Game 2 of the National League Championship Series was a reminder that even when a game feels easy, it’s never easy once you get to this level of the postseason.
Wade Miley was simply spectacular in his start. Things didn’t seem like they would be that way early, when Miley allowed a single to Justin Turner and David Freese gave Brewers fans painful flashbacks to 2011 with a deep drive in the first inning. Luckily, this time, the Brewers had Lorenzo Cain in centerfield.
Cain pulled back a certain home run, and from that point, Miley was on fire, retiring the next 15 batters, breaking bats, shaving the edges of the strike zone, and inducing weak contact. Craig Counsell lifted him with 2 outs in the 6th inning, though, after he allowed a solid single to Chris Taylor, choosing to go with Corbin Burnes.
It would be easy to second-guess the decision considering how Burnes would go on to struggle in the 7th inning, but the reality is Miley was likely done after the 6th inning regardless of whether he was allowed to face Turner for a third time or not, and Turner represented the tying run at the time, with the Brewers only leading 2-0. It can be argued that in these situations -- and with the strength of the Milwaukee bullpen -- it’s almost always better to take a starter out too early than one batter too late.
The Brewers got that 2-0 lead due to more unlikely heroics from the bottom of the lineup. Orlando Arcia homered off of Hyun-Jin Ryu -- his 2nd home run in 14 postseason at-bats after only 3 home runs in the regular season, and his first homer off of a starting pitcher this year -- to put the Brewers on the board. Miley followed by working a 10-pitch at-bat against Ryu before single to center for his second hit of the game after doubling in his first at-bat. Miley would later score when Ryan Braun hit a slow chopper behind the mound with the bases loaded.
The Brewers would add an insurance run in the bottom of the 6th inning when Travis Shaw hit his first postseason Ding Dong of the year off of lefty Alex Wood, who was brought into the game specifically to get Mike Moustakas and Shaw out. After striking out Moose, Wood grooved his first pitch to Shaw, and The Mayor was able to jump on the mistake.
That proved to be a big run as the bullpen ran into some trouble in the top of the 7th inning. Burnes allowed the first three batters of the 7th inning to reach base safely. After a leadoff walk to Max Muncy -- who, to be fair, has a walk rate higher than everyone but Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Joey Votto this year -- Burnes surrendered solid singles to Manny Machado and Cody Bellinger, with the second driving in the Dodgers’ first run of the afternoon to make the score 3-1.
Jeremy Jeffress would come on in relief and would continue to fight his command and some bad luck on balls in play. Despite jamming Joc Pederson with a pitch up and in, Pederson was able to bloop it into no-man’s land to load the bases with nobody out. Jeffress was able to fight back to strike out Yasiel Puig after a long battle, causing Puig to break the bat over his leg.
Jeffress’ struggles with command caused him to fall behind to Austin Barnes in the next at-bat, though, and despite uncorking a beautiful breaking pitch that buckled Barnes’ knees, Barnes passed on chasing and drew a walk to bring in another run to make it 3-2. Jeffress was able to rebound from the walk to force pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal to ground into an inning-ending double play, with Grandal trying to slide feet-first into first base on the back end.
Counsell elected to send Jeffress back out for the 8th inning, likely hoping for at least another out or two before going to Corey Knebel. For one of the first times this series, he had a decision backfire. Jeffress again induced weak contact against Taylor, but a high chopper died on the infield before Moustakas could get to it, leading to an infield hit. Then Turner showed why Counsell had no interest in seeing Miley face him a third time earlier in the game, pulling a pitch in from Jeffress into the second deck in left field to give the Dodgers their first lead of the series.
That forced Counsell to go to Knebel, who after allowing a single to Muncy got Machado to ground into a double play and forced Bellinger to pop up in the infield to get out of the inning without any further damage.
The Brewers tried to rally in the bottom of the 8th, with Moustakas drawing a one-out walk against lefty Scott Ferguson. After Shaw grounded into a fielder’s choice to replace Moustakas at first, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to Kenta Maeda, with Counsell countering with Curtis Granderson, who has 9 postseason home runs to his name. He nearly had another, hitting one to deep right that brought a big roar from the Miller Park faithful -- only to be pulled in by Puig just short of the warning track to end the inning.
All-Star closer Kenley Jansen followed in the 9th inning, getting Arcia to pop out in the infield for the first out of the inning, but Hernan Perez — who only walked 17 times in 334 plate appearances during the regular season — drew a free pass. A strikeout by Cain meant the game came down to a showdown between Jansen and Christian Yelich. Jansen won this round, shattering Yelich’s bat with one of his patented cutters to end the game on a groundout to Turner.
It’s a disappointing loss, especially considering the start Miley had, but we knew going into the series that the Dodgers were capable of wearing down bullpens and scratching across just enough runs to steal a game. This was also a game that highlighted why it was so big for the Brewers to win the first game Clayton Kershaw started in the series — it’s a lot easier to be optimistic heading into the middle three games of the series in Los Angeles when the series is tied at 1 than it is to be down 0-2, and if you told most fans they’d come out of the first two games with a split, they would probably take it.
Jhoulys Chacin will face Walker Buehler in Game 3. First pitch will be just after 6:30 p.m. CDT.