As Craig Goldstein wrote for Baseball Prospectus in 2016, “The playoffs are where heroes are born. October is a forge, where your mettle is pushed to the brink, and those who survive the heat come out the other side more solid and with a cemented legacy.” It’s a perfect summary of the colossal impact postseason performance (or lack thereof) can ultimately have on a players legacy. Heroes and legacies are complicated, narrative-driven conversations. The burden of expectation placed on a once-in-a-generation talent to carry a franchise to the promised land can often seem unrealistic. After years of falling short of the lofty expectations his prodigious regular season numbers generated, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has spent the last two postseasons silencing even his most vocal critics, dispelling the flawed notion that he couldn’t rise to the occasion and was prone to wilting under the bright lights of October baseball. The 30-year-old southpaw drove yet another stake through the heart of that narrative by tossing eight scoreless innings against an upstart Braves squad in Game 2 of the NLDS last week. With Los Angeles four wins away from returning to the World Series, the three-time Cy Young award winner will take the mound for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Brewers in Miller Park on Friday night.
With Kershaw justifiably garnering the vast majority of the attention entering Game 1, it’s the Brewers extreme approach from a pitching standpoint that should be the main storyline in the broader series. They’ve eschewed traditional pitcher roles, in favor of focusing on individual matchups using their flexibility and creativity to maximize the number of innings they receive from their elite relievers to record 27 outs. “It’s no secret that we’re going to use our pitching a little differently than the traditionalists would like,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters on Thursday. Even in an era where nearly half of all postseason innings are now thrown by the bullpen, the Brewers reliever usage is stratospheric. Five relievers -- Corbin Burnes, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria and Josh Hader -- combined for more innings (15 1/3 innings) than the entire starting rotation (12 2/3 innings) in a three-game sweep of the Rockies in the NLDS last week. Yankees fans can only hope that manager Aaron Boone will tune into the series and take some notes.
Milwaukee will hand the ball to Gio Gonzalez to start Game 1 on Friday. However, he’s only expected to face the Dodgers lineup once, at most. The 33-year-old veteran southpaw, who went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in five starts after being acquired from the Nationals on August 31, is unlikely to go more than an innings or two in this one. Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who has also floated the idea of potentially using Game 3 starter Jhoulys Chacin in relief, is expected to lean heavily on his well-rested bullpen right out of the gate. Therefore, it’s imperative that the Dodgers lefty-mashers, most notably David Freese and Enrique Hernandez, come out aggressive, looking to do their damage against Gonzalez in the early frames before the Brewers dip into their plethora of lights-out relievers. Outside of their solid rotation, the Dodgers biggest strength is their tremendous lineup depth. The key situation to watch for in Game 1 will be how quickly manager Dave Roberts elects to turn to breakout slugger Max Muncy in a pinch-hitting situation.
While all eyes will be on Kershaw, perhaps the most compelling player in the entire series is Christian Yelich. The 26-year-old outfielder evolved into a National League MVP Award candidate and the Brewers’ main offensive catalyst, hitting a surreal .367/.449/.770 with 25 homers, 67 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 65 games after the All-Star break. The Southern California native carried that momentum into the postseason, reaching base safely in eight of his 14 plate appearances in a three-game sweep of the Rockies in the NLDS. If Milwaukee is going to reach the World Series for the first time since 1982, Yelich will have to play a massive role in this series.
It’s an extremely quick turnaround for both teams with Game 2 on Saturday afternoon. The Dodgers will send southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu to the mound, while the Brewers will counter with veteran lefty Wade Miley. The series will shift to Los Angeles with the Dodgers expecting to start Walker Buehler and Rich Hill in Game 3 and Game 4, respectively. Meanwhile, Chacin -- who was excellent in both the NL Central tiebreaker against the Cubs and in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Rockies -- is lined to start Game 3 on Monday night.
Cardinals Re-Sign Wainwright
The Cardinals re-signed 37-year-old right-hander Adam Wainwright to a one-year contract on Thursday. From a fantasy standpoint, the halcyon days of peak performance are fading in the rearview mirror, as evidenced by his persistent injury issues and pedestrian surface starts (4.46 ERA and 1.46 WHIP) in eight starts last season. However, a quick glance under the hood reveals some rather intriguing developments, most notably a career-high 8.9 K/9 over 40 1/3 innings. According to Baseball Prospectus, his Deserved Run Average (3.78) was nearly a full run lower than his actual ERA over eight starts. Wainwright isn’t a particularly enticing fantasy target entering his 15th season with St. Louis. Yet, he may be a worthwhile low-risk back-end rotation depth option in the later rounds of deeper mixed leagues next spring.
Quick Hits: According to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, a source told him that reports that the Cubs offered Kris Bryant a $200-plus million contract extension in the last several months are “simply not true.” … Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Thursday that Eduardo Nunez (ankle) will be fine for the ALCS … Steven Wright needs arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee. The Red Sox are waiting for a second opinion to determine whether the procedure can be delayed until after the postseason … Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported that the Marlins received $1 million in international slot money from the Nationals in exchange for Kyle Barraclough on Wednesday … Sources are telling Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports that the Yankees are “expected to target” Patrick Corbin in free agency this offseason … Heyman also reported that Nick Markakis will not receive the qualifying offer from the Braves … Chris Haft of MLB.com reported that the Giants will interview Kim Ng for the open general manager spot … Bruce Levine of MLB.com reported that the Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis on Thursday … Jon Heyman of Fancred sports reported Thursday that Athletics manager Bob Melvin, general manager David Forst and president of baseball operations Billy Beane are all expected to receive extensions soon … Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Thursday that three candidates -- Rangers assistant general manager Jayce Tingler, Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, and Astros bench coach Joe Espada -- have interviewed for the Rangers' open manager position … Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart underwent surgery to repair his core muscle on Thursday … Jordan Zimmermann underwent surgery on Thursday to repair his core muscle … Reds prospect Nick Senzel needs surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow, which will sideline him for the next 4-to-6 weeks and prevent him from playing in the Arizona Fall League.