The Milwaukee Brewers won four more games than the Dodgers during their 163-game regular season. They boast the presumptive National League most valuable player in Christian Yelich and a dominant bullpen. They drubbed the Colorado Rockies in a three-game sweep, giving up only two runs, and will carry an 11-game winning streak into Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers on Friday night at Miller Park. They haven’t lost since Sept. 22.
But Yasiel Puig is confident. And, according to Puig, so are his teammates as they sit four victories away from a return to the World Series.
“We’re here for the sixth straight time,” Puig said after the Dodgers’ workout at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday evening. “Last year, we lost in the World Series and we want to get back in the World Series. I hope so. And my team is 100% sure that we’re going past [the Brewers] to the World Series again.”
Puig made his declaration matter-of-factly. He and his teammates appeared relaxed. They threw a football around before the workout, which included fielding drills and batting practice. A simulated game with relievers Josh Fields and Dylan Floro pitching to Chase Utley, Kyle Farmer and Andrew Toles concluded the evening’s work.
It looked like a team accustomed to playing this deep into October, and the 27-year-old Puig has been one of the few players around since they began their six-year division title streak in 2013. Last season, the right fielder was a key contributor in the Dodgers’ run to the World Series, batting .414 with a 1.169 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the NLDS and NLCS. This year, he was three for nine with four walks to help dismiss the Atlanta Braves in four games. The Brewers will present stiffer competition.
The Dodgers claimed the season series between the teams 4-3, and took two of three games when they visited Milwaukee in late July. Manny Machado’s arrival coincided with the three-game series. Since then, the Dodgers added a few contributors — David Freese, Brian Dozier and Ryan Madson among them — and are peaking. But so are the Brewers, who are competing to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1982. Puig acknowledged their accomplishments. But his confidence did not waver.
“We’re going to face a good team and Milwaukee knows they’re going to face a good team,” Puig said. “We’ve been ready since the first day we reported in Arizona for spring training. And now here we go.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did not waste time in dispelling any drama regarding the Game 1 starter Friday. Roberts said Monday that Clayton Kershaw would start the game in Milwaukee. Who starts after Kershaw, however, remains a mystery. Asked Wednesday who will start after Kershaw, Roberts said the club hadn’t decided. The choices are Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler.
“There are a lot of factors,” Roberts said before the team’s workout at Dodger Stadium. “Because you’re obviously, potentially, both guys can throw two games…There’s obviously the obvious things that people can look into. We’re looking into a lot of different things that I don’t really care to speak to.”
Buehler started Game 3 against the Braves on Sunday. He gave up five runs in a second inning in which he walked the pitcher on four pitches with the bases loaded before surrendering a grand slam to Ronald Acuna Jr. It was a startling breakdown for the rookie, who had a 1.55 earned-run average in his previous 12 starts, but he recovered and held the Braves scoreless in his other four innings.
Ryu was given the Game 1 start against the Braves over Kershaw and tossed seven scoreless innings. The performance dropped the 31-year-old left-hander’s ERA to 1.02 in 10 home starts. Game 3 will be played at Dodger Stadium.
“We understand that he has pitched better at home this year than on the road. But Hyun-Jin is a veteran, so regardless of where we decided he pitches, we expect him to throw the baseball well. Again, we haven’t made that decision yet, but we’re confident that whenever he pitches he’s going to pitch well.
Roster changes likely
Roberts said he envisions the Dodgers possibly making a “couple” changes to the NLCS roster. One possibility: replacing a reliever with a position player to deepen the bench and counter the Brewers’ aggressive bullpen use.
Start times announced
Major League Baseball announced the start times for the entire series, should the NLCS go seven games.
Game 1 at Milwaukee, Friday, 5 p.m. PDT
Game 2 at Milwaukee, Saturday, 1 p.m. PDT
Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, Monday, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4 at Dodger Stadium, Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, Wednesday, 2 p.m.
Game 6 at Milwaukee, Oct. 19, 5:30 p.m. PDT