The Los Angeles Dodgers went 43-17 during the regular season, playing to the best record in baseball. Yet, in the first round of the playoffs, they have to play the 29-31 Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series. And while on paper it looks like an easy win for the Dodgers, bad teams beat good teams in three-game series' all the time. While this may turn out to be an easy win for the Dodgers and the blow out the Brewers in the first two games, that's nowhere near a guaranteed outcome.
The Brewers are bad offensively. Christian Yelich is having a horrible season, at least by his standards, and sophomore phenom Keston Hiura hasn't been much better. Leadoff spark plug Lorenzo Cain opted-out of the season. These are certainly the not Brewers the Dodgers barely beat in the 2018 NLCS. This is an assembly of mostly average hitters having bad years.
With Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes unable to pitch in the series due to the an oblique injury and ace Brandon Woodruff unable to pitch until game 2, the Milwaukee rotation does not look too fearsome. Adrian Houser, Brett Suter, and Brett Anderson could all make starts, but game 1 and 3 are likely to be bullpen games. Speaking off that bullpen, it's a good one, lead by Josh Hader and rookie sensation Devin Williams, who has a filthy change-up and struck out 53 of the 100 batters he faced this year.
Based on this information, the best case scenario for the Dodgers is to score early, and a lot. The weakest pitchers the Dodgers are going to see are more than likely going to be in the first few innings of the game. The Dodgers don't want to enter the late innings trailing and having to deal with Hader Williams, and even Corey Knebel. If the Dodgers can score 3-4 runs over the first 5-6 innings of the game, based on what we've seen from Milwaukee's lineup this season, it should be a recipe for success.
Of course, since this is baseball, and this is OCTOBER baseball, all that means nothing. Walker Buehler's blister could return. Clayton Kershaw could hang a slider to Ryan Braun. Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger could be unable to lay of low breaking balls. The Dodgers' bullpen, which has been great this seasons, could implode. Anything could happen.
Because of the unpredictability of baseball, and especially baseball in small sample sizes, the Dodgers need to play the sort of baseball they've been playing all season. Just dominant baseball, the kind that clobbers bad teams, like the Brewers. The Dodgers hopefully will score early. If they don't, oh well, they only had the best run differential in baseball after the 7th inning this season. Obviously, the Dodgers probably haven't seen a bullpen as good as Milwaukee's this season, but they've absolutely FEASTED on bullpens this season.
Los Angeles just needs to not do anything wrong. Obviously, right? What I mean is that they cannot make stupid, careless mistakes, like errors, expanding the strike zone during crucial at-bats, striking out more than usual, and issuing a disproportional amount of walks to the Brewers. Obviously, Dave Roberts needs to not manage poorly, especially with regards to the bullpen, but he's both been better at that this year and he has many more quality options than he has in past years.
Look, obviously, the Dodgers could blow this. Of course they could. It's a three-game series. It's baseball. It's October baseball. However, under the leadership of Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, and Kenley Jansen, this team is determined to win. They have played their best and most intense baseball down the stretch, even though there is no reward for it. This team is ready, and they have a favorable match-up. That's really all they can do at this point.
Photo Credit: Dodgers Twitter