Series Preview: Dodgers & Brewers Prepare for Battle in 2018 NLCS

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The Los Angeles Dodgers have advanced to the NLCS after beating the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in their NLDS matchup. The two games in Atlanta were a bit more stressful than the games in Los Angeles, but the Dodgers still found a way to shove aside a Braves squad whose time hasn’t quite come yet but look poised to compete in the NL for the next handful of years with their intriguing young nucleus of players.

The Dodgers were indeed expected to defeat the Braves, but this next round is sure to leave more fans split on predicting a final outcome.

The Milwaukee Brewers are coming off a sweep of the Colorado Rockies which was preceded by a tie-breaking win over the Chicago Cubs to earn the NL Central Crown and claim home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The Brewers have been one of the most compelling stories in baseball this year. Their 96 wins tied for their highest total in franchise history.

They revamped their outfield this past offseason, trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain to join franchise-fixture Ryan Braun in the outfield.

Yelich responded by catapulting himself to the top of the NL MVP discussion, leading the NL with a .326 BA, tying for second with 110 RBIs, and tying for third with 36 home runs. Yelich ranked sixth in the Majors in WAR and Cain ranked seventh, making both offseason acquisitions arguably the two most important in all of baseball. Jesus Aguilar made the All-Star team and hit 35 home runs and 108 RBIs, while Travis Shaw hit 32 home runs to register his second consecutive 30 homer season.

The Brewers boast a tremendous amount of power throughout their lineup. As a team, they ranked fourth in the Majors in home runs, seventh in total bases and ninth in SLG. They feature an interesting blend of pop and speed. They ranked fourth in the Majors in stolen bases and third in the percentage of successful steal attempts.

Cain led the team with 30 steals, while Yelich swiped 22 bags. Braun stole 11 bases, continuing a streak of reaching double-digit steals in all of his 11 seasons in which he has played in at least 100 games.

They’re capable of manufacturing runs through playing small ball, but they also embody some of the most prevalent trends in baseball in terms of home runs and strikeouts. They had the fifth best home run/at-bat ratio in the Majors, but the seventh most strikeouts.

There’s a lot of ways their offense can generate runs, and they’re adaptable enough to utilize different strengths depending on what the situation calls for.

Another way in which the Brewers are a team reflective of the current state of baseball is their reliance on the bullpen. During the regular season, the Brewers had their starters throw less than 80 pitches in an outing the fifth most times in the Majors while allowing their starters to throw more than 100 pitches the second fewest times.

Their rotation averaged the seventh fewest pitches per start in the Majors, but it wasn’t on account of any significant struggles. Their starting pitching crew had the fifth lowest BAA, the eighth slowest WHIP, and the ninth-lowest SLG among rotations in the Majors. Even at its relatively low level, their WHIP was a bit inflated by the fact that they gave up the ninth most walks among rotations in the Majors.

Their starters just really serve more as a bridge to getting to one of the most impressive bullpens in baseball.

The starters ranked fifth lowest in the Majors in Quality Start Percentage, defined as games where the starter goes at least six innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs.

With a bullpen that features such dominant stoppers, it’s not necessary for Brewers starters to eat up innings.

As a unit, their bullpen ranked third in strikeouts per nine innings and had the fifth-lowest ERA, the fifth lowest BAA, the seventh lowest OBP, and eighth lowest SLG, and the eighth lowest WHIP amongst bullpens in the Majors. Jeremy Jeffress pitched 73 games in the regular season and had a 1.29 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

He’s coming off a poor NLDS where he gave up six hits and two earned runs in 3.1 innings, though. He was actually the only Brewers pitcher charged with any earned runs during that series.

Josh Hader just had one of the most impressive seasons a reliever has ever boasted, setting a record for the most strikeouts in a season by a lefty reliever with 143. Hader pitched in 55 games in the regular season, registering a 2.43 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP in 81.1 innings with an astounding 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Corey Knebel had an inconsistent year but possesses the type of stuff that delivered him 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 2017. Knebel lost the closer job this season and finished the year with a 3.58 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 57 games and 55.1 innings. His WHIP this season was actually lower than his 2017 total, as he shaved off 1.1 walks per nine innings. The ballooning ERA can probably be attributed to a 1.5 increase in hits per nine innings and a 0.4 increase in home runs per nine innings.

Joakim Soria was acquired by the Brewers from the Chicago White Sox in late July to add to what was already a formidable bullpen. Soria finished with 66 games and a 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 11,1 strikeouts per nine innings in 60.2 innings. Soria’s ERA with the Brewers was more than a run and a half higher than with the White Sox, but his WHIP was 0.73 lower with the Brewers compared to the White Sox.

The Brewers haven’t announced a starting pitcher for the opener yet, but they’ve been known to deploy unconventional strategies to face opposing lineups.

In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Brewers basically pitched a bullpen game, with Brandon Woodruff starting the game and pitching three innings before handing it off to the rest of the bullpen. A game like that predicated on individual matchups dictated by the bullpen would force the Dodgers into some difficult decisions.

Their lineup is full of platoons, and usually, Dave Roberts sends out a specific lineup based on whether the starting pitcher is a righty or a lefty.

In a game where the Brewers go to their bullpen early and alternate between different pitchers every couple innings, they might either trap the Dodgers into unfavorable matchups or force Roberts to make substitutions earlier than he’d like.

In their NLDS against the Rockies, the Brewers started Jhoulys Chacin in Game 2 and Wade Miley in game 3.

Those two are typical starters. Chacin is a righty and Miley is a lefty. The Dodgers are going to be able to implement their usual righty/lefty lineups for each of them in their starts.

If the Brewers decide to go with their bullpens especially early in any NLCS games, though, Roberts is either going to have to keep on his toes with early substitutions or bite the bullet by accepting unfavorable matchups throughout the game.

The pitchers that the Brewers used in their NLDS series besides Chacin and Miley were Jeffress, Knebel, Woodruff, Soria, Hader, and Corbin Burnes.

Of that bullpen group, the only lefty is Hader, so maybe the pieces within the Dodgers lineup susceptible to struggling against left-handed pitching won’t be totally nullified throughout a bullpen game.

It’s unclear how many games the Brewers would go with a typical starter in a best-of-seven series, but they have numerous options.

Besides Chacin and Miley, they could go with guys like Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta, or Gio Gonzalez. All but Gonzalez are righties.

This series is going to be a huge test for the Dodgers. It’s their fourth appearance in the NLCS since 2013, and they’ve previously gone 1-2 in those NLCS matchups.

The Brewers are going to have home field advantage in this series, and are on the forefront of a lot of prevailing trends in baseball.

The Dodgers are an extremely talented team throughout their roster, though, and they’ve been in this situation before. Experience playing in games of this magnitude should never be discounted and this is poised to be an exciting series.

Representing the NL in the World Series is at stake, and it’s going to come down to which of these squads rises to the occasion with dominant performances and clutch moments.

 

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