2018 NLCS Prediction & Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Last Updated: 2018-10-10

The Los Angeles Dodgers are four wins away from following in the footsteps of the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals. Oddly enough, so are the Houston Astros, but the Dodgers are certainly hoping that they can truly follow that blueprint and actually win that elusive World Series. The upstart Milwaukee Brewers won just their second playoff series since 1982 to get to the National League Championship Series and would love nothing more than to knock the league’s largest payroll out of the playoffs.

The Brewers only have three playoff series wins in franchise history, though the franchise only dates back to 1969 when the Seattle Pilots went 64-98-1 before moving to Milwaukee for the 1970 season. The Dodgers have six World Series wins and a tie, which came in 1890 as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.

Sharp money has poured in on the Dodgers in terms of the series price. This series opened in the -148/128 range and has been bet up to -160/140, as there aren’t a lot of Brewers supporters out there in the marketplace. I would actually expect this number to keep climbing higher, so I would advise those with Dodgers futures to hold off on hedging or not even hedge at all. If you’ve got a Brewers future, hopefully you already took a piece of the series price.

The Rockies had probably the worst offense of any playoff team and it showed in the series against Milwaukee. The Dodgers have one of the best, so this series will definitely be a much greater challenge for Milwaukee’s pitching staff, which has been met with a lot of skepticism all season long. The Brewers offense is solid, but the Dodgers have a better pitching staff, especially because the Rockies had to burn Kyle Freeland and German Marquez in hopes of avoiding the Wild Card Game and then in the Wild Card Game that they couldn’t avoid.

But, we know the playoffs to be a high-variance environment and there may not be a smarter and savvier organization in baseball than the Brewers. They’ve put together the right scouting reports and pitching plans to have success this season without an ace and have maximized the value of their bullpen by leveraging relievers well. There is something of a Little Engine That Could element to this series as the Brewers, who have to be creative and imaginative, take on a Dodgers team that can simply spend money to cover up any shortcomings.

After all, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Brewers opening day payroll came in at $90,964,571 and the Dodgers came in at $187,318,213 and that was before the midseason acquisition of Manny Machado.

The Brewers will have home field advantage and had the best record in the National League by virtue of Game 163. The fun starts on Friday night at Miller Park.

Here is the schedule for the series:

Game 1 @ MIL: Friday October 12, 8:09 p.m. ET

Game 2 @ MIL: Saturday October 13, 4:09 p.m. ET

Game 3 @ LAD: Monday October 15, TBD

Game 4 @ LAD: Tuesday October 16, TBD

Game 5 @ LAD: Wednesday October 17, TBD*

Game 6 @ MIL: Friday October 19, TBD*

Game 7 @ MIL: Saturday October 20, TBD*

A lot of blanks with the times, but we do know that we’ll have both series on Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, if we get a couple of long series. A lot of blanks with the pitching rotations as well. Clayton Kershaw will go in Game 1 for the Dodgers on Friday. Beyond that, we really don’t know how these teams will set everything up. We’ll see another Hyun-Jin Ryu start in this series for the Dodgers, along with starters for Walker Buehler and Rich Hill.

The Brewers could bullpen a game or two, with Jhoulys Chacin, Wade Miley, and maybe even Gio Gonzalez getting starts. The seven-game format will force teams to dig a little deeper into their rotations, which could create a problem for Milwaukee. The Dodgers easily had the deepest rotation in the NL during the season.

Offense

The Dodgers hold a pretty clear-cut advantage in this department over the Brewers. Los Angeles posted a .333 wOBA and a 111 wRC+ during the season. The Brewers posted a .322 wOBA and a 99 wRC+. One of the primary keys to the series against the Braves was that the Dodgers drew a ton of walks and hit a lot of home runs. The Dodgers hit eight home runs in their series against the Braves and drew 27 walks. The eight home runs tied the Astros, who did play one fewer game, but the 27 walks were the most by eight over the Yankees in the first round.

The Dodgers simply wear down pitching staffs. With Milwaukee’s heavy reliance on the bullpen, this will be an important element of the series. The Dodgers were also even better in the second half after they added some pieces via trade and got some in-house talent back on track. They posted a .344 wOBA and a 119 wRC+ after the All-Star Break. Los Angeles scored six runs in each of the three wins over the Braves. This is a legitimate offensive machine with few weaknesses and a lot of position player depth for when pinch hitters are needed and things of that sort.

Milwaukee’s offense also took a leap in the second half with some of their transactions and adjustments. The Brewers were fourth in wOBA at .335 and posted a 107 wRC+. Milwaukee had a 23.5 percent K% for the season, but cut it down to 22.2 percent in the second half while increasing the team walk rate a little bit.

The Brewers were clearly a better all-around offensive team than the Rockies and didn’t have the Coors Field effect to deal with. In this matchup, there really isn’t any single area in which the Brewers have an edge over the Dodgers. Milwaukee stole 49 more bases for the season, but the Dodgers had 44 steals to Milwaukee’s 45 in the second half, so the Brewers ran a lot less as the games grew in importance.

Offensive production against lefties will be a big deal in this series for the Brewers because they’re going to run into Kershaw, Ryu, and Hill. The Brewers were 10th in wOBA at .320 and posted a 98 wRC+, so they were a couple percent below league average against southpaws. The Dodgers posted a .317 wOBA, but because of the park factors where they played, they posted a 101 wRC+. Los Angeles may see Miley, Gonzalez, and will certainly see Josh Hader, but they won’t be inundated with as many lefties as the Brewers will and certainly not for the same amount of plate appearances.

That will be the ultimate key to this series. How will the Brewers do in their weaker split? Against right-handed pitching, Milwaukee was eighth in wOBA at .323 with a 100 wRC+. It isn’t a big difference, though, there is a big sample size difference because teams will face a right-handed pitcher about 70 percent of the time on average. To be fair, the Brewers did strike out a lot less against lefties and also had a higher BB%. They just hit for less power and had a lower BABIP against lefties.

Advantage: Los Angeles

The Dodgers were the best offense in the National League this season and it really wasn’t all that close, especially in the second half. They work pitchers extremely well and will be playing in a pretty good park for power on the road in this series.

Pitching

The Brewers had some occasional walk issues with their starting rotation, but did a strong job of limiting the long ball. We’ll see how they fare against the Dodgers in that department. The NL Central was very low on power output this season.

Milwaukee was fourth in home runs with 218, but the next highest NL Central team was the Cardinals in 10th with 205, followed by the Reds in 20th with 172, the Cubs in 22nd with 167, and the Pirates in 25th with 157. The Brewers did do some really impressive things with their pitching staff, though. They did something that every organization should do – limit a pitcher’s worst pitch. Eno Sarris of The Athletic ($) covered this in detail, but I’ll give a cliff notes version here.

The name of the game is power, right? Well, the Brewers, who don’t have an ace in their starting rotation, made it a point to look at where their pitchers were having the most problems with hard contact and told them not to throw the ball there. Getting everybody to buy into these new-fangled analytics can be difficult, but compelling evidence goes a long way. If your fastball down in the zone is getting rocked by left-handed batters, throw it up and away instead. If your changeup is a bad two-strike pitch, throw it early in the count. It seems so simple, but the Brewers perfected it.

That’s why they’ve been able to get to this point with a bunch of guys that are in line for ERA/xFIP regression. They’ve put an emphasis on contact management and it has worked.

That being said, sometimes aiming the ball to a certain part of the plate can lead to walks. Milwaukee’s 9.0 percent BB% was the highest of any playoff team other than the Braves and Cubs. Well, the Braves are gone and they were bounced by the Dodgers. It isn’t just the rotation either, as the starters posted an 8.8 percent BB%. It is also the bullpen, which posted a 9.5 percent BB%.

You can cover up a lot of shortcomings with a 27.6 percent K% as a bullpen, which was third to the Yankees and Astros, but the Dodgers are going to really drive up the workload of an already overworked bullpen. Remember that article about Fatigue Units? Jeremy Jeffress topped that list. He was the only Brewers pitcher to give up runs in the series against the Rockies and his fastball velo took a tumble. Josh Hader is an elite weapon, but how often can the Brewers deploy him in a seven-game series with only two travel days?

With a team like the Dodgers that works so many counts, this series is pretty good for bullpenning, but you have to worry about how much effect it has as the series drags on. I think the Brewers are in a much tougher spot across the board in this series.

The Dodgers weren’t tested much by the Braves. Walker Buehler gave up the Ronald Acuna grand slam that accounted for four of the eight earned runs allowed by the staff in the series. It was a rare hiccup for Buehler. Kershaw and Ryu both threw shutout efforts and Hill struggled with his control by issuing five walks and two earned runs.

The Kershaw playoff questions still remain based on his body of work in the postseason. Those will get even louder if the Brewers can do some damage in Game 1. The Dodgers were fortunate to get two long outings from Kershaw and Ryu because it allowed them to cover up their only weakness, which is middle relief. In the four games, the bullpen only had to work 10.2 innings and Alex Wood was the only reliever to allow a run.

Caleb Ferguson saw a spike in his velocity and the Dodgers got great relief work from Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen in their two appearances. This is a bullpen that was a little bit iffier at the start of the season, but some converted starters and some trades bolstered things quite a bit.

Advantage: Los Angeles

While the Brewers have an exceptional bullpen, it is going to be pushed to the limit in this series and that’s why it’s tough to like Milwaukee’s chances in this department. They can play the mix and match game really well, but it gets increasingly hard to have each individual pitcher hold up his end of the bargain. Dave Roberts has enough depth to protect his starters if need be, but the fact that the Dodgers can get more innings from the rotation could end up being the different in this area.

Intangibles

The travel is rather interesting here. The Brewers haven’t played in the Pacific Time Zone since early August. The varying start times will make it feel even weirder. Meanwhile, the Dodgers just played in Atlanta, so they’ve had a little bit more exposure to time changes. The Brewers did go to Denver, but only for one game, had a party, and came back.

While the Dodgers throw a ton of money at their problems, let’s not pretend that this is an organization devoid of analytical thought. Andrew Friedman was the architect of the Tampa Bay Rays for several years and many of his assistants are from numbers-driven front offices. The Brewers have one of the best analytics departments in baseball, if not the best one, but the Dodgers are going to be well-prepared for this series also.

Pick: Los Angeles in 6

The Dodgers are just too good. They’re too good for a lot of teams. We’re probably destined for a 2017 World Series rematch, which would be the first rematch in the World Series since 1977-78 when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in back-to-back years. Milwaukee is an awesome story and a phenomenal testament to analytics and how they can aid in getting the most out of a position group, but I’m concerned at how the Brewers will fare as this series goes along.

If you have a Dodgers future, I’d likely let it ride. If you have a Brewers future, I’d probably hedge. You could wait and see if Clayton Kershaw struggles in Game 1 and the Brewers can snag the first game, but I truly believe that the Dodgers do advance here. It’s a bummer as I’ve adopted the Brewers as my National League team and they’re my team with the Indians out, but I just don’t think that they have the firepower here. Besting a severely flawed Cubs or Rockies team is one thing. Besting this current version of the Dodgers is another.

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