The Dodgers are heading to their third consecutive National League Championship Series after defeating the Braves on Monday afternoon. They’re doing so, largely, because of their starting pitching. They also got some timely home runs from the offense.
They are set to face the Brewers, who dispatched the Rockies with relative ease. Their starting pitching, however, wasn’t a huge reason why. Sure, the Brewers’ starters allowed no runs to the Rockies, but the starters also threw just 12 2⁄3 innings in the three games. Jhoulys Chacin had the longest outing (five innings) of the trio. Admittedly, the Brewers went the bullpen game route in Game 1, but there’s a reason why: Their rotation is the weakest part of their team. If the Dodgers are going to have success against them in the NLCS, they’re going have to jump on the starting pitchers.
Presumably, Chacin will start Game 1 of the NLCS for the Brewers. He made an MLB-best 35 starts this season, but he averaged just 5.5 innings per start. In fact, the Brewers starting staff, on the whole, averaged just 5.2 innings per start this season. They pitched to a 3.92 ERA and 4.32 FIP. They were also 19th in MLB in K-BB% (11.6) and were near the bottom of the league in ground ball percentage (40.7 percent). By comparison, the Dodgers’ starters had a 3.19 ERA & 3.42 FIP (both 2nd-best in MLB), a 19.6 K-BB% (3rd-best) and an MLB-best 45.9 percent ground ball rate.
After looking at those numbers, it’s a fair question to ask how the Brewers were so good in 2018. It’s because they have an elite bullpen. Using the metrics above, the Brewers had a 3.47 ERA (5th-best), 3.57 FIP (4th-best) & 18.1 K-BB% (4th-best) and a 46.8 GB% (3rd-best). With guys like Josh Hader (ugh), Jeremy Jeffress, Joakim Soria and a fixed Corey Knebel, it’s not surprising the Brewers are leaning on their bullpen. Teams have ridden an elite bullpen to a World Series championship before — as recently as 2015. The only weakness in their ‘pen is the fact they can be a bit wild (9.5 BB%). Other than that, it’s going to be difficult to score off that quartet and the rest of the Milwaukee relievers.
It would behoove the Dodgers to jump on the starting pitching early and as often as possible. The Dodgers were the most patient team in baseball (10.2 BB%) and the Brewers’ starters induced the 8th-fewest swings outside the strike zone, so that could be a problem for the Brewers. But if the Milwaukee starters get into trouble early, Craig Counsell won’t hesitate to turn to the bullpen.
It’s going to be an interesting matchup overall. The Brewers won the most games in the National League this season. That didn’t happen by accident. They have the offense (led by potential NL MVP Christian Yelich) and the superior bullpen that could carry them to the World Series. If the Dodgers want a great shot of returning to the World Series, the offense will have to a) show up and b) get after the Brewer starting pitching. We’ll see if Manny Machado, Justin Turner and friends are up to the task.