The Los Angeles Times previews the National League Championship Series, which starts in Miller Park tonight:
The Dodgers’ celebration at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park on Monday was as much about checking off a box as it was what they had accomplished. They expected to advance to the National League Championship Series, to within four wins of another trip to the World Series, after last year’s disappointment. The path this season was rockier than anticipated, but anything less would’ve been a colossal letdown.
The party the Milwaukee Brewers had at Coors Field in Denver a day earlier had a different flavor. They weren’t projected to reach the NLCS. They play in baseball’s smallest market, an afterthought in Chicago’s shadow, and have one of the majors’ slimmest payrolls. It was their first playoff series victory since 2011, the last time they were in the playoffs. They went to the NLCS that year and lost. They haven’t won a World Series or even been to one since 1982. This is unfamiliar territory.
But the clubs will have at leastone thing in common when they arrive at Milwaukee’s Miller Park for Game 1 on Friday: They’re both playing their best baseball. The Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games, outscoring opponents 47-15 during the stretch. The Brewers have been even better, winning 11 straight games and breezing through the NL Division Series by outscoring the Colorado Rockies 13-2 in a three-game sweep.
“It’s going to be great,” Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado said. “Both ballclubs have worked hard to get to this situation. They’re both two good ballclubs facing off in the championship. And we’re just going to go out there and play baseball, be ourselves, keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and hopefully we come out on top.
Presumptive National League MVP Christian Yelich anchors a deep Brewers lineup that features a little bit of everything. They’re traditional in that regard.
But pitching is another matter. The Brewers deploy their pitchers like most analytically driven clubs; they’d rather not let a pitcher face a lineup three times, regardless of pitch count, and they’re not afraid to shift a heavier onus on to their bullpen. But the Brewers have catapulted the revolution to another level.
Manager Craig Counsell would rather not label his pitchers “starters” or “relievers.” He prefers “out-getters.” In Game 1, he ditched the traditional starter entirely, opting to begin the game with Brandon Woodruff, a reliever. Woodruff tossed three shutout innings. Traditional starters Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley started the final two games, but logged just 7 2/3 innings combine
The strategy is effective because Milwaukee’s bullpen — headlined by Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel — is one of baseball’s best, and the postseason schedule, which affords more off-days, renders the approach more viable. Jeffress, Hader and Kneble each appeared in all three NLDS wins over the Rockies. They gave up two runs and six hits and tallied 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings — and they’ll be fresh Friday after a four-day layoff.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers, realizing their strength lies elsewhere, are countering the sport’s current.
Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven scoreless innings in Game 1 against the Atlanta Braves. Clayton Kershaw tossed eight in Game 2. Walker Buehler was given enough leash to push through a five-run second inning in Game 3 before settling in to log five innings, and Rich Hill was pulled in the fifth inning in Game 4 after issuing five walks. A year after riding Kenley Jansen and a deep bullpen to Game 7 of the World Series, the Dodgers’ success is dependent on their starting rotation.
“Hyun-Jin [was] unbelievable,” Kershaw said. “And Walker, after he took his lump there in that one inning, came back and threw really well. So I think that was huge for him moving forward and Richie kept us in the game .… Yeah, we’ve got some depth there, which is huge.”
Kershaw will get the first crack on Friday. He found out about the assignment from a reporter amidst the Dodgers’ postgame celebration on Monday. It wasn’t the obvious choice, not after his bosses decided to start Ryu over him in Game 1 of the NLDS. It was the first time Kershaw didn’t start a Game 1 for the Dodgers when he was available since 2009. That order has been restored.
It will be the Dodgers’ first visit to Miller Park since they opened up the second half there. The Dodgers were an unfinished product then. Machado had just arrived from the Baltimore Orioles and made his debut in the series opener. Brian Dozier was a Minnesota Twin. Ryan Madson was with the Washington Nationals. The Pittsburgh Pirates employed David Freese.
Three of the four played significant roles in Monday’s series-clinching win. Freese cracked a pinch-hit, go-ahead, two-run single. Madson escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Machado crushed a three-run home run. It was another display of the depth that buoyed the Dodgers’ internal expectations. Those expectations are high, and they include two more celebrations.
“We had a really good team last year,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “We have a really good team this year. The only difference is we’re trying to win one more game.”
Leaving aside how many Brewers were acquired since the end of last season to get to this point, we’ll see if the traditional approach to winning baseball — starting pitching and buying however many players you want to get your championship — will triumph over the Brewers’ newfangled, yet small-market, approach.
Meanwhile, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee reports:
If one former MLB official is to be believed, the Brewers won’t only be fighting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series — they’ll be up against the league itself.
In an interview with Dan Le Batard and Stu Gotz on 790 AM’s “The Ticket,” former Miami Marlins President David Samson implied the fix is already in for the Dodgers:
“MLB is going to do anything they can to have the Dodgers beat the Brewers,” Samson said.
You can listen to the audio for yourself here. The relevant portion starts around 36:00.
Samson’s comment understandably caught Le Batard and Gotz by surprise.
“Wow. That is a shocking accusation,” Le Batard replied. “He knows he shouldn’t have said that.”
It’s worth noting that Le Batard had previously in the segment described Samson as “a former executive who doesn’t mind speaking the truth.” Oh — and he was born in Milwaukee (but raised in New York City).
Adding fuel to the fire are comments made earlier this week by Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who said his team would beat the Brewers in a 4-0 sweep. The Brewers are also underdogs in Vegas, according to VegasInsider.com.
It’s unclear how a player from a team that beat the Brewers four out of seven times in the regular season concludes a sweep is imminent. But certainly the history of disrespect of Wisconsin sports franchises, except for possibly the Packers, among major pro sports teams is legion. Do you seriously believe the National Basketball Association had nothing to do with moving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Bucks to the second-largest market in the NBA? Major League Baseball must have jumped at the chance to have the Braves leave Milwaukee for Atlanta, which makes you wonder how MLB ever allowed the Seattle Pilots to move to Milwaukee. (Or how MLB ever thought the Pilots’ ownership group should have a franchise given their bankruptcy during their first season.)
MLB probably would love a seven-game series with the Dodgers winning. Watch what happens with umpire calls in this series.