After a couple days of wandering in the wilderness, baseball returns to our collective gaze tonight as the National League Championship Series gets underway. The Brewers get the honour of hosting the first couple games of the NLCS, hoping to jump out to an early series lead against the Dodgers. Tonight’s game starts at 8:09 ET.
Gio Gonzalez, a waiver wire trade acquisition from the Nationals, makes his first postseason start for his new club. Gonzalez last pitched on September 30, the final start in a pretty good 5 games for the Brewers. Across the 5 starts, he threw just 25.1 innings, but allowed only 7 runs on 14 hits, and while he walked 10, he also struck out 22. All 5 starts saw him allow 3 hits or less, which I’m sure pitching in front of one of the best defenses in the game doesn’t hurt.
While he started 32 games again this year, the left handed Gonzalez did not face the Dodgers at all. He doesn’t really have much of a history against any of the Dodgers batters, with the exception of Matt Kemp, as both have been around for quite a while. In 29 head to head matchups, Kemp has hit .333/.448/.625 with a pair of homers against Gio, so don’t be surprised to see Kemp, who gets most of his playing time against lefties lately, to feature prominently in the lineup tonight.
Left handed Ace Clayton Kershaw heads to the mound for the Dodgers. He was passed over for game 1 of the NLCS in favour of Hyun-Jin Ryu, but they have flipped for the NLCS, with Ryu scheduled to go tomorrow. Kershaw will look to build off his very strong start in game 2 against the Braves, where he threw 8 shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits and walking none. It was easily the best pitching performance of the postseason, as no other starter has even pitched into the 8th inning.
Kershaw made 2 starts against the Brewers this year, winning one on 6 innings of 2 run ball, and losing one while allowing 3 unearned runs and one earned over 6 otherwise solid innings. Probable NL MVP Christian Yelich hit a home run off Kershaw in both of those games, and is 9-17 with those 2 home runs in their career head to head matchup. A Yelich AB is always worth watching, but the head to head matchup against Kershaw should be good one in this series.
The Dodgers boast arguably the best offense in the game, as their 118 wRC+ from the season (not including pitchers) was well ahead of the second place Red Sox (111), and quite a bit better than the 104 that the Brewers put up. The Dodgers average 0.3 more runs per game than the Brewers over the course of the season.
The Brewers collectively put up 89 Defensive Runs Saved this year, second most in baseball and comfortably ahead of the 31 saved by the Dodgers. UZR sees a similar gap, although with the Dodgers being below average at -17.6 and the Brewers at 24.9.
If you’re looking for a place where the Brewers have the absolute advantage over the Dodgers, look no further than the bullpen. The Brewers boast 4 relievers who can shut down games, headlined by arguably 2018’s best in Josh Hader. The Dodgers face a lot of uncertainty in getting the ball to Kenley Jansen, who himself isn’t as good as in years past either.
The key for the Brewers is to use that bullpen to its fullest advantage while scrapping together some runs with a good series from Christian Yelich in the middle of it.
For the Dodgers to win, their offense and starting pitching will have to give them early leads and avoid battles of the bullpen.
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