Brandon Woodruff
Getty Images

Brewers edge past Dodgers to claim 1-0 lead in NLCS

17 Comments

Thanks to Brandon Woodruff‘s unexpected home run and a strong showing from Milwaukee’s bullpen, the Brewers hung on for a nail-biting 6-5 finish over the Dodgers to take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS on Friday.

Clayton Kershaw‘s eight-inning shutout in Game 2 of the NLDS may have put a temporary moratorium on the old “regular season ace falters in the postseason” narrative, but Friday’s performance resurrected it in full. The southpaw labored through a 23-pitch first inning, during which he surrendered a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, struck out Christian Yelich following a labored 10-pitch at-bat, then induced back-to-back groundouts from Ryan Braun and Jesus Aguilar to end the inning.

By the end of the second, however, the Dodgers had gained a slight advantage. Manny Machado lined a 115.6-MPH home run into the Brewers’ bullpen for a one-run lead, while Kershaw breezed through a 10-pitch inning after inducing a hit from Manny Piña and three more groundouts. The Brewers, on the other hand, had yet to advance a man past second base and decided to pull starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez for right-handed reliever Brandon Woodruff in the third.

It turned out to be a fortuitous decision: Woodruff retired Kershaw, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner in order, then launched a home run over the center field wall to tie it up, 1-1. He’s one of just three relievers to hit a postseason homer in the last 94 years, and the only left-handed hitting pitcher to go deep against a left-handed pitcher.

Things only escalated from there. Cain laced another single into center field, followed by a seven-pitch walk to Yelich. Ryan Braun popped a slider into foul territory for the first out of the inning, but two consecutive mistakes by Yasmani Grandal — a passed ball, then a catcher’s interference call — allowed Milwaukee to load the bases. By the time Hernan Perez came up to bat, all the Brewers needed was a sac fly to take the lead, 2-1. Kershaw finished off the inning with a called strikeout against Mike Moustakas, but the damage had already been done.

Woodruff cruised through another scoreless inning after striking out the side on 14 pitches, and in the bottom of the fourth, the Brewers continued their hit parade against Kershaw. Piña drew a leadoff walk from the lefty, then scooted around to third base on Orlando Arcia‘s line drive to center — and a misplayed catch attempt from left fielder Chris Taylor. The final nail in the coffin for Kershaw? A two-RBI single from Domingo Santana, who plated another pair of insurance runs and boosted the score to 4-1 in the Brewers’ favor.

Los Angeles skipper Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw from the mound after three innings of six-hit, five-run ball, marking the starter’s shortest postseason outing to date. His replacement — veteran righty Ryan Madson — fared little better. He retired Cain and Yelich in order, then gave up another RBI single to Braun before bringing the fourth to a close.

The next several innings passed with little fanfare. Dylan Floro and Pedro Báez combined for two scoreless frames against the Brewers, while Josh Hader singlehandedly shut down the Dodgers for three straight innings, backed by a five-run lead after Aguilar unloaded a solo home run in the seventh.

The momentum finally started to shift in the Dodgers’ favor by the eighth, when they loaded the bases against an ever-revolving carousel of relievers — Xavier Cedeno, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress — and put up a three-run spread on two RBI singles from Machado and Matt Kemp. They finished the inning just two runs shy of a tie, but managed to mount a last-minute rally in the ninth after Cain dropped a would-be game-ending line out, giving Taylor the time he needed to sprint to third base and plate the Dodgers’ fifth run of the night.

Turner, meanwhile, wasn’t quite so lucky. Down by one with two outs, he battled through a six-pitch at-bat against Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel, then struck out swinging on a 97-MPH fastball to cement the Brewers’ 6-5 win.

The teams will meet again on Saturday, when left-hander Wade Miley goes up against fellow lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu for Game 2 of the NLCS at 4:09 PM EDT. Both pitchers held their opponents scoreless in their last postseason appearances and will try to extend their respective streaks as the Brewers look for a 2-0 lead in the series and the Dodgers attempt to pull even with their first Championship Series win.

Brewers on the brink of their first pennant in 36 years

Getty Images
2 Comments

A series that had swung back and forth twice already swung back in Milwaukee’s favor last night with a convincing win. That it was convincing — it was not at all close after the second inning — is a key factor heading into today, as Craig Counsell has his bullpen set up nicely to shorten the game if his Brewers can get an early lead.

Josh Hader — who, if you are unaware, has not allowed a run and has struck out 12 batters in seven innings of postseason work — did not pitch yesterday or in Game 5. As such, he’s had three full days off. Given that this is a win or go home day and, if they win, he’s guaranteed two more days off before the World Series, he’s good for two innings and could very well go for three. That’s not what you want if you’re the Dodgers.

But it gets worse. Jeremy Jeffress pitched last night but it was only one pretty easy inning, so he could go two if he has to. Corey Knebel pitched an inning and two-thirds but he could probably give Counsell an inning of work if need be. Joakim Soria didn’t pitch at all yesterday. Between those guys and the less important relievers, all of whom save Brandon Woodruff are all pretty fresh, the Dodgers aren’t going to have any easy marks.

But the thing is: Counsell may not need to go that deep given that Jhoulys Chacin, their best starter of the postseason, gets the start. So, yes, in light of that, you have to like the Brewers’ chances tonight, and that’s before you realize that the home crowd is going to be louder than hell.

Not that the Dodgers are going to roll over — it’ll be all hands on deck for them with every pitcher except for Hyun-Jim Ryu available, you figure — but if they’re going to repeat as NL champs, they’re going to have to earn it either by bloodying Chacin’s nose early and neutralizing the threat of facing Hader and company with a lead, or by marching through the teeth of the Brewers bullpen and coming out alive on the other side.
NLCS Game 6

Dodgers vs. Brewers
Ballpark: Miller Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers:  Walker Buehler vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Breakdown:

The most important part of this breakdown — the stuff about the Brewers’ pen — has already been said and, I presume anyway, the starters here will have the shortest of leashes. Chacin’s will be longer, as he has not allowed a run over 10 and a third innings in his first two postseason starts, making him the Brewers’ defacto ace. Every inning he goes tonight makes things much, much harder for the Dodgers once he’s gone as it means Milwaukee will be able to rely more and more on Hader and Jeffress, so the Dodgers had best get to him early.

Buehler has come up weak so far this postseason, having allowed nine runs in 12 innings, including surrendering four runs on six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory. Still, it’s not hard to remember how dominating he was in the second half of the season. If that Buehler shows up and can keep things close, we’ll have a ballgame. If L.A. finds itself in an early hole once again, theirs will be the tallest of orders.