NLCS preview: Brewers vs. Dodgers isn't David vs. Goliath, it's more like an MMA fight

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers playing in the National League Championship Series is going to be baseball’s version of an MMA fight. You might look at the team names, the cities and payrolls attached and decide this is some kind of David vs. Goliath — but no, it’ll actually give us an up-close view of what will happen when teams with two different styles of fighting jump in the ring.

The Dodgers are bruisers. They want their starting pitchers to stand tall for innings on end while their lineup wears down the opposing pitchers and bops home runs — early, mid-game, later, doesn’t matter. They just want the ball to fly over the fence. The Brewers’ strategy is more about keeping their opponent off-balance. They zig and zag (from their talented outfielder), they’re here and there (their dangerous bullpen). They want the other team to face a long line of pitchers, keeping them guessing and unable to figure out what’s coming next.

It’s fascinating, really. The Dodgers are experienced, with a monkey on their back and stars galore up and down their lineup. The Brewers are an upstart, playing with house money and riding an innovative idea into October.

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We’ve seen the “bullpenning” approach have varying degrees of success this year, but the Brewers seem content to use it in October. It worked in their opening round, and now we’ll see what happens when they try it against a team like the Dodgers. The key is getting to the back-end of their bullpen with a lead and hoping Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress are unhittable. It’s part of what has Milwaukee on an 11-game winning streak going back to the regular season.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, will lean on the big names you know: Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Kenley Jansen — and many more. Nothing has changed in the approach that we’ve seen from this team trying to navigate the postseason in years past. The only difference? They’ve got better players, they’ve been healthier this year and now it’s been 30 years since they’ve won the World Series.


Game 1: Friday, Oct. 12, in Milwaukee, 8:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 2: Saturday, Oct 13, in Milwaukee, 4:09 p.m. ET (Fox)
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 15, in Los Angeles, 7:39 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Los Angeles, 9:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct.17, in Los Angeles, 5:05 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 6*: Friday, Oct. 19, in Milwaukee, 8:39 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 7*: Saturday, Oct. 20, in Milwaukee, 9:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
*If necessary

Previously between Brewers-Dodgers in 2018

The Brewers and Dodgers met seven times during the regular season, with Los Angeles taking home four wins to Milwaukee’s three. The Brewers will have home-field advantage in the NLCS, but they actually lost two of three to the Dodgers at Miller Park from July 21-23. In fact, that series marked Manny Machado’s first with the Dodgers. When the teams met one week later at Dodger Stadium, they split a four-game series.

The timing of both series is pretty interesting given how active both teams were at the trade deadline. Both teams were being shaped into what they are now during that stretch, and have now gelled into clearly better teams than they were then.

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Christian Yelich of the Brewers hope to lead their teams to the elusive World Series.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Christian Yelich of the Brewers hope to lead their teams to the elusive World Series.


Game 1: Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 2.73) vs. Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21)
Game 2: Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 1.97) vs. Wade Miley (5-2, 2.57)
Game 3: Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50) vs. Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62)
Game 4: TBD vs. Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66)
Game 5*: TBD vs. TBD
Game 6*: TBD vs. TBD
Game 7*: TBD vs. TBD

The Dodgers rotation is as deep and as healthy as we’ve seen it in recent Octobers. During the regular season, Los Angeles starters posted the best ERA (3.19) in the NL and had a 2.59 ERA in 24.1 innings against the Braves in the NLDS. That’s good.

Clayton Kershaw is rested, so he’ll take Game 1 in the NLCS. Yeah, we know the story of Kershaw in the postseason. He’s had his rough moments, with a couple coming at the least opportune time for Los Angeles. However, he’s managed to lower his postseason era from 4.63 at this point last year to 4.08, which tells us he’s been on point lately. His last outing was his best in the postseason. He held Atlanta to two hits in eight scoreless in NLDS Game 2.

Hyun-jin Ryu started Game 1 of the NLDS and dominated the Braves. While Ryu has only logged 82 1/3 innings in the regular season, his 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts highlight how good he can be when healthy. The Dodgers also have battle-tested veteran Rich Hill and sensational rookie Walker Buehler. Hill had a couple different stints on the disabled list early in the season, but was effective upon his return, posting a 3.08 ERA over this final 19 starts. Buehler really was the glue that held the Dodgers rotation together when they weren’t healthy. He started a combined no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on May 4 and was the pitching hero in Game 163 against the Colorado Rockies.

Milwaukee’s starting pitchers did not allow a run to the Rockies during the NLDS. That’s the good news, we think. The flip side is that they only pitched 12 2/3 innings total as manager Craig Counsell relied heavily on his dominant bullpen. We should expect more of the same in this series, but the early inning outs will have to come from somewhere.

Jhoulys Chacín started both Game 163 and NLDS Game 2 for the Brewers, making him seem like Milwaukee’s go-to starter, but he’ll get Game 3 on quite a bit of rest. Wade Miley got an NLDS start and he’ll go Game 2. For Game 1, the Brewers opted for Gio Gonzalez, who they acquired in an August trade and hasn’t started since Sept. 30. Gonzalez does have quite a bit of postseason experience, starting six games over the years for the Washington Nationals. He has a 4.78 ERA in those starts.

Remember, though, they’re also just as happy starting a reliever like Brandon Woodruff, which they did in NLDS Game 1. So it goes without saying that all these guys will have quick hooks waiting if something goes wrong. It might seem like a foreign idea, but the Brewers don’t care too much about who starts (or “opens” a game) as much as who finishes it.

Manny Machado hit two big homers to help the Dodgers get by the Braves during the NLDS. (AP)
Manny Machado hit two big homers to help the Dodgers get by the Braves during the NLDS. (AP)

Dodgers keys to victory

• Score early and often. There’s one position the Dodgers don’t want to be in during this series. It’s the same position the Rockies didn’t want to be in, but found themselves in every game during the NLDS. That’s trailing late with the game in the hands of Milwaukee’s dominant relievers. Milwaukee’s bullpen held Colorado’s potent lineup to a .160 average during the series. The Dodgers bring a deeper lineup, but the Brewers’ bullpen can lock anyone down.

• Set the tone with starting pitching. While the Brewers will rely on the bullpen, the Dodgers have to get quality innings from their starters. That’s because the Dodgers own bullpen looked unsteady at times down the stretch, with closer Kenley Jansen even showing vulnerability we’re not used to seeing. The talent is there. Los Angeles relievers even posted an impressive 0.84 ERA in the NLDS, but they were only needed for 10 1/3 innings. The less they have to do, the more effective they’ll be.

Veteran right-hander Jhoulys Chacin will be a key player for the Brewers during the NLCS. (AP)
Veteran right-hander Jhoulys Chacin will be a key player for the Brewers during the NLCS. (AP)

Brewers keys to victory

• More outs from their starters. Craig Counsell didn’t ask for much from his starting pitchers in the NLDS. In fact, he went an entire game without even using one. When he did use a starter, Chacin and Miley both got him safely through the lineup twice, which is what Milwaukee will need again in this series. The bullpen is great, obviously, but too much exposure to the Dodgers lineup could wear them down.

• Get the offense rolling. Milwaukee scored 13 runs in their three-game sweep of Colorado. In that series it was more than enough, but the Dodgers can score in bunches, meaning the pressure could be on the Brewers to do the same. Despite the season series being close, Milwaukee was outscored 46-24. That tells you how quickly the Dodgers can rack up runs.

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