Column: Dodgers have some wild cards that need to come through against Brewers
Oh, their wonderful bullpen! Ah, that great Christian Yelich! Hey, look at the mustachioed dude going down that slide!
We interrupt all this lovely talk about the Milwaukee Brewers to reveal the real truth about the upcoming National League Championship Series.
It’s not about the Brewers. It’s all about the Dodgers.
There’s no bit of momentum in the streaking Brewers that the Dodgers can’t stop. There’s nothing the effective Brewers relievers can do that the Dodgers can’t swat. There is no part of the formidable Brewers batting order that the Dodgers can’t smother.
The Dodgers are deeper, broader, more versatile, more battle tested and, honestly people, just a better baseball team.
That is, as long as they’re the Dodgers.
Problem is, sometimes they’re not the Dodgers. Sometimes they leave scads of runners in scoring position. Sometimes they walk the bases drunk. Sometimes they blow up late.
Sometimes, as in Game 3 of the division series against the Atlanta Braves, they do all of this all at once.
Yes, the Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games by a margin of 54-16, but when asked this week to confirm the prevailing theory that the Dodgers are playing as well as they’ve played all year, Max Muncy demurred.
“There’s still more to go,’’ he said.
He’s right, there is. Even in this stacked Dodger deck, there are wild cards, players whose performance could be tremendous or devastating, players walking a tightrope that will be stretched even longer in a series without home-field advantage against an underdog team with nothing to lose.
The Dodgers might be a better team, but they’ll need these wild cards to assert themselves for them to be the winning team.
How can a player who just pitched eight innings of two-hit, scoreless baseball in a playoff game be considered a wild card?
Because that happened against the vastly overmatched Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS, with Kershaw running on the angry fumes of being passed over for the Game 1 start.
The Dodgers aren’t snubbing him again, slotting him to start the NLCS for them in Game 1 on Friday in Milwaukee, which means all the pressure is on him again, and the worries about him before last week will resurface.
He still has a 4.20 ERA in his last five starts of the regular season. He still began these playoffs with a 4.35 career postseason ERA.
And then there’s the issue of Yelich, the probable National League MVP. He has been hitting everyone well this year, but has been pounding Kershaw forever. Yelich is 9 for 17 in his career against Kershaw for a .529 average with two homers and three RBIs, so, yeah, that matchup will be a nifty one.
It says here Kershaw has reclaimed his status as the ace and should be starting Game 1. But he is going to need to pitch like it.
Just when everyone had almost forgotten about his .143 average with a record 17 strikeouts in last year’s World Series, here come the postseason struggles again.
Bellinger didn’t have a hit in 11 at-bats against the Braves while botching a grounder in the outfield that led to the one big Braves inning.
Dave Roberts, Dodgers manager, doesn’t sound worried, noting he is seeing a much better approach from Bellinger, who drew four walks against the Braves and took some of their pitchers into deep counts.
“I still feel Cody is in a good place,’’ said Roberts. “I think he’s in a considerably better place mechanically and mentally than he was last year.’’
They haven’t needed him yet, but they will. If he is going to break this postseason slump, this would be a good time to start.
Same old Puig, right?
He’s been both brilliant and boneheaded, collecting dramatic hits and making dramatic mistakes.
In the NLDS he scored a couple of runs and collected three hits in nine at-bats, but he also foolishly ran the Dodgers out of one inning when he was caught stealing and laid back on a fly ball that he nearly didn’t catch.
During those Game 2 shenanigans, he was chatted up by Roberts in the dugout. Afterward, when asked about the lecture, Roberts jokingly left the interview table as if he didn’t hear the question.
Fans love the emotion that oozes from good Puig. But the Dodgers still wince at the damage that can be caused by bad Puig.
Which is it going to be? A series could depend on it.
This time last year, Grandal barely played, relegated to the postseason bench behind the hot Austin Barnes. This year, he’s slugged his way into the playoff lineup, but since then has struggled to duplicate his regular-season success.
He batted .077 with one hit – a home run -- in 13 at-bats against the Braves. But he’s a wild card for more than just his bat. It’s about his arm.
One of the forgotten stats about the Brewers is that, in an era when few try to manufacture runs, they led the National League in stolen bases with 124. Meanwhile, during the regular season, Grandal threw out 28% of attempted base stealers, ranking fourth among regular National League catchers.
It will be a matchup worth watching. It is a matchup the Dodgers need to win.
Walker Buehler … not
Ah, leave the kid alone.
He threw about a dozen lousy pitches in the NLDS Game 3 loss in Atlanta, but recovered to retire the next 10 hitters, then afterward stuck around to face the tough questions and promise to learn from his brief lack of focus.
He’ll be fine.
The bullpen … again.
The extended NLDS starts of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw – they each lasted at least seven innings – took a lot of pressure off a bullpen that has yet to be truly postseason tested.
The Brewers have approximately three times as many good hitters as the Braves. The bullpen will be tested now.
The group, which a couple of months ago nearly set the season aflame by losing four straight games in the opponents’ final at-bat for the first time in franchise history, was needed only for a few high-leverage situations.
In one, Ryan Madson worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam. In another, Alex Wood allowed an eventual game-winning homer to Freddie Freeman. As for Kenley Jansen, he was only needed for one save, although he did pitch two scoreless innings and his velocity reached 96 mph, so maybe he’s back.
We’ll find out. We’ll find out a lot of things in the next weeks and, no offense to the Brewers and their bullpen and their MVP and that big slider named Bernie, but this one’s all about the Dodgers.
Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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