their top reliever — Josh Hader — available for as long as they need him.

“It’s all right there. It’s picture perfect,” Shaw said. “Chacin, our guy. Hader’s fresh. One win away from the World Series. One win away from [facing] Boston. We’re going to be ready to go.”

Game 6 starter Wade Miley already had Game 7 all figured out when asked about it.

“Chacin go six. Hader go three. Go to the World Series,” Miley said as reporters laughed. “[I] mapped it out.”

Chacin and Hader have been the stars of the pitching staff since Game 163 in Chicago to clinch the NL Central. Those two have pitched 25 innings over the 10 games and allowed just one run. It’s why there is so much confidence in them being rested and ready for the biggest game of the year.

“This is what we play for the whole season. This is the point we want to be at,” Hader said. “Just play everything we got. There’s no backing down at all.”

It seems likely that duo will need help from the rest of the bullpen and everyone should be available after minimal work on Friday. But Hader said he’s ready for whatever is asked of him.

“There’s no limit,” he said. “I mean, it’s Game 7. There’s no limits at all. You just have to go out and do your job.”

Crowd comes alive

The Dodgers may have thought they took the crowd out of the game when first baseman David Freese hit a solo home run to leadoff the game, but that proved not to be the case. Not after four straight hits with two outs, including a two-run double by Jesus Aguilar, set Miller Park on fire in giving the Brewers a 4-1 lead.

“You couldn’t describe it as any bigger,” manager Craig Counsell said of Aguilar’s hit that got it started. “It lifted the roof off the place, and the first inning was loud from then on.”

“It was awesome,” centerfielder Lorenzo Cain added. “The crowd showed up in a big way. We were able to get things started early on, put up some runs. They were loud the entire game.”

Milwaukee scored four runs in the first inning and nearly had more when Miley gave one a ride to center that ended up getting caught. The pitcher was actually a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks when the Brewers faced them in the 2011 NLDS. He said Friday night was the loudest he’s heard a place since then.

“Unbelievable,” Miley said. “I could feel my chest getting tight it was so loud in there.”

The crowd wasn’t just about cheering the Brewers, though. They also had Manny Machado in their sights thanks to his exploits in Game 4 that led to Major League Baseball fining him $10,000. His kicking of Aguilar’s leg as he ran down the line at first made him the No. 1 target at Miller Park and the crowd let him have it.

Machado played it up during the game, even egging fans on after his first strikeout. But with his 0-for-4 performance and a loss, he reportedly refused to really answer any questions about the boos.

Whether it was booing Machado or cheering their own teams success, the crowd was definitely into it on Friday and the Brewers are expecting a similar spark in Game 7.

“That’s something that you love,” Hader said. “You feed off that adrenaline and that energy. Hopefully (Saturday) it’s even louder and more people.”

Offense comes alive

Over their previous 22 innings of play, the Brewers had scored three runs. On Friday, they pushed across four runs in the first inning — the most by any team this postseason. It included three-straight, two-out hits, including doubles from Aguilar and Mike Moustakas, and a single from Erik Kratz.

“We needed to hit a lot better,” Shaw said. “We didn’t play very well in Los Angeles. Offensively we knew we had to get going early and I think guys were locked in from the start. That showed the first inning.”

Milwaukee didn’t rest on its laurels. The Brewers were able to push three more runs across, including another RBI for Aguilar. He finished the game 3-for-4 with 3 RBI after collecting just two in the first five games of the series.

“Guys just put together great at-bats,” said Cain, who opened the game with an infield single. “[The Dodgers] did a great job pitching against us today, but guys were just able to make solid contact against good pitching today. We’re going to need more of that (Saturday).”

NLCS Game 5: Dodgers 5, Brewers 2

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.”

NLCS Game 4: Dodgers 2, Brewers 1 (13 innings)

LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger’s RBI single in the 13th inning gave Los Angeles a 2-1 win over Milwaukee late Tuesday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The victory evened the series between the Dodgers and Brewers at two games apiece.

Here’s what we saw at Dodger Stadium:

‘Dirty play by a dirty player’

Social media erupted in the 10th inning as a routine play at first base became anything but. That was thanks to the Dodgers’ Manny Machado, who after grounding out to shortstop, appeared to kick Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar with his left foot intentionally as he stepped on first base. The two had words and both benches cleared before things got settled down.

In the 13th inning, after Machado reached base with a single, the two talked and appeared to have settled the beef.

“We talked and we’re good,” Aguilar said afterwards. “He [apologized]. That’s why I said we’re good.”

Aguilar, though, was one of the few Brewers that was actually good with what happened. Despite only pinch hitting in the ninth inning, infielder Travis Shaw stood in the clubhouse seemingly looking for someone in the media to ask him to talk to about the incident.

“Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants he didn’t mean to do it. It’s pretty obvious he meant to do it,” Shaw said. “He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. It’s a dirty play. It was not by mistake.”

Machado denied doing it intentionally, telling reporters that Aguilar’s foot was on the bag and he was trying to get over him.

“If that’s dirty, that’s dirty,” Machado said, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.

If this were a first offense for Machado, you might be take him at face value. But the move came about 30 hours after a pair of questionable slides into second base in Game 3, a series full of back-and-forth jawing with various Brewers players and a reputation that’s garnered criticism throughout baseball. Even the mild-mannered Christian Yelich let Machado have it.

“One time is an accident. [When it’s] repeated over and over and over again, you’re just a dirty player,” Yelich said. “It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. That’s what it is. I have a lot of respect for him as a player, but you can’t respect [a person] who plays the game like that.

“It has no place in our game.”

Aguilar, when asked about Yelich’s comments, said, “No answer,” though he admitted he understands the anger from his teammates.

“It got so many people mad on the team. They don’t agree with what he did, but it’s just a game,” Aguilar said. “It was wrong [but] we already talked. We’re good now.”

The walk-off

First base was open. So, too, was third base. And yet, Junior Guerra served up a very hittable ball to Cody Bellinger, who promptly drilled it to right field to score Machado for the walk-off win. Asked afterwards whether they considered walking Bellinger to get to the struggling Yasmani Grandal, catcher Erik Kratz said no. But that certainly didn’t mean they wanted to give something easy for Bellinger to hit. Kratz said they expanded the zone after they got two strikes on him, but just couldn’t finish.

“That’s making your pitches. Making pitches isn’t always throwing strikes. It’s making your pitches in areas that [might] make him chase,” Kratz said. “It’s a situation where we’re trying to make our pitches. We’re not trying to put one in an area where he can put it in play.”

They did and they lost the game. But for those thinking that a walk of Bellinger would have led to facing Grandal, manager Craig Counsell said that would not have been the case. If Bellinger had only walked, Grandal would have been right behind him on the way to first base as the pitcher spot was up after him and there were no position players left on the the Los Angeles bench.

Gio done for the year

Gio Gonzalez was unlikely to pitch more than two innings, but he didn’t even make it that far. The lefty was lost in the second inning when he suffered a high ankle sprain trying to come off the mound to grab a ball hit at him off the bat of Yasiel Puig. Trainers came out to tend to him, he tried to make a go of it but lasted just one more pitch before calling it a night.

Counsell said they’ll be replacing Gonzalez on the roster, though it remains unclear who will take his spot. Among the candidates would be Chase Anderson, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18.

Impact of Game 4 on Game 5

The day after a 13-inning game is difficult under normal circumstances. Dealing with it in the postseason is an even bigger challenge, especially for the pitching staffs.

“I think anytime you’ve got to cover 13 innings, and there’s a game the next day, you’re always worried about that,” Counsell said. “And we’ll have to kind of put our heads together and look at what we’ve got.”

Milwaukee used seven pitchers in Game 4, including Josh Hader and Corey Knebel. It was the second-straight day of work for both and it seems unlikely that either would be available on Wednesday. That means the four pitchers that didn’t see action in Game 3 — Wade Miley, Brandon Woodruff, Xavier Cedeno and Jeremy Jeffress — could carry the load for the Crew in a pivotal Game 5.

LISTEN: Jesus Aguilar addresses the media

NLCS Game 3: Brewers 4, Dodgers 0

LOS ANGELES — For the third time in six postseason games, the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff tossed a shutout. The latest effort came Monday night in Game 3 of the NLCS, as they blanked the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Here’s what we saw at Dodger Stadium:

Jhoulys Chacin continues to roll

Twenty-one innings, two earned runs. That’s what Jhoulys Chacin has done the last four times Milwaukee has handed him the ball. They were all pressure situations and all of them were nearly lights out efforts. After going 5 1/3 innings on Monday and not allowing a run, he became just the fifth pitcher in MLB history to have scoreless starts of five or more innings in his first two postseason appearances.

“Jhoulys was just outstanding tonight,” manager Craig Counsell said. “The last four times we’ve given him the ball, it’s just been a big-time performance each and every time.”

Going back to the NLDS, Milwaukee’s starting pitchers have now allowed just one run over six postseason games.

“Our guys that we’re giving the ball to at the start of the game, they’re doing a heck of a job, man,” Counsell said. “And they’re setting the tone for games.

“They’re putting us in a very advantageous position to use our guys in the bullpen. And then that’s going to lead to wins.”

It has, and now the club has five wins in the books and need six more for a World Series title.

Orlando Arcia — power hitter

Shortstop Orlando Arcia was sent to the minors twice during the season because of his funk at the plate. So to say his effort in the postseason has been a surprise — at least to the outside world — is underselling the word.

After hitting three home runs all season and batting just .236, the slick-fielding Arcia is batting .316 over the last month and .343 in the last two weeks. Oh, and he’s hit three homers in the postseason, including a two-run shot in the seventh inning to give the Brewers some breathing room.

“Orlando has always been a guy that you want to put a moment on him, put pressure on him,” Counsell said. “Put the spotlight on him. He loves it. And I’m not surprised that he’s thriving in playoff atmosphere. He has this love and he’s wired the right way for this kind of baseball.”

Arcia’s defense is top-notch and he also showed signs in 2017 of being a productive hitter with some power, batting .277 with 15 home runs. For whatever reason, that didn’t carry over to 2018, leading to him getting sent down.

“Every player is going to have their ups and downs,” Arcia said. “This year was definitely a lot of downs for me and things weren’t going my way, so they sent me down. I was able to work on stuff [there].”

The use of Josh Hader

Josh Hader is a dominant force. The reliever owned the Dodgers in Game 1 over two innings and was back at it again on Friday, mowing down a pair of Los Angeles batters in just eight pitches. As he was doing that, a national TV audience heard broadcasters wondering aloud why Counsell would use Hader in a four-run game. Though he didn’t come right out and say it, Counsell had to have been thinking about happened when Hader left in Game 1 and when he was unavailable in Game 2. Save for Corey Knebel and Hader, both games were tough sledding for the rest of the bullpen as the Dodgers battered the likes of Jeremy Jeffress, Xavier Cedeno and Corbin Burnes.

“There was certainly a thought,” Counsell said of saving Hader for a closer game. “At some point [you have to say] the other team is pretty good and you respect their hitters on their team.

“We’re trying to win the series. We’re not just trying to win games here, we’re trying to win the series.”

Those in favor of Hader’s appearance quickly found themselves fuming when he was pulled and Jeffress came on in the ninth inning. After all, Jeffress had been on the mound for eight of the 11 runs scored against Milwaukee in the postseason.

“That’s the debate for sure,” Counsell said of potentially leaving Hader in for the ninth. “[But] we’ve got Jeremy Jeffress, who has been an All-Star this year and pitched [in] huge, huge moments for us during the season. We got a four-run lead. I trust him to get those outs. The ninth inning was entertaining. But they didn’t score.”

It was almost a minor miracle the Dodgers didn’t. They had the bases loaded and just one out in the ninth before Jeffress struck out Yasmani Grandal and Brian Dozier to end the game.

“I’ve said it all year, I strive for those moments. There’s a little extra adrenaline,” Jeffress said. “[You] don’t really want it to get like that, but when those times come, you just have to stay within yourself and continue being the pitcher you are.”

The good news for Milwaukee is that all three relievers — Knebel, Hader and Jeffress | should be available for Game 4 and 5.

Crowd noise?

Over the weekend, several members of the Los Angeles media remarked how there was very little energy at the games in Milwaukee. It was largely a bogus claim as Miller Park was electric for much of the first two games. That was not the case inside Dodger Stadium on Monday. It felt closer to some ho-hum game in the middle of the season than Game 3 of the NLCS, and at least one player on the Dodgers’ roster called fans out on it.

“We had no energy. The stadium had no energy. The fans had no energy,” Enrique Hernandez said, according to Andy McCullough of the LA Times. “Overall, it was a pretty bad game for everybody who calls themselves Dodgers.”

Here’s Hernandez’s full comments that came in support of catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has struggled in the series and was booed heavily after his various missteps.

NLCS Game 2: Dodgers 4, Brewers 3

MILWAUKEE — A day after almost blowing a five-run lead, the Milwaukee Brewers blew a three-run lead in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Here’s what we saw at Miller Park on Saturday afternoon as the Dodgers tied the series one:

Sticking with what got you here

Throughout the season, and especially over the last month, manager Craig Counsell has largely kept his starters outings relatively short, even when they’re rolling. It has, more often than not, played out in the Brewers favor. On Saturday, it did not.

Wade Miley had allowed all of two hits through 5 2/3 innings, but when Chris Taylor singled with two out in the bottom of the sixth and Milwaukee leading 3-0, Counsell pulled him after 74 pitches. He turned to Corbin Burnes, who came in and got Justin Turner for the third out of the inning.

“You’re either too early or too late. At some point, you gotta make a decision,” Counsell said of removing Miley. “I thought he was going through the heart of the lineup for the third time. And I thought we had a fresh Corbin Burnes, who’s been wonderful for us this year.”

Unfortunately for Counsell, Burnes was not wonderful in the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of hits and was charged with giving up two runs, including a single by Cody Bellinger that ended the reliever’s day. In came Jeremy Jeffress, who proceeded to give up a single to load the bases and later walked in a run before getting an inning-ending double play to help Milwaukee escape with a 3-2 lead.

But if taking Miley out early was one thing for fans to criticize Counsell about, he gave them another by leaving Jeffress in for the eighth inning. After Taylor reached on an infield single, Turner took Jeffress deep for at two-run homer that proved to be the difference in the game.

“My thought was Jeffress has two hitters there and then we’re looking at [Corey] Knebel,” Counsell said of his decision to leave Jeffress in the game to face Taylor and Turner. “It was just two hitters, and I liked the matchups for J.J.”

For Jeffress’ part, he wasn’t about to just tip his cap to a job well done by Turner.

“He just got lucky,” Jeffress said. “I knew what I wanted to throw him [but] just left the ball up.”

As MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy pointed out, the Brewers have given up 11 runs in five postseason games and eight of them have come while Jeffress has been on the mound. It’s been a tough stretch for a guy that had the lowest ERA of anyone in the Milwaukee bullpen during the regular season. Still, Counsell doesn’t sound like a guy ready change his game plan when it comes to the use of Jeffress.

“I think one of the things we’ve told you is that our guys are all important, and the way we’re going to use our pitching is that we got to count on all these guys,” Counsell said. “For me, J.J. made one bad pitch today, and it cost him. It was to a very good hitter.

“I think a lot of the other stuff he did today, he made some really good pitches, but certainly — look, in a one-run game, you make a mistake to that kind of hitter and it’s going to hurt you.”

Milwaukee’s position players certainly weren’t pointing a finger at Jeffress or any other member of the pitching staff.

“I wouldn’t say they gave it away, I’d say the other team earned it,” Christian Yelich said. “They’ve been big for us all year. We’ll regroup.”

MVP is struggling

Yelich is almost certainly going to be the National League MVP and he deserves it. The second half he put together was electric and he turned it up a notch as the Brewers chased down the Chicago Cubs and won the NL Central. But the right fielder is struggling a bit in the postseason.

Since going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLDS, Yelich is just 1-of-13 in the last four games. He’s walked five times, which has at least got him on base, but he had a couple opportunities to be the hero on Saturday and didn’t get it done. That included in the ninth inning with Milwaukee down to their last out and a runner on second. Instead of driving in the tying run and sending the game to extra innings, Yelich grounded out to third to end it.

Milwaukee is a good team, but they need their best players to step up. After a shaky NLDS, Lorenzo Cain has done exactly that in the first two game and now the Brewers need Yelich to do the same as the series shifts to Los Angeles.

Pitchers who rake

On Friday, it was Brandon Woodruff providing the fireworks for the Brewers pitching staff, hitting a solo home run off of Clayton Kershaw. It was Miley’s turn on Saturday. He doubled in the third inning — his first extra base hit since 2013 — and then singled and later scored in the fifth inning.

Milwaukee’s pitchers have now reached base in three of their four at-bats this series.

Moving on

The loss snapped Milwaukee win streak at 12 games. It was their first loss since Sept. 22, but there wasn’t a whole bunch of self pity in the clubhouse.

“Nobody in here really talked about the win streak or anything. It means nothing,” Yelich said. “It’s all about today. The present and the game that you have in front of you. It’s cool we won all those in the past, but they honestly mean nothing to us.”

Instead the focus for Milwaukee is getting on the plane, heading to Los Angeles and starting a new streak.

“We’ll be alright,” Yelich said. “LA’s a tough place to play. They’re a great team. I’ve said many times, we were expecting a fight, expecting a really tough series. They did a great job. They earned it.”

Blowing a chance to go up 2-0 in the series may get to some clubs and be difficult to overcome. But Jeffress claims that’s not the case for the Brewers, who have lost back-to-back games just once since Aug. 18.

“We’re very confident,” Jeffress said. “Everybody in this clubhouse, we know how to move on from day to day. We’ve been doing it all year, man. It’s just one game that got away from us. Have to take a day off and go to LA and take those games.”

NLCS Game 1: Brewers 6, Dodgers 5

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers grabbed an early 5-run lead and then had to hold on for a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.

Here’s what we saw Friday night:

Brandon Woodruff: MVP

We’re only half joking on that MVP thing, but the righty has been huge for Milwaukee in the postseason. He pitched three scoreless innings in Game 1 of the NLDS and then topped that effort in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday. After throwing a perfect third inning in relief, Woodruff took Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw deep for a solo home run to tie the game 1-1.

“We saw he actually [had a] little bit of power, not a bad swing,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said of their scouting report for a guy that had all of 22 plate appearances the last two seasons. “But to see the ball go out of the ballpark against Clayton, obviously, that was a surprise to all of us.” 

It was the second home run of the year for Woodruff and it came with two strikes. The 25-year-old joked that he was just trying to put the ball in play or foul something off. Instead, as he said, he “just got lucky.” Luck or not, almost everyone pointed to it as the turning point in the game.

“Woody is a good hitter and that’s part of his game,” Counsell said. “It definitely changed the vibe for sure.”

The normally mild-mannered Woodruff said he watched the ball go over the fence and kind of just lost it — but it a good way.

“Obviously, coming into the day, you don’t know in your wildest dreams that that’s going to happen — to be able to get an at-bat [against] Kershaw and hit a home run,” Woodruff said. “I rounded first, and once I knew it was gone, it was just one of those kind of moments where you’re not really thinking.”

It wasn’t a cheap one, either. The ball went 406-feet, an absolute bomb for a guy that has rarely gotten to hit this year. That added to the excitement for Woodruff and one of his teammates paid for it when he crossed the plate.

“He was fired up coming around home,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “He almost broke my arm. If you look at the replay, it was a pretty strong high five.”

Just for good measure, Woodruff came out and threw another scoreless inning in the fourth and ended up getting the win.

Chasing Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw got 24 outs on 85 pitches against Atlanta in his lone start in the NLDS. On Friday, he threw 74 pitches and managed just nine outs before being pulled in the fourth inning.

“I just think it was poor execution,” Roberts said of Kershaw’s night. “And I thought the stuff was good, but he just made mistakes in the strike zone and defensively, again, we didn’t do him any favors.”

They didn’t. Los Angeles committed four errors, including a couple that helped Milwaukee pad its lead. Still, the Brewers were all over Kershaw and the three innings pitched were the fewest in his postseason career. He was tagged with five of the runs, including four that were earned.

Obviously, it’s significant step for Milwaukee to not only win Game 1, but to do it by beating the best Los Angeles had to offer can’t be understated. It’s possible the Brewers will have to face Kershaw again down the road and they may not mind it the way they hit him on Friday.

Selling out

Seeing Josh Hader warmup in the fourth inning was not something most were expecting, but that’s exactly what a sellout crowd at Miller Park saw on Friday night.

Following a pair of innings from Gio Gonzalez and Woodruff, Counsell brought on his best reliever and did so with a 5-1 lead. And it wasn’t a short outing for Hader. He pitched three scoreless innings and needed a season-high 46 pitches to get it done. But when he exited in the seventh, Milwaukee had a 6-1 lead.

“I threw Josh out there [for a third inning] because he was throwing the ball really well,” Counsell said of the three-inning effort for Hader, just the second time this season he’s gone that long. “I thought once he had two innings he was down for tomorrow anyway, [so why not].”

Roberts viewed it differently and indicated, certainly unintentionally, what has become apparent to those that have watched the Brewers in the last three or four weeks — Counsell is going for it and not necessarily worrying about what may happen tomorrow or later in the series.

“They were selling out, obviously, with Josh going three innings tonight against us,” Roberts said.

Hader won’t be available for Game 2, but Counsell is expecting to have him for Game 3 in Los Angeles on Monday.

Cause for concern?

Milwaukee was rolling, up 6-1 heading to the eighth inning when the back of the bullpen veered off course. The trio of Xavier Cedeno, Joakim Soria and Jeremy Jeffress allowed three runs in that inning, and Corey Knebel gave up one run in the ninth before stranding the tying run at third base and picking up the save.

Though it wasn’t a win, Roberts certainly sounded like a guy encouraged by what his team was able to do against the bullpen with the best ERA in the National League in the regular season.

“They’re running some good arms out there,” Roberts said. “But for us to get a look at these guys out of the pen in a seven-game series, I think that’s a good thing.”

The Colorado Rockies were saying similar things after Game 1 of the NLDS and proceeded to not score a run the rest of the series. Hader wasn’t phased when asked about Roberts’ comments.

“We won the ballgame,” the lefty said. “That’s the end accomplishment right there, getting that win.”

Free food, please

Thanks to the Brewers winning their 12th straight game, George Webb will be serving free hamburgers on Thursday next week.

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

Gio Gonzalez will get the ball in Game 1 for Milwaukee

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell remains full of surprises.

The latest move few saw coming happened Thursday afternoon, as he named Gio Gonzalez as his Game 1 starter in the National League Championship Series. It will be the left-handers first action against the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, though in his career he’s 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA against them.

“We like the matchup against their lineup. It’s no secret we’re going to use our pitching a little differently than the traditionalists would like,” Counsell said.

“We’re asking Gio to go out there and get a bunch of outs. How many, we’ll just see how it goes.”

Gonzalez didn’t pitch in the NLDS, meaning when he takes the mound on Friday night it’ll have been 12 days since his last start. It’s similar to the layoff he had between his final start with the Washington Nationals before being traded to Milwaukee in late August. All he’s done since joining the club is put together a string of five really solid starts. He went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA, a significant improvement over what he’d done in Washington.

“Any player that’s traded there’s a little more juice there,” Counsell said. “You gotta prove yourself, even though you’re an established Major Leaguer. There’s just a little added juice. And I think in Gio’s case, the trick is do you use that in the right way. And Gio has used it in the right way.”

For Gonzalez, the chance to be a part of a team competing for a championship is special. Six weeks ago, the 33-year-old was on a club that had underachieved and was already making plans for the offseason. He knew his time in Washington was likely done, and he wasn’t sure what would come next. Now, he’s eight wins from getting a ring.

“I just want to pitch. I’m grateful I get to pitch another postseason game and with another team now,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable, pretty incredible, and hopefully I get to tell my kids about this one day.”

How long he’ll be on the mound remains to be seen. As Counsell said, they’ve made no secret that they’ve approached pitching this season differently than most. It’s what led to going with a bullpen game to start the NLDS and now going with a guy that may not make it past the third or fourth inning in Game 1 of the NLCS. Counsell knows his team and what works for them.

“We’re not trying to eliminate the need for great starting pitching,” Counsell said, noting he’d start his former teammate, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, if he could. “Our team’s different. We’re trying to figure out what is the best way for us to put together a tough 27 outs and make it tough on them and get those outs as fast as we can. We’re considering a different way to put that puzzle together.”

And Gonzalez is just fine with that, knowing that if he can get one time through the order, they’ve got the best bullpen in baseball to back him up.

“Any way you need me, any style of pitching, I’m in,” Gonzalez said of his message to Counsell. “I want to be a part of it any way possible.”

Milwaukee Brewers’ NLCS opponent set

The Milwaukee Brewers only had to wait one day to find out who they would be taking on in the National League Championship Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves 6-2 in Game 4 of the NLDS to advance to the NLCS against Milwaukee in a series that will begin on Friday night.

The Brewers finished the regular season with a better record than Los Angeles, meaning that the Brewers will have home field advantage in the series. Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 would all be played at Miller Park, while Games 3, 4, and 5 would all be played at Dodger Stadium out in L.A.

As of Tuesday morning the Brewers had not yet named a starter for Game 1 of the NLCS, while the Dodgers will be sending former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to the mound. Kershaw has a record of 8-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 25 postseason appearances. In the NLDS against Atlanta he pitched eight shutout innings in Los Angeles’ Game 2 win.

During the regular season the Brewers and Dodgers matched up seven times with Los Angeles winning four of them, including two of three at Miller Park in July.

The schedule for the series is as follows:

Game 1
| Friday, Oct. 12, Miller Park, 7 p.m. CT

Game 2
| Saturday, Oct. 13, Miller Park

Game 3
| Monday, Oct. 15, Dodger Stadium

Game 4
| Tuesday, Oct. 16, Dodger Stadium

Game 5*
| Wednesday, Oct. 17, Dodger Stadium

Game 6*
| Friday, Oct. 19, Miller Park

Game 7*
| Saturday, Oct. 20, Miller Park

*Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary.