While the upstart Milwaukee Brewers continue to make noise in a championship-caliber season, it is the old-guard Los Angeles Dodgers who have been forced into an identity change as the National League Championship Series shifts to the West Coast.
With the series tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Monday at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers will look to get their dependable starting pitching back on track. The offense has provided a late lift for the Dodgers in each of the first two games of the NLCS, ultimately rising to the occasion for a victory in Game 2.
But Milwaukee’s surprisingly leaky bullpen, outside of left-hander Josh Hader’s three brilliant innings in Game 1, has provided this series an unexpected twist. The Dodgers are batting .333 against Brewers relievers and have scored eight of their nine runs against the bullpen.
Yet the Brewers are still looking to unlock more parts of their game, namely NL MVP hopeful Christian Yelich, who is just 1-for-8 in the two games, although he has walked twice and driven in a pair of runs.
“It can’t get any closer after two games, right?” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s been two hard-fought games, two one-run games, tying run on base in scoring position to finish each game. So they’ve been about as close as they can be. We’re looking forward to the next chapter.”
While the Dodgers head into Game 3 with their best starter, Walker Buehler, on the mound, the right-hander is still just a rookie and he looked vulnerable in his Game 3 start of the NL Division Series against the Braves. In a span of nine pitches in that game, Buehler walked the pitcher with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Ronald Acuna Jr.
The Dodgers, though, prefer to think of Buehler (8-5, 2.68 ERA in 2018) as the guy who ended the regular season with a 1.55 ERA over his final 12 starts, while holding opponents to a .158 batting average in that stretch. He has faced the Brewers just once, giving up one run over seven innings on July 31, although Milwaukee came away with a 1-0 victory.
The Dodgers’ bullpen, though, is showing it can be there when needed. Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ruy pitched just 7 1/3 innings over the first two games, but the relievers got the job done by allowing just two runs over their 10 2/3 innings in Games 1 and 2.
It is the much-hyped Brewers bullpen that has a 6.97 ERA over the first two games, although Hader is expected to be available again for Game 3 after not pitching in Game 2.
“I think our (relievers) are taking it personal, as a challenge, because our guys are pretty good back there, too,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And so there’s not a whole lot said about them. But without those guys, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
The Brewers will have Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50) on the mound in Game 3, with the right-hander coming off an NLDS start against the Colorado Rockies, when he went five scoreless innings. He is 11-9 in 26 career appearances against the Dodgers (25 starts) with a 4.41 ERA.