With the MLB playoffs set to get underway on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally have a Wild Card Series opponent: the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers needed some help up until the very last day, but nonetheless, they are in the playoffs for the third straight year. On the other side, the Dodgers are in the postseason for the eighth straight year after cruising to another division title and earning the top seed in the National League. Now, let’s take a look at how the two sides match up in what is being anticipated as the most lopsided Wild Card Series.
The Dodgers’ offense is anchored by Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, and assisted by a collection of talented and versatile bats. Lefties Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have shown positive signs recently despite overall disappointing seasons. Veterans Justin Turner and AJ Pollock are riding hot streaks into the postseason. Catcher Will Smith leads the team in OPS, and has proven to be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball at times.
As for Milwaukee, they’ll be hoping that outfielder Christian Yelich hits like his former MVP self. Despite a modest .205 batting average, Yelich still leads his team in runs created, followed by infielder Keston Hiura. The Brewers have been aided by the production of veterans Ryan Braun and Jedd Gyorko as well. Daniel Vogelbach, usually a DH, has been a nice midseason addition, hitting four home runs with 12 RBI in 19 games since coming over from the American League.
The Dodgers offense has been significantly better than Milwaukee’s this season. They have considerable advantages in both runs per game at 5.82 versus 4.12 and OPS at .821 versus .702. Dodgers hitters account for a 6.5 offensive win probability added, while Brewers hitters have been a liability at -4.6 WPA. With the depth and potential of Los Angeles, they certainly have the edge on offense.
The Dodgers already announced that Walker Buehler will start Game One and, consequently, Clayton Kershaw will start Game Two. Buehler has been dealing with finger blister issues, but he was effective in his most recent tune-up start, logging four scoreless innings against the Oakland A’s. Kershaw is coming off one of his best statistical seasons in the last few years, with six wins and a 2.16 ERA to lead the staff. Ideally, the Dodgers want Buehler and Kershaw to swiftly take care of Milwaukee so there will be no need for a third game. If things don’t go as planned, however, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, or Julio Urias will be ready. All three youngsters have had very successful seasons and look more than capable of taking a playoff rotation spot.
The Brewers were dealt a costly blow when Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes suffered an oblique injury, likely ending his season. Burnes has been a breakout star for Milwaukee, leading the team with a 2.11 ERA in his first year as a full-time starter. Their ace, Brandon Woodruff, will probably start Game One, followed by Adrian Houser. Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA) has been solid and durable. Meanwhile, Houser (1-6, 5.30) doesn’t have great numbers but has eaten up innings all year. Game Three would figure to be a bullpen game, but either Josh Lindblom or Brett Anderson may get the start. As a whole, the Brewers have the third-worst starter ERA of National League playoff teams, and they’ll have their hands full with the Dodger bats.
As for the back end, Dodgers’ relievers combined to form one of the best bullpens in baseball this year. Their 2.74 ERA is by far the best in the National League. Blake Treinen, Adam Kolarek, and Dylan Floro headline the group that has anchored the Dodgers late in games. Although closer Kenley Jansen has had a couple of ugly outings, his overall body of work has been very positive. Unless a number of pitchers start underperforming, the Dodgers’ bullpen shouldn’t cause manager Dave Roberts too many headaches.
Milwaukee’s bullpen is also elite. They have the fourth-lowest ERA and the highest strikeout rate in baseball at 31.4%. Closer Josh Hader has converted 13 saves in 15 opportunities. Breakout seasons from Devin Williams and Freddy Peralta have helped as well. Williams, who is still regarded as a rookie, has become a lights-out set-up man. In 27.0 innings, he conceded just one earned run and struck out 53 batters, resulting in a FIP of 0.86, easily the best among relievers in both leagues. With a wipeout changeup that he throws 53% of the time, he’s been one of the most dominant relievers in the game. With Brent Suter and Eric Yardley also in the mix, the Brewers’ bullpen has been able to hold leads and keep them in games.
What to watch for
This series will most likely come down to whether the Brewers’ starting pitchers can limit the Dodgers’ offense in the early innings. The first three innings will be key. Los Angeles will be looking to set the tone and make an early offensive statement. Milwaukee will hope to get through the Dodgers’ batting order smoothly and hopefully push a couple of runs across, then hand it over to the bullpen.
Perhaps the most fascinating matchup of the series will be the Brewers’ dominant relievers versus the top Dodgers’ hitters. Josh Hader has been dominant in his brief experience facing Los Angeles. The rookie Devin Williams has been untouchable, so it will be interesting to see how manager Craig Counsell deploys him. The last thing the Dodgers want is to find themselves down and needing runs against arguably the two best relievers in baseball.
Another intriguing matchup is Christian Yelich versus Clayton Kershaw. Yelich will be hoping to rebound from a forgettable season and prove that he and his team belong in the playoffs. Kershaw is banking on his string of good starts to propel him to postseason glory. Yelich has fared well against Kershaw in his career, going 9-18 with two home runs. The success of these two will be vital to each team in this series and beyond.
Top to bottom, the Dodgers are far and away the better team in this series. Simply put, they’ve lost only one series all year and Milwaukee is a team below .500. Anything can happen in a three-game series, but the Dodgers should win this one fairly easily. Game One from Dodger Stadium will start Wednesday night at 10:08pm ET.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images