The Dodgers return to the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive year, only this time, they’re not facing the Cubs. They’re taking on the Brewers, the team that won the most games in the NL this season and swept their first-round playoff matchup.
Here’s how the two teams stack up against each other:
By the Numbers
The Brewers scored at a decent clip, but you’d almost expect their offense to have been a bit better — as a whole — during the 2018 season. The offense is led by likely NL MVP Christian Yelich, who had an NL-best 166 wRC+ and was almost a .300/.400/.600 guy. Lorenzo Cain was a great free agent signing by the Brewers, and he had a 124 wRC+ in his return to Milwaukee while playing elite defense in center field. They also had two guys top the 30 home run mark in Travis Shaw (32) and Jesus Aguilar (35). Despite all that, the Brewers’ offense had a wRC+ just slightly better than league-average in 2018. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t a dangerous team at the plate, and the Dodgers know this.
This could be the difference in the series. While Craig Counsell has admitted he won’t use his starting pitchers in traditional ways in this series, the almost patchwork rotation is going to have a difficult test against the Dodgers’ offense. The Brewers’ ace is Jhoulys Chacin, who we all thought would start Game 1. Instead, Gio Gonzalez is getting the call. The wrinkle is, Chacin will be available — if needed — in Game 1. That’s interesting. Chacin made an MLB-best 35 starts, but he failed to top 200 innings. Wade Miley is getting the call in Game 2. A year after posting a 5.61 ERA and 5.27 FIP in Baltimore, Miley had a 2.57 ERA and 3.59 FIP (in 16 starts) for the Brewers. And, for what it’s worth, he allowed just one unearned run in 13 innings against the Dodgers this season. After that, it gets a bit dicey. Brandon Woodruff, who started Game 1 of the NLDS against Colorado, would probably get the ball. He threw three scoreless innings in that Game 1. Junior Guerra could get the nod, but he didn’t throw an inning in the LDS and had just a 4.24 FIP this season in 141 innings.
The Dodgers are lining up their rotation as follows: Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill. Kershaw in Game 1 is a no-brainer. I thought maybe Buehler would get the road assignment ahead of Ryu since Hyun-Jin has drastic home/road splits, but it’s not like he’s a disaster on the road (3.58 ERA, 25.4 K%).
While the numbers may no immediately show it, this is where the Brewers have the edge. They have a 4-headed monster in the bullpen in the form of noted racist Josh Hader and not-racists Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel and Joakim Soria. Jeffress assumed closing duties after Knebel went down to Triple-A in the middle of August. Jeffress had a 1.78 ERA and 2.78 FIP. The interesting stat here is his 92.9 percent strand rate — the highest among qualified relievers. Part of that is his skill and ability, but part of it is also luck. And as we saw in the first round, he’s not invincible, as the Rockies got to him in Game 1 for two runs. But Jeffress is still really good.
After Knebel returned from the minors, he looked a lot closer to his 2017 self: 16 1/3 scoreless innings. He also allowed just five hits, issued three walks and struck out 33 of the 57 hitters (57.9 percent) he faced in September. Soria, like his time in Kansas City this season, pitched to a better FIP than ERA. while maintaining similar K-BB% numbers. Hader is really good, but he has been used differently than some relievers this season. He pitched in back-to-back games just five times this season. He had 11 appearances on one day of rest, 15 on two days and 10 on three days. This is because he’s a multi-inning reliever. He logged 81 1/3 innings in 55 games. He pitched in two of the three games in the first round, so it’s hard to know if the Brewers intend to make him more of a short-outing guy in this series. A lot of that will be determined by how far the Brewers’ starters last.
This doesn’t even include guys like Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and the aforementioned Woodruff. They could even opt to include Xavier Cedeno to help combat the Dodgers’ glut of left-handed hitters. But make no mistake, the Brewers are going to lean on their strength, which is the four elite and near-elite relievers they have.
The biggest surprise on the Dodgers’ side is the fact Julio Urias is on the roster and Scott Alexander is not. Urias made three MLB appearances this season, and all came with double-digit leads. Factor in that he needs more rest between appearances — at least, that’s how the Dodgers used him — and this inclusion is a bit of a head-scratcher. Oh, and Ross Stripling missed the roster again despite being one of the best pitchers on the team this season. That kinda sucks for him, but I can at least understand it. The Urias decision is baffling. Unless he’s going to be used as an “opener,” (for, say, Game 4 and Rich Hill … another lefty) I’m not sure exactly what his role will be this series.
The Dodgers won the season series 4-3 from Milwaukee and outscored them 48-25. Of course, a lot of that run differential includes the 21-5 games on Aug. 2. The Dodgers also had an 11-2 win on July 22. The other games were a lot closer — 6-4, 1-0, 5-2, 4-2, 6-4 — which is probably more of an indicator how this series will go.
Note: Dodgers’ roster is official.
Starting Pitchers (4): Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Relief Pitchers (8): Pedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Kenley Jansen, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Julio Urias
Catchers (2): Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
Infielders (5): Brian Dozier, David Freese, Manny Machado, Max Muncy, Justin Turner
Infielders/Outfielders (3): Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor
Outfielders (3): Matt Kemp Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig
Starting Pitchers (4): Jhoulys Chacin, Gio Gonzalez, Junior Guerra, Wade Miley
Relief Pitchers (7): Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Freddy Peralta, Joakim Soria, Brandon Woodruff
Catchers (2): Erik Kratz, Manny Pina
Infielders (6): Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Mike Moustakas, Hernan Perez, Jonathan Schoop, Travis Shaw
Outfielders (6): Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Lorenzo Cain, Curtis Granderson, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich
Dodgers vs. RHP
Dodgers vs. LHP
Brewers vs. RHP
Brewers vs. LHP
Who’s the one player on each side — not a superstar — who could help determine the outcome of this series?
Freese’s clutchness was on display in the NLDS, as he gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead with a 2-run single in Game 4. And with the Brewers having Hader in the bullpen, Freese could be a big-time bat for the Dodgers in this series. He’ll start against the left-handed starters, but there could and should be a few other pinch-hit opportunities for him late in the game, and those appearances will likely come against a left-hander out of the Milwaukee bullpen.
A year removed from a 30 home run, 127 wRC+ season, Santana fell out of favor when he struggled and Aguilar hit (forcing Braun back to the outfield). But he found a niche of his own: pinch-hitting. In 32 pinch-hit plate appearances, Santana hit .414/.469/.793, and seven of his 12 hits went for extra bases (5 doubles, 2 home runs). He could be a weapon off the Milwaukee bench in this series.
The Brewers didn’t win the most games in the league by accident. They are a fantastic baseball team. The Dodgers are also a good team with plenty of playoff experience. The difference in the series could come down to the pitching staffs — the relievers for the Brewers and starters for the Dodgers. Both are strengths, and the series could be decided by which group pitches the best.
It should be a fun series.