After a truncated 60-game season, the postseason begins today for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’re hosting the No. 8 seed Milwaukee Brewers in a rematch of the 2018 NLCS. This time it’s a best-of-three series where anything can happen. I’m honestly surprised the season played out despite the pandemic, but here we are.
Walker Buehler has only pitched four innings in the last three weeks due to a right index finger blister that landed him on the injured list twice. The Dodgers are confident he can give them a dominant start in Game 1 on five days’ rest. Clayton Kershaw has pitched the most consistent season out of the Dodgers’ rotation staff thanks to a slight uptick in velocity, but Buehler can bring major heat.
We’ve seen Dave Roberts lean heavily on Kershaw in the postseason in years past. Two dominant aces to open a series with – especially a short series – certainly give the Dodgers the advantage over the Brewers and their slim starter options.
Buehler started Game 1 of the NLDS last season against the Nationals. He threw six shutout innings, allowed only one hit and struck out eight in a 6-0 win. He followed that with 6 2/3 innings in Game 5, allowing one run in a no-decision. Kershaw coughed up the lead out of the pen, and old friend Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off Joe Kelly in the 10th.
Buehler is 1-1 with a 2.72 ERA, and 0.853 WHIP in six postseason games. Kershaw is 9-11 with a 4.43 ERA and 1.105 WHIP with 24 home runs allowed in 32 postseason games.
The Brewers just scraped by to clinch a postseason berth with some help from the Phillies and Giants. The Brewers never played above .500 at any point in the 2020 season. The offense was one of the worst in baseball with a .702 OPS, 13th in the NL. The Brewers have the 4th-worst team batting average in the NL (.223) and lead the league in strikeouts (582) with a -17 run differential.
Christian Yelich has had a poor year offensively. He slashed .205/.356/.430/.786 in 58 games, a dramatic slide from his 2019 season when he was runner-up to Bellinger for the MVP in the NL.
The Brewers lost five out of their last eight games, losing their final two series of the year. The Dodgers come into the Wild Card series bats a blazing having just swept the Angels in three games. They’re dominant at home (21-9) and led the Majors with a +136 run differential.
Brent Suter opens a bullpen game for the Brewers setting up Brandon Woodruff for a showdown with Clayton Kershaw in Game 2. Milwaukee’s starting rotation has been hit hard with injury, losing their ace Corbin Burnes to an oblique strain.
In 16 games (four starts) this season, Suter posted a 3.13 ERA, 3.00 FIP with a 29.5% strikeout rate in 31.2 innings. He’ll pitch on full rest, but he likely will only be in for four innings or so before the Brew Crew’s bullpen takes over.
It was revealed this morning that Devin Williams was left off the Brewers’ roster for the Wild Card Series, a huge blow for the Brewers.
Josh Hader and company will have to eat some innings, but Craig Counsell will have to try to mitigate their usage so they can pitch in Game 2 if necessary. The rest of the Milwaukee bullpen will need to step up. Milwaukee’s relief squad’s 31.4% strikeout rate was the best in the Majors this season, but a lot of those Ks were thanks to Williams who ended his season with 17.7 K/9.
Like any other postseason, they’re only going to go as far as their best players take them. Betts, Cody Bellinger, AJ Pollock, Will Smith, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Buehler, Kershaw, Jansen — these guys need to step up, or it’s going to be another disappointing early postseason exit for the Dodgers.
Pollock went 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts in the playoffs last year. He posted career highs in slugging (.566) and OPS (.881) in 210 plate appearances this season. Pollock’s offensive resurgence was great, but it won’t matter if his bat goes cold again this postseason.
The Dodgers are the clear favorites in this series, but we’re always a Kershaw meltdown or Jansen blown save away from another long off-season of sadness. I’m terrified the Brewers are going to pull a David and Goliath miracle against the Dodgers.
If the players do their job and Roberts has a handle on his bullpen management, this series shouldn’t be a roadblock at all to this squad’s goal of a World Series title.
First pitch is at 7 PM PST on ESPN.