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NLCS Preview: Brewers have already shown they can hang with the Dodgers

Two blowouts may distort the season statistics, but the first two series between Milwaukee and Los Angeles this year shows the Brewers have a reason to be confident

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers will face the Dodgers for the third time this season, and this time it will be to decide who comes away as National League champions.

The first two meetings had its ups and downs for the Brewers, and while the last game these teams played may leave a bad taste in the mouth — and some doubts in the minds — for some fans, there’s still plenty of room for optimism.

We’ll get more in-depth into the NLCS Preview as the week goes on, but let’s start with a look at what’s already happened between these two teams.

July 20th - Dodgers 6, Brewers 4

Right from the start, the first game this year between the Brewers and Dodgers was notable, as Miller Park played host to Manny Machado’s first game as a member of the Dodgers. It was also the first game after the All-Star break, and the Brewers were desperate to end a 6-game losing streak after dropping the series finale in Miami on July 11th and enduring a 5-game sweep in Pittsburgh that closed out the first half.

Machado made an impact right away, getting on base a total of 4 times in his debut, going 2-for-3 with 2 walks. Brewers pitching managed to shut down the bottom 2/3 of the LA order, though, keeping the game at 1-1 through 6 innings as Wade Miley and Rich Hill faced off in a pitcher’s duel that would’ve seemed unlikely just a couple years ago. The Dodgers broke through in the 7th inning, though, as Taylor Williams had the first of a couple of disaster outings against the Dodgers, allowing the first 6 batters of the inning to reach base safely. Only 2 runs came in to score, though, keeping the score close at 3-1.

Jesus Aguilar would homer to draw the Brewers closer to 3-2, but a 3-run home run by Enrique Hernandez off of Brandon Woodruff would put the game out of reach (although Christian Yelich started what would be an epic second half with a 2-run triple in the bottom of the 9th to cut the lead to 6-4).

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

July 21st - Brewers 4, Dodgers 2

If you want hope for Game 1, it’s that the Brewers have shown they’ve been able to beat Clayton Kershaw at Miller Park before — this year, even. The 7-game losing streak was improbably broken against Kershaw, and the Brewers had to come from behind to do it.

Chase Anderson gave up a 2-run single to Chris Taylor (who also played a major role in the first game of the series) in the 1st inning but settled down in the next few innings after that. After getting on the board in the bottom of the 2nd on an RBI groundout by Keon Broxton, the Brewers broke through against Kershaw in the 6th.

Yelich led off the inning with a first-pitch home run off of the lefty. Ryan Braun doubled two batters later, and scored when Max Muncy let a ball get past him at third base. Broxton followed with an RBI triple to give the Brewers a 4-2 lead which the Brewers bullpen would not relinquish. Josh Hader pitched two innings and struck out the last 4 batters he faced, and Corey Knebel — while not sharp — managed to lock down the save in the 9th inning.

July 22nd - Dodgers 11, Brewers 2

In the first of two lop-sided losses to the Dodgers this year, LA teed off on an ailing Brent Suter, who gave up 6 runs (although only 2 earned) on 7 hits over 3 innings while trying to pitch through a recurrence of forearm tightness before mercifully being lifted. The next day it would be revealed that Suter needed Tommy John surgery.

He was replaced by Williams, who we would later find out was trying to pitch through elbow soreness. The Dodgers again torched him for multiple runs, scoring 5 times (3 of them being earned runs) on 4 hits and a walk. Hernan Perez and Erik Kratz would end up pitching the last three innings of the game, while Alex Wood and the Dodgers kept Milwaukee scoreless after the 1st inning. The loss dropped the Brewers to 3.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central.

July 30th - Brewers 5, Dodgers 2

As low as the Brewers were feeling after that first series loss, things started to turn around almost immediately after. They took 2 out of 3 against the Washington Nationals, then 3 of 4 from the San Francisco Giants in the first leg of their trip west. The Brewers got on the board quickly in their first game at Dodger Stadium, with Christian Yelich lead off the game with a double and Mike Moustakas — in just his third game with the Brewers — drawing a walk. A Lorenzo Cain single would load the bases with nobody out, and Travis Shaw followed with an RBI single.

Unfortunately that’s all the Brewers would get that go-around, but Eric Thames made up for his pop fly to short with the bases loaded in the 1st inning by hitting a three-run home run in the 3rd, giving the Brewers a 4-0 lead. Freddy Peralta gave up a solo home run to Muncy, but that was the only run he allowed despite 4 walks in 4 innings, and Hader, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress held the Dodgers scoreless for the next 4 innings before Knebel allowed a solo home run to Machado in the 9th inning to cut the deficit to 5-2.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

July 31st - Brewers 1, Dodgers 0

In a second half of impressive starts by Wade Miley, this may have been the most impressive, going head-to-head with Walker Buehler and throwing 7 shutout innings against a very strong Dodgers lineup, allowing just 2 hits. Lorenzo Cain drove in the only run of the game with an RBI double in the top of the 3rd inning, and Soria and Jeffress held the Dodgers hitless over the final two innings to secure the win. The win temporarily moved the Brewers into a tie with the Cubs for first place heading into August.

August 1st - Dodgers 6, Brewers 4 (10 innings)

Jonathan Schoop made his Brewers debut and Milwaukee was able to come back to tie the game in the 8th inning (the two were not related — Schoop went 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts trying too hard to impress his new team in what ended up being the start of a second half-long slump), but they ultimately fell in extra innings.

After taking the first 2 games of the series, the Brewers actually took a 2-0 lead early in this game, which they held until the bottom of the 5th when Yasmani Grandal and Brian Dozier hit back-to-back home runs off of Chase Anderson — before you scoff, those were 2 of only 8 home runs Anderson surrendered on the road this year — and they proved to be the only runs Anderson allowed in 6 innings of work. Corbin Burnes faltered for the first time in his big league career in the 7th inning, though, allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and a walk before being pulled after recording just one out.

Dan Jennings, Jeffress and Knebel were able to shut down the Dodgers from there, though, giving the Brewers the opening to tie the game in the 8th on a double by Moustakas and a single by Manny Pina to take the game into extras. With Hader and Soria unavailable, the Brewers turned to Matt Albers in the 10th and it did not go well, as he gave up the walkoff 2-run homer to Grandal without recording an out.

August 2nd - Dodgers 21, Brewers 5

The game that messed up the Brewers’ run differential for awhile and the reason national observers would be wise not to look too far into the total runs scored between these two teams this year, the end result was more due to Craig Counsell picking his battles and punting this game — the Brewers were flying cross-country back to Milwaukee to play Colorado the next day, and the Dodgers scheduled this as a night game — than any true indicator of talent discrepancies between these two teams.

After the two teams traded runs in the 1st inning, the Dodgers would go on to score 5 in the third, and then score in the next four innings, capped off by a 9-run 7th inning.

Jhoulys Chacin got clubbed in a rare truly terrible start, giving up 9 runs (8 earned) in 4 1/3 innings, although the last couple were the fault of Albers, who relieved Chacin with 2 men on in the 5th inning and promptly gave up an 0-2 bomb to Brian Dozier. Albers would give up another 2 runs on a home run by Justin Turner the next inning, bringing his two-day total to 7 runs allowed (although only 5 charged solely to him) on 3 home runs. He would have one more disaster outing before being shut down for most of August, only collecting 5 more appearances the rest of the season.

Things didn’t get much better for Taylor Williams, who was still trying to pitch through elbow soreness and again got crushed by the Dodgers, allowing 4 runs on a single by Yasiel Puig and a home run by Joc Pederson. With the Brewers down 16-5 at that point, Perez again took the mound and this time the Dodgers chose to actually try to hit him, scoring 5 more runs before finally ending the inning.

Add it all up, and the Brewers went 3-4 against LA in the regular season. Yes, they’ll have to win 4 more to get to the World Series, but outside of the two blowout losses, they showed they could hang with the heavily-hyped Dodgers.

While we can’t totally discount those two blowouts — the Brewers likely would have lost both games anyway, even if they were able to keep the margin closer — it’s worth noting both games were series finales, and Craig Counsell had a responsibility to look ahead to the next series on the schedule to keep his team on track. With no games guaranteed after this series, Counsell will likely manage this series much differently (even as much as we’d love to see Erik Kratz pitch again) and the pitchers Los Angeles did the most damage against — Albers and Williams — likely won’t even be a part of the postseason roster.