After a couple day break, baseball is back as we kick off the League Championship round of the playoffs tonight in Milwaukee. The National League Championship Series features the NL Central Division Champions, the Milwaukee Brewers, hosting the NL West Division Champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best of seven game series with the winner winning the NL pennant and representing the league in the World Series.
The American League side of the bracket features the AL East Champions, the Boston Red Sox, hosting the defending world champs, the winners of the AL West Division Title, the Houston Astros. With the winner taking home the AL pennant and heading to the World Series. The playoffs have been great up to this point, and in my estimation, we have come down to the best four teams. For today’s pick, I will look at game one of the NLCS between the Dodgers and the Brewers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are in Milwaukee Friday for game one of the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Dodgers are looking to make it back to the World Series for the second consecutive season after coming just short of taking home the world title last season. For the Brewers, they just made their first postseason appearance in seven years but have been red-hot as they have won eleven straight games and since the start of September are 23-6.
Starting for the Dodgers is their ace, Clayton Kershaw (9-5 2.73 ERA) and for the Brewers, it is the newly acquired Gio Gonzalez (10-11 4.21 ERA). The Dodgers are big -152 road favorites. The game total over-under is set at seven and a half runs. First pitch is scheduled for 5:09 PM PST from Miller Park in Milwaukee.
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the Brewers will start Gio Gonzalez tonight in game one. The Brewers brought Gonzalez over from the Washington Nationals just before the September 1st roster deadline, and Gio has pitched well for the Brewers in limited action. In September, Gonzalez made five starts and went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA and the Brewers won every game.
The Brewers have kept a tight leash on Gio though as he has yet to pitch more than six innings in any one game for Milwaukee. But really that has been the case for most of this Milwaukee staff as they are leveraging the power of their strong bullpen down the stretch. If the Brewers can get four or five strong innings out of Gonzalez tonight, they are likely to chalk that up as a success.
The Dodgers will turn to Clayton Kershaw tonight to steal home field advantage away from Milwaukee in game one. Kershaw missed long stretches again this season as injuries continue to hinder his Hall of Fame level career. And even when he did pitch early in the season, he didn’t pitch all that well as he had a losing record of 4-5 through July.
Kershaw did turn it up down the stretch though as he went 5-0 with an ERA right around three runs in August and September and the Dodgers won his last eight starts of the year. Kershaw pitched a gem in game two of the divisional series against the Atlanta Braves. In that one, Kershaw pitched eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits along the way. The Dodgers are hoping that Kershaw can steal away home-field advantage in game one and put this series away in game four or five in LA.
Clayton Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason have been well documented. In the regular season, this guy looks like the reincarnation of Sandy Koufax. In the playoffs? He is 8-7 with a 4.08 ERA in twenty career starts. In the NLCS, where it really matters, he is even worse as he is 2-4 with a 4.75 ERA in seven starts. For some reason or another, when the bright lights are on, Kershaw struggles.
I can’t remember a time a team as good as the Milwaukee Brewers got this little respect. The Brewers ended the regular season with the best record in the National League and have home-field advantage in this series, yet nobody outside on Milwaukee is giving them much of a chance in this series. The Dodgers snuck into the playoffs, having to play a one-game playoff to keep them out of the wild-card game, and all the sudden two weeks later people think this team is a lock to beat the Brewers? I don’t buy it.
Did I mention that the Brewers forgot how to lose down the stretch and have been the best team in baseball for about six weeks now? Oh, and they are at home! Do I think the Brewers dominate this series? No. But to see everyone backing LA in this series is shocking. Have they forgotten how Kershaw has pitched deep in the playoffs? Guess so.
Well, I am making a stand in this one. I think Kershaw will struggle some as he tends to do in the playoffs and the combination of Gio Gonzalez and their elite bullpen will hold the Dodgers bats back. I am not sure exactly how they get the job done but this team hasn’t lost in weeks, and I don’t expect them to lose tonight either. Give me the Milwaukee Brewers as big home underdogs at +147 tonight in game one!