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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.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 4, Braves 1: 🎶Stop me, oh-oh-oh, stop me . . .stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before . . .🎶

Sorry. Just waylaid by this Braves bullpen. Nothing’s changed. It’s enough to make a shy, bald, Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder. Me watching the game: 🎶 I drank one. It became four. And when I fell on the floor I drank more.🎶

Christian Walker hit a two-run homer in the seventh off of Chad Sobotka, who, didn’t get an out and who has given up five runs in his last two outings. The Diamondbacks have won four straight.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: Patrick Corbin took a one-hitter into the eighth inning and ended having allowed only one run on two hits while punching out nine. Not literally, though. If he punched out nine guys he’d probably be arrested.

Tigers 9, White Sox 7: Detroit ends a five-game skid. Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera led the way, with the former going 3-for-4, the latter 2-for-4 and both driving in two runs. Dustin Peterson and Grayson Greiner also each drove in two, but they don’t get to be characterized as “leading the way” because baseball has a pretty strict seniority system and if you get too loosey-goosey with it you got a big hassle with the union and I’ve already had too many fires to put out this week, OK?

Blue Jays 7, Twins 4: Randal Grichuk, who got all “play the game the right way” on Tim Anderson on Wednesday, hit a homer. After which he gently laid his bat down parallel to the base line, assumed an expression which suggested mild pleasure but copious humility and then stoically ran the bases at a speed which reflected his obvious reverence for players past, present and future. I’m assuming at least.

Here’s what he actually said:

“I’ve never been one to flip a bat or do anything like that. I run out of the box always. I’ve hit some pretty far homers and I’ve sprinted out of the box like it was a wall-scraper. It’s just who I am. (Other) guys are different.”

Someone give that guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernández hit home runs too. No word on whether Grichuk silently judged them afterwards. The Jays took three of four from the Twinkies.

Royals 6, Yankees 1: Homer Bailey — Homer Bailey? — yes, Homer Bailey held the Bombers to one run over six. Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn hit dingers. New York got four singles in the game. That’s it. I guess with the Red Sox and Cubs being off someone had to step up and satisfy the “big money teams stinkin’ up the joint” quota for the evening.

Dodgers 3, Brewers 1: Before the game Dave Roberts announced that Julio Urías would head to the bullpen after this start since the Dodgers will soon be getting a couple of veteran pitchers back. Then Urías goes out and tosses six one-hit shutout innings while striking out nine. There are teams that would kill to have the sort of depth that would allow this kid to be shuffled off to long relief after a start like this. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy homered in a winning cause. Christian Yelich homered in a losing cause.

Orioles 6, Rays 5: Joey Rickard drove in the winning run in the 11th inning with an RBI double. To even get him up to bat required Chris Davis to hit a two-out RBI single, and I wonder what the odds of that happening were. RIckard himself was no sure bet to play the hero here after coming into the game on an 0-for-15 skid, but he reached base five times and drove in two on the night. Dude used to be a Ray, too. Or at least in their system. Baltimore swiped him from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Here’s another killer for the Rays: Tommy Pham, who was 4-for-5 with two driven in, was on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied but . . . got picked off while trying to steal third base. Ouch.

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Ryan McMahon homered twice and had five RBI. Kyle Freeland pitched six scoreless innings but had to leave with a blister, so that’s worth watching. Colorado was won four in a row.

Mariners 11, Angels 10: The M’s had a 10-2 lead heading into the seventh and totally blew it when the Angels scored seven runs on seven hits in the seventh and got a David Fletcher homer in the eighth to tie things up. Seattle rallied in the ninth, though, with pinch hitter Jay Bruce singing in Mitch Haniger for the winning margin. Before all of that messiness the M’s bottom of the order, in the form of Omar Narváez and Ryon Healy, combined to drive in nine. Healy homered twice. Narváez hit a three-run shot. Speaking of shot, all the pitchers in this one probably should’ve been.

Reds 4, Padres 1: Joey Votto led off in this came, which was odd, and he hit a homer to start the game. Padres starter Chris Paddack said after the game that he “thought I could blow a heater by him.” Bless his heart. Fernando Tatís Jr. led off too, which is also new, and went 2-for-4. Tucker Barnhart and Jesse Winker also homered, helping Cincy snap a four-game losing skid.