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Dodgers, Brewers face off in NLCS Game 1

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I don’t think it’s an insult to the Rockies, Cubs and Braves to say that this is the NLCS matchup folks were hoping for as the regular season wound down. Milwaukee was thought of as a Wild Card team for almost all season but the Cubs’ late stumble and, more significantly, the Brewers’ late surge shined a light on their excellence and, let’s face it, their entertaining nature. It’s a fun Brewers team to watch and it’s nice to have some new blood playing for a ticket to the World Series.

The Dodgers are not new blood, of course, having made the NLCS for the third straight year and the postseason for the sixth straight. It’s not a David vs. Goliath battle of course — Milwaukee had the better record and has home field advantage — but there is definitely an upstart vs. veteran vibe to all of this, made all the more fun when you think about how much Major League Baseball and Fox would prefer the Dodgers to advance for ratings and marketing purposes even if they’d never admit it.

As for the baseball, the best-of-seven format is going to challenge each of these teams a good bit and force them to show us things they haven’t showed us for a good while. The Brewers only got 12 and two-thirds innings from their starting pitchers in the NLDS. Down the stretch and in the postseason they have been relying on the pen a lot and have been relying particularly on Josh Hader, who turned in 27 multi-inning appearances during the regular season and did so again in Game 1 of the NLDS. Given the high leverage of the postseason, and the fact that Hader is getting close to having doubled the number of big league innings he pitched last year, and given that, unlike in the regular season when Counsell preferred not to pitch him on consecutive days which is not a great option now, it’s worth wondering if fatigue will catch up to him and, for that matter, the rest of the Brewers bullpen.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, did not need all that much to beat the Braves. Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw tossed eight innings and only needed 85 pitches to do it in Game 2 of the NLDS. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will get the nod in Game 2, tossed seven shutout innings in NLDS Game 1. Dave Roberts will have to work harder in this series and force his bullpen to work harder too, while the Dodgers top starters will have to get through the Brewers twice if they are to make it to the World Series.

As for the offenses, there is no mystery here: each of these teams dig the long ball, with the Dodgers leading the National League in homers with 235 and the Brewers coming in second with 218. It’s not the deepest observation in the world, but it’s a fact that whichever team does a better job of keeping  opposing hitters in the park is the one most likely to make it to the Fall Classic.

NLCS Game 1

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw vs. Gio Gonzalez
Breakdown:

Kershaw didn’t get the Game 1 start in the NLDS, but after tossing eight scoreless innings against Atlanta in Game 2, any questions about whether or not he’s ready for the postseason were answered. As was the case when he faced the Braves, he’ll be facing the Brewers on extra rest, with six non-pitching days between starts. Starting him in Game 1 likewise sets him up for a Game 5 in Los Angeles.

Gonzalez hasn’t pitched in nearly two weeks, with his last start coming on the final day of the regular season. During that regular season, he compiled a 4.57 ERA in 27 starts with the Nationals, but was excellent in five starts for the Brewers down the stretch, making five starts with a 3-0 record and a 2.13 ERA across 25 and a third innings. That being said, don’t look for Gonzalez to pull an old school performance here, as Craig Counsell has made it clear that he will not be managing his pitching staff conventionally during the postseason. Indeed, no Milwaukee starter has worked more than five innings in a the postseason so far and he turned Game 1 of the NLDS into a bullpen game.

We’ll know no later than a week from tomorrow which of these teams will be playing in the World Series. Until then, let’s all enjoy the best the National League has to offer.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.