We are set for a match-up of epic proportions between the two best teams in the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NLCS. Who has the upper hand? Can Milwaukee’s pitching staff keep them in games? Will the Dodgers bats stay hot? We’ll take a look at all of these questions and more as we prepare for game one this Friday.
How Did We Get Here?
The Milwaukee Brewers finished with the best record in the National League, at an outstanding 96-67. The Brew Crew’s incredible season has been filled with plenty of memorable moments and ultimately led to the team’s best regular season finish since 2011. Craig Counsell has been able to rely on a bevy of different guys day in and day out. From his stellar outfield trio in Braun, Lo Cain, and future National League MVP Christian Yelich, to the big bats of Aguilar and Travis Shaw. Let’s not forget about the amazing trade deadline acquisition of Mike Moustakas.
This is Counsell’s fourth year as skipper in Milwaukee, and it has only gotten better since he first stepped into the role in 2015. After failing to reach the .500 mark while going through a bit of a rebuild in 2015 and 2016, the crew managed to make a surprise run last year. They finishe second in the NL Central, with a respectable record of 86-76. This year’s Brewers team has been no surprise, however. Everyone knew that the talent was there, it was just a matter of putting it all together, and put it together they did.
The Brewers team batting average wasn’t the best, finishing 12th in the majors at .252. However, they did well in knocking the ball out of the park, a feat they accomplished 218 times this regular season, 4th best in the league. This team just found ways to win ball games, and that can be contributed to a great staff of arms that not a lot of people saw coming. Finishing with the 4th best team ERA in the bigs, stars emerged from the mound and from the bullpen as guys like Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson provided quality starts throughout the season, while Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, and the electric lefty Josh Hader closed the door.
Milwaukee battled and battled the whole year with the mighty Chicago Cubs and eventually edged them out in a tie-breaker game to decide the NL Central. Milwaukee has just beaten the breaks off of a solid but clearly not ready Colorado Rockies team three games to nil. Thanks to clutch hitting from Mike Moustakas and Ryan Braun, as well as decent outings by the residential “out-getter” Brandon Woodruff, Chacin and veteran Wade Miley, Milwaukee disposed of Colorado with ease. As a result, the brew crew’s win streak has been extended to eleven games, a pretty good time to get hot. Now the Brewers move on to their most daunting task yet, overcoming the LA Dodgers.
It has been a roller coaster of a year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It took until about mid-June for the team to find themselves comfortably above the .500 mark. And if you would have said that that same team would finish 21 games above .500 and win the NL West, you would have gotten some funny looks. It seems like the Dodgers always find a way to get to October, they haven’t missed the postseason since 2013. The Dodgers have developed quite an amazing team that is full of veterans, leaders, all-stars and quite simply, winners.
The deadline pickups of Manny Machado and Brian Dozier were impactful in more ways than one. Dozier is one of the best clubhouse guys in baseball, and Machado is an absolute monster with the bat and the glove. Dave Roberts seems to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent. The usual suspects have risen for this Dodgers squad as well, Justin Turner remains one of the best third basemen in the league, Cody Bellinger has bounced back in a big way, and guys like Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig are still the spark plugs that get the team fired up. The reuniting of Matt Kemp was without a doubt the best pick-up the team made in the offseason as well.
Oh yeah, and did I mention they have this guy named Clayton Kershaw who pitches for them? Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and rookie sensation Walker Buehler have all been able to take over games this year. Then you bring in all-star closer Kenley Jansen, and it’s time to hit the showers. Opponents batted a measly .230 against the Dodgers staff in 2018, as well as striking out 1565 times, both of which are third in the MLB.
The Dodgers fought tooth and nail to win the National League West in 2018, eventually outlasting the Colorado Rockies in a tie-breaker to decide the winner of the division. LA is now coming off of a NLDS win over the pesky young Atlanta Braves, a series in which the Dodgers didn’t allow a run in the first two games. Dominate outings from Kershaw and Ryu, as well as timely hitting and the use of the long ball propelled the Dodgers forward into this interesting matchup with the Brewers.
There is a solid chance that the roster Milwaukee carried into the NLDS will not change all that much for the upcoming series against LA. Erik Kratz and Manny Pina should remain at catcher, the infield should stay the same as well. in a seven-game series, there will not be a need for as many starting pitchers as the Brewers carried against Colorado. Look for two or three bullpen arms to get added to the roster.
Xavier Cedeno and Dan Jennings both have a great shot at finding their way onto the postseason squad, as the lefty arms will be crucial in late-inning one-out scenarios. Also look at Taylor Williams as an option.
If you were to add all three of these guys, you would need to most likely drop one of the six outfielders that was on the NLDS roster, which would have to be either Curtis Granderson, Domingo Santana or, Keon Broxton. Broxton brings speed and Grandy brings experience, so if any of these guys don’t make it, expect it to be Santana.
Expect the roster for the Dodgers to stay the same as it was for the NLDS. There isn’t a need for any more starting guys to fill out the pen or rotation, so look for Julio Urias and Ross Stripling to remain off of the roster, and Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood to stay on.
There isn’t that much of a chance that any new position player would be added aside veteran Chase Utley, as he is a man who has won the World Series before, and knows how to get it done on the big stage. The only issue is, who would you take off of the roster to add him onto it? Possibly a reliever, but that’s maybe not the smartest move.
This is a matchup between two teams who are playing their best baseball at the right time. Something has got to give, so what’s it gonna be?
Will Clayton Kershaw Silence his Critics?
Okay, yes this trope of Kershaw’s October “struggles” is overplayed. It is the only thing that haters have against a guy who is going to go down as the best pitcher of all time (I have no problem saying that). Kershaw is 8-7 in 13 postseason series with a 4.08 ERA. It’s not the best, for sure, but also not as bad as people have tried to make it out to be in the past.
Last year Kershaw went 3-0 in October, and 5 of his 8 postseason victories have come on the road. Kershaw has faced Milwaukee twice already this season, where he is 1-1. Both games he threw 6 innings, and both games Christian Yelich tagged him for a home-run.
Kershaw’s first postseason start of 2018 was a success against the Braves, where he threw 8 innings of shutout baseball. If Kershaw is able to continue his dominate postseason run, it will be safe to say that his October jitters will be long gone.
Can the Brewers Pitching Staff Keep Them in Games?
It is no secret that the Brewers aren’t going to rely on their starting rotation to try and get them through this series. Milwaukee has been bullpen heavy in the past, but will the bullpen be able to produce enough to get through a seven-game set?
For Milwaukee to have a chance in this series, they have got to get one or two quality starts from the starting rotation. The bullpen will not be able to sustain excellence through a seven game set if they are having to throw five plus innings a game. Fatigue will settle in, just as we saw last year with Brandon Morrow and the Dodgers bullpen in the World Series.
Chacin, Anderson and Co. will have to buckle down if they want to set up the team for success against the powerful LA lineup. If the gang can get through the order twice and let Hader, Jeffress and the rest of the pen go to work in the late innings, then the chances of success go way up. If not, it’s gonna be a short series.
Can the Dodgers Rely on the Long Ball and Timely Hitting?
The Dodgers hit 235 home-runs in the 2018 regular season, second in the league behind the Yankees. Los Angeles has been able to use the long ball and clutch hitting to get themselves to the point that they are at now. Will they be able to rely on home-runs and two out base hits to get past the gritty Brewers?
In seven games against Milwaukee in 2018, Los Angeles hit 14 bombs. Three of those dingers came against probable game one starter Jhoulys Chacin, in his one game against LA. Milwaukee’s pitching staff hasn’t been too bad when it comes to giving up home-runs, but they are going to have to bare down against this behemoth of a lineup, and if they get tagged, they have to keep the ball in the yard.
Los Angeles got past Atlanta in four games thanks to some clutch hitting by David Freese and by pelting the Braves pitching staff for eight home runs in the series. can they do the same to Milwaukee?
Can the Brewers Actually Do It?
The Dodgers are going to come into this series as the betting favorite, no doubt. We know that Milwaukee is a worthy opponent, but do they actually have what it takes to take down LA?
Milwaukee reaching the NLCS is no fluke, this team is talented and without a doubt have what it takes to compete with a team with the stature of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The size of the team’s payroll may be different, but the talent level is the same.
Who wins this series is going to come down to the pitching staffs. Both teams are going to score some runs, we know this. From Machado to Yelich, Turner to Cain, baseballs are going to get hurt in this upcoming series. It is just a matter of who’s pen can buckle down when it matters the most?
I want Milwaukee to win this series, I really do, and they do have what it takes to win. I just can’t see the Brewers pitching staff holding up in the later innings of games and the later part of the series, and look for the Dodgers to capitalize on mistakes over the plate, and eventually outscore Milwaukee with their potent offense. Dodgers in six.