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Wildcard Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers @ Los Angeles Dodgers

The Brewers have a chance to ‘MKEHistory’ but it will take a big effort and some luck

MLB: NL Wild Card-Milwaukee Brewers Workouts Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a terrifying baseball machine.

That was true before they added the second-best overall player in the game, but then they went and traded for (and extended the contract of) Mookie Betts, making them — well — the safest bet to win the World Series.

Their depth — both in terms of pitching and hitting — would make it tough to beat them in a 5-game series. The Brewers definitely wouldn’t beat them in a 7-game series.

But 3 games?

Well, plenty of weird stuff can happen in a 3-game stretch.

And that’s the hope Brewers fans are hanging their hats on, even if they come into this series seen as the least-deserving playoff team in baseball and a sign of why the 16-team playoff field is such a bad idea for baseball going forward.

But they are in, and for all their flaws, they haven’t been an easy out for anyone this year — thus the virtual .500 record and splitting just about every season series they played (only going 4-6 against the Reds being the only exception among their NL rivals). The Brewers have shown an ability to play up to the competition when the situation warrants it, and going head-to-head with the 43-17 Dodgers and hoping to punch them in the mouth when they think they have a virtual bye would not be out of character for this team.

With that said, it’s still really hard to take 2 of 3 from the Dodgers this year. They’ve lost 1 (ONE!!) 3-game series all year — and it didn’t happen until earlier this month, when the Colorado Rockies took 2 of 3 from them on September 4th-6th (if you want to be hopeful, the Rockies were also under .500 at the time). Their longest losing streak during the shortened season was 2 games. They come into this series having won 4 games in a row, and 10 of their last 12. 18 of their 60 games were decided by 5 or more runs, and they won 17 of them.

If the Brewers are going to steal a game or even have a chance at stealing the series, the pitching is going to have to live up to a tall task.

The Dodgers rank near the top in just about every offensive category. They hit a ridiculous 118 home runs in 60 games (the Brewers, for comparison, hit 75). LA’s .350 wOBA as a team ranks second in the majors, behind only Atlanta’s .355. They tied for first in wRC+ at 122.

Betts did not disappoint in his first season in LA, hitting .292/.366/.562 with 16 home runs. A.J. Pollock had an .881 OPS and also hit 16 home runs. Corey Seager put his name in consideration for best offensive shortstop in baseball with a .943 OPS and 15 home runs. Justin Turner posted a .400 OBP. Utility man Chris Taylor had an .842 OPS with 8 home runs in 56 games. Catcher Will Smith had a .980 OPS in his 37 games behind the plate. Cody Bellinger, like Christian Yelich, still posted a .789 OPS with 12 home runs despite a subpar .239/.333/.455 overall line.

Overall, even with names like Bellinger and Joc Pederson and Max Muncy struggling, this is a lineup that’s much deeper than anything the Brewers have seen since their early series against the Chicago White Sox.

Pitchers, Probably

Game 1 - Brent Suter vs. Walker Buehler
Game 2 - Brandon Woodruff vs. Clayton Kershaw
Game 3 - TBA

Buehler has plenty of experience starting against the Brewers in the postseason, having been the starter for Games 3 and 7 of the 2018 NLCS as a rookie. The Brewers scored 4 runs off of him in 7 innings in Game 3 that year — what ended up being a 4-0 Milwaukee win, giving them a 2-1 advantage in that series — before he was electric in Game 7, striking out 7 and allowing a single run in 4.2 innings before the Dodgers shut the game down with their bullpen.

He’s only made 8 starts this year with a 3.44 ERA and a 4.36 FIP, striking out 42 batters and walking 11 in 36.2 innings. He’s only had one start since September 8th, though, dealing with a blister. He did through 4 shutout innings on September 24th in his first start back, striking out 6 and only allowing 1 hit.

Kershaw has been excellent again this year, putting up a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts in his age-32 season, striking out 62 batters in 58.1 innings, putting him on the track to 3,000 if he can stay healthy a few more years. The Dodgers have been keeping him under 100 pitches in every start and he’s finished 7 innings in just 3 of his outings this year, so the Brewers may not necessarily be facing the prospect of a deep start from him in what figures to be a very important Game 2.

Of course, Kershaw has also faced criticism for years over the way he’s pitched in the postseason. Part of that is just more opportunity to fail — when you play for the Dodgers, you’re going to be in the playoffs just about every year, creating more outings where things can go wrong. Other times, he’s been failed by a manager leaving him in a game too long. Other times, he’s flat-out stunk. In 2018, the Brewers scored 5 runs off of him (4 earned) to steal Game 1 of the NLCS, before he threw a gem in Game 5, striking out 9 while allowing a single run over 7 innings. The Dodgers trusted him to close out Game 7, too, and he did by striking out 2 in a perfect inning to send LA to the World Series (of course, he went on to give up 9 runs in 2 starts against the Red Sox).

Kershaw may have a 4.43 ERA in the postseason, but there’s a reason the Dodgers are starting him in a possible series clincher. He’s still the best left-handed pitcher (and probably best pitcher, period) of his generation.

If this series needs a third game, the Dodgers have no shortage of young and impressive arms they could throw out there. Dustin May (2.57 ERA, 165 ERA+), Julio Urias (3.27 ERA, 130 ERA+), or Tony Gonsolin (2.31 ERA, 183 ERA+) would all be in consideration, depending on who may pitch in relief in the first two games. The Brewers, obviously, would have a lot more work to do to try to piece together those last 27 outs.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs