Two franchises mired in championship droughts will now clash in the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers, though almost perennially competitive, haven’t hoisted the World Series trophy since 1988. Meanwhile, it’s been 50 years for the Milwaukee Brewers since debuting as the Seattle Pilots in 1969, coming closest when they lost the 1982 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
They’re each a step closer to ending their respective streaks, but have to go through one another first.
The Brew Crew’s winning streak
The Brewers closed out the season winners of eight straight games, and have won all four playoff contests including the three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series. The winning streak plays into the old cliche of “getting hot at the right time.”
Will the hot team continue to steamroll through the competition or will the Dodgers prove to be of worthier stock than the Rockies? The season series between the two – 4-3 in favor of Los Angeles – makes it too close to call, but momentum, and homefield advantage, is in Milwaukee’s favor.
Exorcising Kershaw’s playoff demons
Dodgers legend Clayton Kershaw’s postseason struggles have been, at least somewhat, exaggerated. He’s thrown 130 playoff innings in his career with a 4.08 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. While that’s not amazing, it’s not catastrophic. Though, when you’ve made a name for yourself as the best starter in the game, anything short of masterful may be disappointing.
He got off to a hot start after going eight scoreless in a win against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. Historically, his bad, dumb luck has reared its ugly head most often in the NLCS where he’s 2-4 with a 4.75 ERA in 41 2/3 innings. You won’t have to wait long to see which Kershaw toes the rubber, though, as he’s penciled in for Game 1 at Miller Park.
It’s still Kershaw, and he’s still the Dodgers’ best shot at a championship on the mound. It’s foolish to read too much into his inconsistent postseason results.
Brewers’ bullpen bonanza keeps on truckin’
The Brewers have elected to change gears to start the series against the Dodgers by tabbing Gio Gonzalez for Game 1. They opened the NLDS against the Rockies with a bullpen game, and it mostly worked. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel, and Josh Hader combined to pitch eight scoreless innings – each going more than one inning apiece – before Jeremy Jeffress allowed the Rockies to tie things at two in the ninth.
The Brewers proceeded to shut out the Rockies in Game 2 and 3, and their starters – Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley – combined for 9 2/3 innings. Barring a miracle, no starter appears poised to be stretched very far, though the pitfalls of a seven-game series will present greater challenges in terms of reliever fatigue.
The Dodgers’ relief corps might be fine, or …
The bullpen was seen as the Dodgers’ biggest weakness entering the postseason, but they stymied the Braves throughout their four-game series, allowing only one run in 10 2/3 innings in the NLDS. Part of this could be attributed to exposure, as starters Hyun-jin Ryu and Kershaw set the table, gobbling 15 innings in the first two games.
It’s also a different beast than what it was during the regular season. Fewer starters result in players like Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood pitching in relief, which allows perhaps more inconsistent arms to stay off the roster.
Who made the better roster additions?
Compared to their 2017 rosters, both the Brewers and Dodgers look substantially different in certain areas. Most notable is Milwaukee’s outfield that brought in Lorenzo Cain on a multi-year contract and Christian Yelich via trade with the Miami Marlins. With Yelich poised to win the NL MVP, the Brewers are in good shape regarding their makeover.
The Dodgers, however, acquired All-Star infielder Manny Machado and have kept right-hander Walker Buehler along for the ride after leaving him off the playoff roster a year ago. Both have performed admirably.
Each team also made additions at the trade deadline, but they haven’t exactly added up just yet. Jonathan Schoop hit .202 with the Brewers and struck out in an abominable 30.6 percent of his plate appearances. He wound up riding the pine against the Rockies, making only two trips to the dish over three games.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, snagged second baseman Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins, and it hasn’t gone well, either. He hit a home run in each of his first two games with Los Angeles and then fell off a cliff. He batted .182 with five home runs over 47 contests, resulting in – like Schoop – only two plate appearances in the NLDS.
The edge probably belongs to the Brewers since third baseman Mike Moustakas has been a solid addition, especially since he went 4-for-11 against the Rockies.
Oh, and Erik Kratz went 5-for-8 in the NLDS, so the Brewers have that going for them.
The Braun-Puig trade that never happened
In 2016, the Brewers very nearly sent outfielder Ryan Braun to the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig, pitcher Brandon McCarthy, and prospects. If this trade ultimately went through, who knows what the landscape would look like for either team. Would the Brewers have gotten Cain and Yelich? Would Puig be taking shirtless champagne baths in Milwaukee instead of L.A.? Would Braun have helped or hindered the Dodgers’ pursuit of a championship? Impossible to know, but endlessly fascinating to consider.