Last night, while watching the Wild Card game, my wife said something like “whoever wins this one gets into the playoffs.” It was not a question, nor was it a comment made out of ignorance, as she knows baseball very well. It was a value judgment about what constitutes the playoffs in a cosmic sense. She, like a lot of people I think, just does not think a baseball team’s fate should be decided by a single game and has a hard time getting her head around the concept. To her, a real playoff series is, in fact, a series.
I get that. I think the Wild Card is great fun — at least when the team I’m rooting for is not in it — and I like that we have it, but I do appreciate just how arbitrary it is. There is something far more fair about a best of five and, of course, even more fair about a best of seven. It also allows for the sort of building drama and the ability for a team to make adjustments which a single knockout game simply does not. Contrary to what my wife says the Wild Card is, in fact, the postseason, but she’s right that tonight is when the playoffs truly begin.
NLDS Game 1
Yesterday Craig Counsel said that the Brewers will make the series opener a bullpen day, and today he announced that Brandon Woodruff will get the first crack at the Rockies. Woodruff is a swingman who has made four starts this year so it’s not likely that he’ll be a one-inning opener. Still, he won’t be in there that long and it means that the Rockies will be facing fresh power arms pretty steadily throughout the late afternoon and early evening. Thing to watch: just how worked the bullpen gets today, because tomorrow the Brewers are going with Jhoulys Chacin on short rest, so they’ll likely need to deploy relievers quite a bit there too.
In Senzatela, the Brewers are facing a young pitcher who has never seen postseason action. He is one who, however, made his big league debut last year right here in Miller Park and shut the Brewers out for five innings. Bud Black will certainly want him to go as long as he can given that the Rockies are just two days removed from a 13-inning Wild Card game.
The offensive keys here should not be mysteries to anyone. Yelich and Arenado lead the charge for two teams which are coming into this series hot. Milwaukee won seven straight games to finish the regular season and made it eight straight by beating the Cubs in the tiebreaker on Monday. Colorado, won nine of its last 10 to force a one-game playoff, lost that one, but won the Wild Card Game.
NLDS Game 1
Clayton Kershaw is fully rested but he will not be taking the mound in Game 1. Crazy? Seems so, but (a) it keeps everyone in the same order they’ve been in, which may keep Ryu in a better rhythm; (b) Kershaw is not quite the same guy in 2018 as he’s been in years past; and (b) it does not deprive the Dodgers of using him twice if the series goes five games anyway, as he’d line up for a Game 5 on regular rest. Something to talk about? Sure. Something worth reading too much into. Nah, not really. I mean, Ryu pitched great down the stretch, posting a 1.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 53/5 K:BB over 52 and two-thirds innings since coming off the disabled list in mid-August. He may not be the ace in name, but he is the ace as measured by recent dominance.
The real story here is the old playoff hands vs. the newcomers. The Dodgers are in the postseason for the sixth straight season and all but a handful of their players know what playoff pressure is all about. For the Braves, the only guy who has been here before is Freddie Freeman. The Braves finished 18 games below .500 last year and have not seen the postseason since 2013, when they were sent home by these Dodgers in the NLDS. Mike Foltynewicz was still in the Astros system and hadn’t played above Double-A when that went down, but now he’s the Braves ace and gets Game 1 duties. His 2.85 ERA, 202/68 K/BB ratio and a 1.082 WHIP in 183 innings qualifies him for that. The only question now is how he’ll handle the pressure.
The Dodgers won the season series 5-2. They have a better offense than the Braves by just about every measure. The Braves have had superior defense, but will be missing regular shortstop Dansby Swanson, which could definitely hurt when they’re in the field. The Dodgers had the better bullpen. They had the better rotation too. On paper, L.A. is probably the better team.
But they’re not playing on paper. They’re playing at Dodger Stadium at 8:30 tonight.