The Milwaukee Brewers (96-67) and Los Angeles Dodgers (92-71) will square off in the National League Championship Series. The Dodgers won the season series with the Brewers, 4-3. This NLCS matchup marks the first time that these two ballclubs will compete against each other in a playoff series. The Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs in a tiebreaker game to win the National League Central and swept the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. On the other hand, the Dodgers defeated the Rockies in a tiebreaker game to win the National League West and beat the Atlanta Braves in four games in the NLDS. This NLCS matchup features a number of intriguing storylines and matchups to keep tabs on. Here are the deciding factors to the series and which team will ultimately advance to the World Series.
Will the Dodgers bullpen hold down the fort?
The Dodgers have one of the best starting rotations in the sport with Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, and Rich Hill present, but their bullpen has been inconsistent this season. Closer Kenley Jansen has been a worrisome facet of the Dodgers, surrendering a career-high 13 home runs and being shaky since the All-Star break. And their pen, as a whole, has been an area of concern, especially when manager Dave Roberts turns the ball over to them in the middle of games.
With that said, their pen surrendered just one run in the NLDS. But they will be going against a better and more proven lineup in the Brewers, meaning late-inning outs are anything but a given. The Dodgers have been getting quality innings of work from their relievers lately, but they need that to continue in the NLCS, or else all the Brewers will have to do is knock their starting pitching out of the game early. In that scenario, the series could go in the wrong direction for the Dodgers quickly.
Which version of Clayton Kershaw will show up?
In his Game 2 start against the Braves in the NLDS, Kershaw pitched eight scoreless innings while recording just three strikeouts. The majority of his outs came from groundballs. If he pitches like he did in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Dodgers could have two wins in the bag, especially if the lefty can get batters to swing and miss more. With that said, Kershaw has a discouraging postseason career — which is the biggest knock on his career.
Kershaw owns a career 4.08 postseason ERA, which is significantly higher than his career 2.39 regular season ERA. He gave up eight home runs in the postseason last year and has, generally, been hit hard in October. If this version of Kershaw shows up in the NLCS, the Dodgers could be in trouble because the Brewers have the offense to capitalize on a struggling starter, even someone of Kershaw’s stature; the Dodgers need their ace to deliver to return to the Fall Classic.
Will the Brewers offense perform to its capabilities?
The Brewers have one of the most talented lineups in Major League Baseball. Whether it be Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun, or Mike Moustakas, manager Craig Counsell has a high-octane order that can wreak havoc. But in their tiebreaker win against the Cubs, the Brewers scored just three runs and totaled 13 runs in the NLDS. If they want to advance to the World Series, their offense needs to be more productive in the NLCS.
The Rockies ace, Kyle Freeland, did not make an appearance in the NLDS, and while they did have some competent starters, the Rockies do not possess the starting rotation that the Dodgers do. With Kershaw, Ryu, Buehler, and Hill in place, the Dodgers have four starters who they can get at least five innings from and ultimately rely on to keep opposing offenses in check. Four runs a game will not get the job done for the Brewers against the Dodgers. They need Yelich, Cain, and Aguilar to produce on a more consistent basis.
Can the Brewers starting rotation keep up the heroics?
The biggest knock on the Brewers in recent memory has been their starting rotation. But in their tiebreaker game with the Cubs and NLDS series with the Rockies, the Brewers received superb outings from their starters. In the NLCS, they will be going up against a Dodgers lineup that features a number of prolific bats. Ranging from Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Matt Kemp, Max Muncy, to Cody Bellinger, among others, the Dodgers have the offensive firepower to take down any starting rotation.
Jhoulys Chacin was superb in the two outings he made last week, Wade Miley didn’t surrender a single run in his Game 3 outing, and Gio Gonzalez — who the Brewers acquired in late-August and recorded a 2.13 ERA in his five regular season starts with them — is well-rested. Plus, they were able to execute bullpen day to near-perfection in Game 1, winning 3-2 in 10 innings. But the Rockies were a young lineup with no true postseason experience. The Dodgers offense is a near-180 when compared to the Rockies in postseason play. And whether the Brewers can continue their success on the hill will be a pivotal factor in this series. Although they have an electric bullpen that features the likes of Josh Hader, Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel, and Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers cannot solely rely on their arms in the pen to win a seven-game series.
Prediction: Dodgers in seven
This NLCS matchup is a near-dead even series. It’s a battle of two teams who got hot at the right time, but who are also well-constructed ballclubs. With that said, the Dodgers will represent the NL in the World Series for a second consecutive season.
The Dodgers have a more experienced lineup and rotation than the Brewers. And even though the Brewers do have a stellar bullpen that can pitch five or six innings if necessary, they could run out of steam if they have to take on such a workload for the entire series based on their starting rotation having to go up against an order of the Dodgers’ caliber. The Brewers offense, which was underwhelming against the Rockies, is facing a better and more proven starting rotation that has pitched in the playoffs before. Experience isn’t the end-all factor, but having it can be crucial in a five- or seven-game series.
This series will go down to the wire. The Dodgers are hitting their stride, but there are still some questions concerning their pitching staff. The Brewers have a lockdown bullpen, but a lineup that hasn’t yet broken out. At the end of the day, the Dodgers will prevail in seven games.