MILWAUKEE -- So far, the National League Championship Series is following a familiar pattern to Brewers fans, which is either discouraging or a reason for hope, depending on how far back one has followed the team.
In 2011, the last time Milwaukee made it this far, the Brewers won Game 1 of the NLCS at home but went to St. Louis tied at 1-1, then lost two of three on the road and returned to Miller Park needing to win both games to stay alive. Shaun Marcum didn't give them a chance in Game 6, and it was over. This year's club will hope for better from Wade Miley when he faces the Dodgers on Friday night.
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But there's another must-win scenario that offers more hope. In 1982, when Milwaukee was in the American League Championship Series and it was a best-of-five series under a 2-3 format, the team lost the first two games in Anaheim and returned home facing three must-win games. The Brewers won, of course, and advanced to Milwaukee's only World Series since the Braves days.
Here are three things that will get them back:
Pitching has not been the problem for the Brewers in this series. Their starters have a 1.29 ERA through the first five games against the Dodgers, which would tie for ninth-best all-time in the LCS round with the 1995 Braves (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) and the '69 Orioles (Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer). Yes, that stat deserves an asterisk, since no team has ever asked less from its starters through the first five games of an LCS than Milwaukee has with the 14 innings delivered so far, including Miley's unprecedented one-batter appearance on Wednesday.
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So, expand it to the whole staff. The Brewers and Dodgers have been remarkably even in pitching so far in the series. Brewers pitchers have a 3.02 ERA and a .220 average against, and the Dodgers have a 2.81 ERA and a .219 average against. The 61 strikeouts by Brewers pitchers so far tied the record set by the 2013 Tigers for most whiffs through five games of an LCS; Max Scherzer & Co. struck out 12 in Game 6 of that series to set the all-time LCS record with 73 strikeouts but lost that game to the eventual World Series champion Red Sox.
So, pitching is not the problem.
Again, the raw numbers are equal -- 16 runs scored apiece. But Los Angeles has come through more often in the clutch, particularly against the vaunted Milwaukee relief corps (10-for-43 with runners in scoring position and an .807 OPS after the sixth inning compared to the Brewers' 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position and .592 OPS after the sixth inning).
And the Brewers are getting little from some of the hitters they count on most. Christian Yelich is 3-for-20 in the NLCS including 0-for-7 with five strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Mike Moustakas is 2-for-21. Jesus Aguilar is 4-for-18 including 0-for-5 with four strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Ryan Braun is 5-for-21.
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Is it the Dodgers' pitching? Is it just the way it is in October? Is it because the Brewers' hitters are pressing?
"I'm sure it's a combination of all of those things," Braun said. "I think the other team deserves some credit. They have a great pitching staff. It's obvious they have a very talented staff. But we just picked a bad time to go through a rough stretch offensively. We're going through a period where there's a lot of guys not seeing the ball well. You combine all of those factors and we wind up in the position we're in offensively right now."
2. The pitching is in a good place. Capitalize.
Initially, Miley was to pitch Game 5 on short rest opposite Clayton Kershaw before either a bullpen game or Jhoulys Chacin on short rest in Friday's Game 6. But Miley's surprise one-batter-and-done decoy, which essentially amounted to a side session and gave Brandon Woodruff a couple of favorable matchups after he took over, positioned the Brewers with their two best starting pitchers fully rested and ready for Game 6 and, they hope, Game 7.
And while they obviously would have preferred to win Game 5, by navigating the game without using Corey Knebel for the first time in October and avoiding a third consecutive day of Josh Hader while giving Jeremy Jeffress another day off, the Brewers' primary relievers are well positioned to cover a significant chunk of Game 6 and be available for a Game 7 if they can get there.
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The Dodgers, meanwhile, used their ace in Game 5 and closer Kenley Jansen in Games 4 and 5, though the latter appearance spanned only four pitches for one out. Jansen has not allowed a run to the Brewers in 20 appearances.
"We're going back home, to me, in a position of strength," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "We've got Wade and Jhoulys lined up to begin the games, and I guess Jhoulys could be involved in Game 6 if we need him. But we've got two starters lined up, and we've got a bullpen that's going to get a day off and some of our key guys are going to get multiple days off and be ready to go in a two-game stretch where we can use them.
"We're in a good spot, man."
3. Win one.
Thank goodness this analysis is free. But here's what we're getting at:
Every player who talked in the Brewers' clubhouse in the wake of their 5-2 loss in Game 5 -- which left Milwaukee trailing in a series for the first time this postseason -- said the team would draw on its charged games down the stretch to handle the pressure of Game 6 and a potential Game 7. Remember that Milwaukee trailed the Cubs in the NL Central by a season-high six games as late as Aug. 28, and trailed by five games entering play on Sept. 3.
Playing as if the games were must-win, the Brewers closed the gap on the Cubs by winning 20 of their final 26 games in the regular season, including a pressure-packed Game 163 at Wrigley Field that was the difference between having to face the Rockies in a do-or-die Wild Card Game or rest up for the NLDS.
"We've faced that same urgency over the last three weeks," Braun said. "Our postseason started with 10-12 games to go during the regular season. We've been through this before."
Yelich made a good point, however. There is no longer any safety net.
"We're right back in familiar territory," he said. "It's a little higher stakes, because if we didn't win those games in the regular season, we had the Wild Card. These, you really have to win. It's win or go home now. We have no other choice. All our focus is on winning Game 6."