For some fans, it already seems like an eternity since their beloved Dodgers have actually played a game. The club’s victory in Game 4 on Monday afforded the squad a very much deserved three full days of rest before setting their sights on Milwaukee and the NL Central champion Brewers. Nevertheless, the time has finally arrived for both teams to commence battle. Heading into Friday’s opener, we thought it would be a good idea to highlight five potential storylines which Los Angeles fans should keep an eye on as the series progresses.
Lineups—Of all the scrutiny thrown at the Dodgers throughout the 2018 regualr-season campaign, the construction of the daily lineups undoubtedly took the most criticism. More times than not, the handedness of the opposing pitcher determined the Los Angeles batting order, regardless of who was hot at the plate and who was not. When the Brewers released their probable starting rotation for the first three games on Thursday, they indicated that Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley, both of whom are left-handed throwers, would be starting the first two games, respectively. Seemingly, when the Dodgers’ lineup is at it’s best. it’s loaded with lefty hitters, so it should be interesting to see how the righty hitters fare against the LHP of Milwaukee, if Dave Roberts and his crew decide to indeed stick to the matchup strategies that have brought the team this far.
Enrique Hernandez—We’ve already discussed on multiple occasions the impressive season of super-utility man Enrique Hernandez. The 27-year-old native of Puerto Rico has finally brought his game full-circle, proving to team management that he’s capable of succeeding offensively against right-handed pitching, thus earning him the right to be the regular starter at second base. It will certainly be interesting to watch Hernandez as the playoffs continue to progress. He only went 2-for-12 in the NLDS, but the Brewers may provide an opportunity for Kiké to break out, especially against the lefties Gonzalez and Miley. As far as other options go at the keystone, there isn’t a more complete package available to the team. Brian Dozier may have a better glove, but he definitely pales in comparison in terms of offense. At the same time, Max Muncy, in theory, may be a better offensive option, but he’s certainly a liability with the glove. So, for now, it’s all Hernandez, and it’s time for him to embrace the opportunity for which he’s been waiting so long.
Manny Machado—Like Hernandez, Manny Machado‘s overall stat line was not overly impressive for the NLDS; however, Manny was able to come up with three of the biggest hits in the entire series. Many fans have been quick to point out the 26-year-old’s propensity to chase pitches out of the zone, but Machado himself continues to tell reporters that he has no intentions of changing the approach that’s worked for him his entire career. As far as his career-postseason numbers go, Manny is just 7-for-40 in 11 games spanning three different seasons, so there’s no question he’s motivated to prove to his critics that he definitely has what it takes to shine in the playoffs. And, don’t forget—he’s also playing for a contract.
Clayton Kershaw—Unlike Hernandez and Machado, Clayton Kershaw has a very extensive postseason résumé. Despite his endless regular-season accolades, Kersh has a monkey on his back when it comes to being able to perform successfully in the postseason. Over his career, he has made 25 playoff appearances—20 of which were starts—but has posted just an 8-7 record with a 4.08 ERA. In Game 2 of the 2018 NLDS, he obliterated a very young and inexperienced Atlanta Braves’ offense. The Brewers will certainly pose a greater challenge, affording Kershaw the chance to finally prove to his critics his true greatness. And, because he’s starting the opener, he’s almost guaranteed at least one additional NLCS appearance in some shape or form.
The Bullpen—Despite the overwhelming success of the Los Angeles starting pitching in the NLDS, many media outlets continue to contend that the Dodgers will only go as far as their bullpen takes them, especially when it comes to the right-arm of one Kenley Jansen. As a unit, the Dodgers’ relief crew surrendered just one earned run to the Braves in the NLDS—Alex Wood‘s first-pitch long ball to Freddie Freeman in the sixth inning of Game 3. In terms of overall success, the Los Angeles bullpen ranked fifth in the National League during the regular season while the Milwaukee bullpen ranked second, but the crew of the Dodgers seems to be fresh and at its peak right now—most specifically when considering the recent performances of arms like Pedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Scott Alexander and Kenta Maeda.