Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Four X-factors to decide who wins NL pennant

MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- A complicated, fascinating National League Championship Series reaches the only logical conclusion on Saturday, when the Dodgers and Brewers play the first NLCS Game 7 since 2012.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- A complicated, fascinating National League Championship Series reaches the only logical conclusion on Saturday, when the Dodgers and Brewers play the first NLCS Game 7 since 2012.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

It's certainly true that one baseball game can turn on just about anything, and it's often something or someone unforeseen that wins or loses a single game. But even so, a few unknowns stand above the rest when it comes to the most likely determining factors in tonight's game.

With that in mind, MLB.com's crew at the series presents four questions that we believe will determine the outcome of Game 7.

Joe Trezza: How will the Brewers use Josh Hader?
It is the question that's loomed over every one of the Brewers' games this October, and it'll loom larger than ever tonight, with Hader on three days' rest and Milwaukee in a must-win situation. In what's been a constant chess match of an NLCS, Hader has been manager Craig Counsell's ultimate trump card, able to be deployed at any point in a game and for multiple innings.

The X-factor of this series now becomes the X-factor of Game 7, so much so that there was buzz suggesting Hader should start, ensuring the Brewers don't fall behind without using him. He won't, officially. Jhoulys Chacin is scheduled to start. But given the trickery that Milwaukee pulled with Wade Miley in Game 5, nothing is off the table. What's guaranteed is that Hader will be ready for both best- and worst-case scenarios, whether Chacin finds trouble early or is spotted an early lead.

Hader well-rested for must-win finale

"You'll see him [tonight]," Counsell warned, acknowledging the one thing we all do know.

NLCS gear: Dodgers | Brewers

Video: NLCS Gm6: Counsell on having Hader for Game 7

Todd Zolecki: Will Manny Machado show why he should be a $300 million man with a big Game 7?
Machado has drawn plenty of unwanted attention in the NLCS. He did not run hard down the first-base line on a play in Game 2. Machado said in a FS1 interview that he will never be "Johnny Hustle" and that running hard and sliding into bases is not his "cup of tea." He then made contact with Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in Game 4, sparking a heated exchange and clearing both bullpens and benches. Afterward Christian Yelich called Machado a "dirty player." Machado then went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 6 as Milwaukee fans showered him with boos.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Machado on Game 6 loss, handling the boos

Machado can repair some of the damage with a big performance in Game 7. This is why the Dodgers got him, isn't it? For moments like this? This is why Machado will be one of the most coveted players in free agency this offseason, right?

Video: Dodgers, Brewers are ready for Game 7 of the NLCS

Ken Gurnick: Is rookie Walker Buehler ready for The Moment?
The stuff is electric, the confidence is off the charts and he stepped up big-time in Game 163 to clinch a division title. But Game 7 is an entirely different animal, and Buehler is a rookie. He hasn't pitched like one, with the most glaring exception being the five-run second inning of Game 3 in the NL Division Series at a noisy SunTrust Park in Atlanta.

Miller Park was loud in Game 6, and the Brewers gave fans an assist for energizing their dugout. The noise also seemed to have gotten to Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, so Buehler's composure will be tested. Pitching at home in Game 3 against Chacin, Buehler struck out eight but allowed four runs in seven innings, including a homer to Orlando Arcia, a triple to Travis Shaw and doubles to Ryan Braun and Erik Kratz. There's a reason why it's been 11 years since the last rookie (Daisuke Matsuzaka) started a Game 7.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Walker Buehler discusses starting Game 7

Adam McCalvy: Can the Brewers' offense do that again?
"We've got to do a little better job offensively," Counsell said after another quiet hitting performance in Game 5, an understated way to sum up the story of the series from Milwaukee's point of view. The Brewers came home 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position in the NLCS, with Yelich in a 3-for-20 funk, Mike Moustakas 2-for-21 and Aguilar a quiet 4-for-18.

Then came the first inning of Game 6, when Milwaukee tallied five hits -- including three in a row with men in scoring position -- to take a 4-1 lead in a game that never got closer than three runs the rest of the way. By the time the day was done, the Brewers had 11 hits to match their series high from a win in Game 1, with all of those hitters playing significant roles.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Brewers plate 4 runs in the 1st inning

Can Milwaukee carry it over against Buehler?

"Really, since Game 1, I thought it was the first time we really did a heck of a job getting out pitch to hit a lot of the night," Counsell said.

"It's encouraging for us to move into tomorrow," Braun said on Friday night.

Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Walker Buehler, Josh Hader, Manny Machado

Dodgers-Brewers G7: Lineups, matchups, FAQs

Buehler, Chacin to square off in rematch of Game 3
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy and @kengurnick

MILWAUKEE -- The Dodgers and Brewers are taking this National League Championship Series the distance with a decisive Game 7 on Saturday at Miller Park, the winner going to the World Series, the loser going home. Eight months of work boiled down to one night.

The game will be a rematch of Game 3's starting pitchers, rookie Walker Buehler for Los Angeles and veteran Jhoulys Chacin for Milwaukee. The Dodgers are 3-4 all-time in Game 7s, the Brewers 0-1, while the home team is 6-3 in NLCS Game 7s.

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- The Dodgers and Brewers are taking this National League Championship Series the distance with a decisive Game 7 on Saturday at Miller Park, the winner going to the World Series, the loser going home. Eight months of work boiled down to one night.

The game will be a rematch of Game 3's starting pitchers, rookie Walker Buehler for Los Angeles and veteran Jhoulys Chacin for Milwaukee. The Dodgers are 3-4 all-time in Game 7s, the Brewers 0-1, while the home team is 6-3 in NLCS Game 7s.

View Full Game Coverage

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET on FS1

Here are possible starting lineups and answers to the most frequently asked questions about Game 7:

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

What do the starting lineups look like?
It's tougher than taking an LSAT, but here goes:

Dodgers
1. Joc Pederson, LF
2. Justin Turner, 3B
3. Manny Machado, SS
4. Cody Bellinger, CF
5. David Freese, 1B
6. Yasiel Puig, RF
7. Chris Taylor, 2B
8. Austin Barnes, C
9. Walker Buehler, P

Brewers
1. Lorenzo Cain, CF
2. Christian Yelich, RF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Travis Shaw, 2B
5. Jesus Aguilar, 1B
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
7. Erik Kratz, C
8. Orlando Arcia, SS
9. Jhoulys Chacin, SP

Who are the starting pitchers?
Dodgers: Buehler pitched better than his Game 3 line (four runs, seven innings) looked, and he gets another chance in a rematch with Chacin. Four of Buehler's innings were scoreless, but he also allowed four extra-base hits -- a homer to Arcia, a triple to Shaw and doubles to Braun and Kratz. All factored in the scoring. His stuff is electric and his confidence is off the charts, but it's a Game 7 on the road and will be an acid test for the rookie who was rattled in Atlanta in the NL Division Series.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Walker Buehler discusses starting Game 7

Brewers: From innings eater to playoff ace, that's the journey Chacin has taken this year. And now he gets the ball for Milwaukee with the season on the line. How long will the leash be for Chacin? Probably minimal, given what's at stake and how aggressively the Brewers have deployed their relievers this October, when less was at stake. This is a winner-take-all, so it's possible Chacin might only pitch until the first sign of trouble.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Chacin discusses starting pivotal Game 7

But that's not a reflection on how effective Chacin has been this postseason. Quite the opposite. The Brewers' most durable starter in the regular season, he is unscored upon across 10 1/3 innings this October, the workload split between two starts. Chacin shut out the Dodgers for 5 1/3 in his last outing, Milwaukee's 4-0 Game 3 win in Los Angeles.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Buehler, Chacin set to face off in Game 7

NLCS gear: Dodgers | Brewers

How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Dodgers: Falling behind early in Game 6, Dave Roberts managed his bullpen thinking about Game 7. He didn't use closer Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez or Ryan Madson, and he gets another pretty good high-leverage arm with Game 5 winner Clayton Kershaw available for relief duty.

Brewers: It won't technically be a bullpen game, but semantics aside, it very well could end up that way. The Brewers will be even more hyper-aggressive deploying their relievers in Game 7's do-or-die setting, and they are perfectly set up to do so after winning Game 6 handily. Their 7-2 margin ensured they didn't have to use Josh Hader, meaning the fireman will be on three full days of rest and no restrictions. That plays completely into Craig Counsell's game plan

Video: NLCS Gm6: Counsell on having Hader for Game 7.

Should Milwaukee grab an early lead, Counsell would likely call on Hader and ride him as far as he can. And behind Hader, the Brewers are set up well. Jeremy Jeffress is coming off a scoreless outing. Joakim Soria will be rested after not pitching in Game 6. And Corey Knebel has been dominant this postseason, Friday's 1 2/3-innings effort providing the latest example. Knebel is likely the only member of the usual late-inning crew who might need to be used at all delicately.

"Best-case scenario for us," Counsell said. "You'll see [Hader on Saturday], for sure."

Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Dodgers: Roberts said it's all hands on deck.

Brewers: Corbin Burnes could be limited after throwing two innings Friday, and it may be a push to ask Knebel for five outs again. But if they have to, the Brewers will. It's win or go home.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Burnes retires Kemp to force a Game 7

Any injuries of note?
Dodgers: The one possibility is Pederson, who was hit by a 96-mph Knebel pitch on the right wrist in the sixth inning. He remained in and finished the game, struck out in the ninth inning and apparently did not have X-rays taken, but that doesn't mean it won't swell up and be sore Saturday.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Pederson stays in after getting hit on hand

Brewers: No.

Who is hot and who is not?
Dodgers: After going 0-for-5 as mostly a decoy, Freese homered and doubled against Wade Miley. Machado has done the most damage for the Dodgers this postseason, but he responded to a hostile Milwaukee crowd with an 0-for-4 and two strikeouts. L.A.'s position player with the highest average in the series is Taylor at .350. Max Muncy has 10 strikeouts in 18 at-bats.

Brewers: Cain is back to fueling the Brewers from the top of their order, going 4-for-his-last-9. Yelich doubled Friday, but it marked just his first extra-base hit of this series. Milwaukee hopes big Game 6 performances by Aguilar (3-for-5, 3 RBIs) and Moustakas (RBI double) were signs of more to come.

More than anything, Friday marked a departure from what had been a series-long struggle for the Brewers: hitting with runners in scoring position. They went 5-for-16 (.313) in those spots in Game 6, after entering play 5-for-their-last-35 in those situations.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Aguilar records 3 hits, 3 RBIs in Game 6

Anything else fans might want to know?
This is the first Game 7 in Milwaukee since the 1958 World Series, when the Milwaukee Braves lost to the Yankees, 6-2. … The only previous Game 7 in Brewers history was a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. ... The last NLCS Game 7 came in 2012, when the Giants beat the Cardinals at AT&T Park, 9-0. ... The last time the Dodgers won consecutive NL pennants was 1977-78; coincidentally those are also their two most recent World Series losses prior to last year.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Walker Buehler, Jhoulys Chacin

Brewers cruise after early push, force Game 7

Club breaks loose with 4-run first before bullpen shuts down Dodgers
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell wanted energy from the Miller Park faithful. The Miller Park faithful wanted more baseball. Everybody got their wish.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 ET/7:09 CT on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell wanted energy from the Miller Park faithful. The Miller Park faithful wanted more baseball. Everybody got their wish.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 ET/7:09 CT on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

Shedding the offensive funk induced by the Dodgers' quality pitching in the first five games of the National League Championship Series, the Brewers busted loose for four runs in a nine-batter opening inning of Game 6 on Friday night, putting them well on their way to a 7-2 win over the Dodgers that bought a chance to play -- and for those fans to cheer -- another day.

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

Game 7 is Saturday night. The winner gets the Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

Four X-factors to decide NL pennant

"I can't wait until tomorrow. It's going to be a great day for us. I believe it," said Jesus Aguilar, who snapped out of his October funk to lead the way with three hits, two runs scored and three RBIs. "We'll just try to stay nice and quiet and play our game."

And the fans? Aguilar does not anticipate quiet.

"They showed they love us," he said, "and we showed what we can do."

What they did was match their series high for hits (11) set in a Game 1 win, led by Aguilar's three and two apiece from Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, who is hitting .316 in the postseason.

But to get to a tomorrow, the Brewers had to buck their recent postseason past -- and another dose of David Freese. This NLCS began just like the Brewers' last, in 2011 against the Cardinals; a split of Games 1 and 2 at Miller Park, followed by losses in two of the three road games to send the Brewers back to Milwaukee one loss away from elimination.

That time, Freese smashed a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 6, part of a four-run opening inning against Shaun Marcum that sealed Milwaukee's fate. This time, Freese did it against Wade Miley while making a rare start as a leadoff man, hitting the game's fifth pitch into the visitors' bullpen for a 1-0 Dodgers lead.

"There was an opportunity for us to get down," said catcher Erik Kratz. "We were losing, 1-0, that's not exactly what you're looking for with the crowd pumped up. But they stepped up, and they did not skip a beat. The crowd was electric."

Video: LAD@MIL Gm6: Brewers discuss NLCS Game 6 victory

The Dodgers felt it, too.

"The fans, the way they responded, whether it was the runs or the energy from the players -- it was really good energy tonight," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

So this time, unlike 2011, the damage stopped there. The Brewers answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning against Hyun-Jin Ryu, and while Freese delivered another RBI with a double in the fifth, he was double-switched out of the game after that and Milwaukee's fans with long memories could exhale.

By then, the lead was in hand.

Video: Dodgers, Brewers are ready for Game 7 of the NLCS

The Brewers entered the day 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position. Counsell hoped aloud that some crowd noise would help apply pressure to Dodgers pitchers, and whether it was the crowd or misses by Ryu or better at-bats by Brewers hitters, the result was 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position, with three of those hits coming in a row during a nine-batter first-inning rally that began with Cain's leadoff infield single.

Aguilar sparks Crew's tone-setting rally in G6

Aguilar and Mike Moustakas were a combined 6-for-39 (.154) in the NLCS, including 0-for-8 with six strikeouts with runners in scoring position, as Aguilar stepped to the plate with two on and two outs. They drilled successive doubles for a 3-1 lead. Kratz, 1-for-11 in Games 1-5, followed with a run-scoring single to make it 4-1.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Brewers plate 4 runs in the 1st inning

"After they jumped ahead on David Freese's homer, I thought it was incredibly important for us to answer back as quickly as possible, keep the crowd into it, keep the pressure off of us," said Braun. "To score four right there was very encouraging. I think it was inspiring for us for the rest of the game and encouraging for us to move into [Game 7]."

In the second inning, Christian Yelich laced his fourth hit of the NLCS -- and his first extra-base hit -- in his 22nd at-bat with a one-out double. When Braun followed with another double, it was 5-1, and the Brewers could begin mapping a pitching strategy to 27 outs -- plus 27 more outs on Saturday.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Braun belts an RBI double to right-center

It went like this: Miley for 13 outs, Corey Knebel for five, Jeremy Jeffress for three and rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes for six at the end of the game, when the Brewers tacked on two critical insurance runs on a wild pitch and another Aguilar RBI that kept lefty relief ace Josh Hader rested in the 'pen.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Burnes, Knebel, Jeffress on 'pen's succes

That combination, which notably didn't include Hader, set the Brewers up nicely behind their best starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, in Game 7. Hader will be well-rested after not appearing in Games 5 or 6.

"Best-case scenario, for sure, for us," Counsell said.

Unused in Game 6, Hader well-rested for finale

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Outs > Runs: It's been a fascinating series for armchair managers, and Game 6 was no exception. In the fifth inning, pinch-hitter Brian Dozier snapped Miley's streak of eight batters retired in a row by taking a four-pitch walk. When Freese cut the Dodgers' deficit to 5-2 and Miley walked Max Muncy on four more pitches to bring the tying run to the plate with one out, Counsell decided it was time to tap the bullpen and called for Knebel, who has served as a sort of middle-inning "closer" for the Brewers since a restorative 10-day break in late August and early September completely turned his season around. Knebel drew the Dodgers' two most dangerous right-handed hitters, Justin Turner and Manny Machado, and retired them both. Turner flied out to center field and Machado, who was booed lustily all night, struck out on a foul tip.

Knebel right in middle of Counsell's maneuvers

The next critical decision involved Knebel in the bottom of the inning, when Alex Wood walked Travis Shaw leading off the frame and hit Kratz with two outs ahead of eight-hole hitter Orlando Arcia. Counsell sent Domingo Santana to the on-deck circle, but Roberts sensed a bluff and was right. When Los Angeles intentionally walked Arcia to load the bases, Counsell called back Santana and sent up Knebel, who had no at-bats on his ledger in college, the Minor Leagues or the Majors, because unlike many prospects to begin their careers as starting pitchers, he's long been a reliever.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Knebel tosses 1 2/3 shutout relief frames

Knebel struck out, but that kept him in the game to pitch a scoreless sixth as Counsell pieced together those outs with a Game 7 in the back of his mind.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Knebel dicusses his at-bat in Game 6

"Our motto out there is, 'Anybody, anywhere, anytime,'" Knebel said. "We're ready to go. So starters get as much as they can get done … and you come in and finish the rest. That's our job, and we did it pretty well tonight."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Aguilar wasn't running out of the batter's box on a fly ball down the right-field line leading off the seventh inning against Kenta Maeda, and he had to scramble to second base for a double. The Dodgers challenged after one replay showed Aguilar might have briefly lost contact with the bag as he slid in, but after the replay review, it was determined the call would stand.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Aguilar beats throw to second, call stands

That was a huge call, because Aguilar took third on Arcia's groundout and scored with two outs when Maeda bounced a wild pitch past Yasmani Grandal, who had just entered the game to catch, pushing the lead back to four runs. That, in turn, allowed Hader to sit, and the Brewers covered the rest of the game with Burnes.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Aguilar races home on Maeda's wild pitch

"It was pretty awesome, just to be given the opportunity to come up and join this team," said Burnes, whose Major League debut was a two-inning save in Miami on July 10. "To be in this spot, playing [for] the World Series, it's pretty special. I can't wait to see what the atmosphere is like tomorrow."

Video: NLCS Gm6: Burnes retires Kemp to force a Game 7

SOUND SMART
The home team has gone 30-25 in winner-take-all games in best-of-seven postseason series, including 11-5 in the LCS. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, 32 teams have forced a Game 7 at home by taking a must-win Game 6. In 20 of those 32 instances (63 percent), that home club also won Game 7 and the series.

Milwaukee ready for its 1st Game 7 in 60 years

The balance of power has tilted more in favor of the home team since the LCS round expanded to best-of-seven in 1985. During that time, home teams winning Game 6 to force Game 7 have taken the series 14 of 17 times (82 percent). Just last year, the Astros beat the Yankees in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS in Houston to advance to the World Series, but in the Fall Classic, the Dodgers won Game 6 in L.A. before falling to the Astros in Game 7.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Brewers discuss heading to NLCS Game 7

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kratz, playing for his seventh big league team (Phillies, Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, Pirates, Yankees and Brewers), got a huge surprise before Game 6 when a group of college friends showed up at Miller Park decked out in some of his previous uniforms. Kratz embraced them in a pregame bear hug, then welled up after the game, saying he had no idea they would fly in from all over the country.

Kratz fans wear jerseys of his previous teams

"You've got a guy who's been struggling, grinding it out for 17 years," said one of those friends, Joel Daly. "All of us should take a lesson from that, right?"

Video: NLCS Gm6: Kratz hugs friends who rock his jerseys

HE SAID IT
"That was loud. The fans, they did what they think they needed to do. They did it tonight. I think it [put] on a little pressure and that was good for us." -- Aguilar, on Milwaukee's unfriendly greeting for Machado

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers

Which team will the Red Sox be pulling for?

One opponent would give Boston a bigger edge in World Series
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

The Red Sox shouldn't fear any team. They proved that, not only by winning 108 games in the regular season, but also by cruising past the 100-win Yankees in the American League Division Series and the 103-win Astros in the AL Championship Series.

But when it comes to Boston's World Series opponent, there is reason to believe the AL champs should have a preference, even if they would never say so.

The Red Sox shouldn't fear any team. They proved that, not only by winning 108 games in the regular season, but also by cruising past the 100-win Yankees in the American League Division Series and the 103-win Astros in the AL Championship Series.

But when it comes to Boston's World Series opponent, there is reason to believe the AL champs should have a preference, even if they would never say so.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET on FS1

The Brewers and Dodgers will play a decisive Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Miller Park, after Milwaukee won Game 6, 7-2, on Friday night. Both teams obviously are talented and formidable, and either would present the Red Sox with plenty of challenges.

:: World Series schedule and results ::

Even so, here are five reasons why Boston should hope to see Milwaukee at Fenway Park for Tuesday night's Game 1, rather than Los Angeles.

1. The Dodgers lean left
Yes, the Red Sox have handled J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Dallas Keuchel well this postseason. But in a much larger sample during the regular season, Boston ranked first in the Majors in OPS against right-handed pitchers (.817), compared with 18th against southpaws (.719). That gap was less severe when looking only at starting pitchers (.802 vs. .759), but still significant. Among the Red Sox's hitters, only Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Steve Pearce had at least a .750 OPS off lefties.

The Dodgers likely would put three southpaws in their four-man rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. Now that Gio Gonzalez is out due to injury, Wade Miley is the Brewers' only lefty starter. L.A. also can choose from Alex Wood, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson and Scott Alexander to stock its bullpen.

2. Boston handles heat
Brewers pitchers used a fastball (four-seamer, two-seamer/sinker or cutter) 64.5 percent of the time this season, the fourth-highest rate in MLB. The Dodgers were 26th, at 55.8 percent. The only pitchers likely to be on Milwaukee's roster who are particularly offspeed-heavy, compared to the league average, are starter Jhoulys Chacin and reliever Jeremy Jeffress.

Why does that matter? The Red Sox ranked first in the Majors in batting (.288), third in slugging (.485) and first in wOBA (.368) against fastballs this season. Those numbers are even better this postseason, with Boston batting .318 and slugging .524 against heaters -- compared with .176/.261 against other pitches -- despite facing some tough opponents.

3. L.A. has the patience factor
During the regular season, Red Sox relievers had MLB's ninth-highest walk rate (9.8 percent). That has shot up to 15.2 percent this postseason, thanks in large part to shaky closer Craig Kimbrel (6 1/3 innings, six walks), plus Matt Barnes (6 1/3 innings, six walks), Heath Hembree (3 1/3 innings, four walks) and Ryan Brasier (7 innings, four walks).

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kimbrel earns the save to clinch pennant

The Dodgers are well equipped to take advantage of continued strike-zone issues, having led the Majors in walk rate this season (10.2 percent). The Brewers ranked 16th, at 8.6 percent. Notably, L.A. also swung at the lowest percentage of all opponent pitches (43.5 percent) and had the lowest chase rate out of the zone (23.8 percent), so don't expect the Dodgers to help out opponents struggling with their control.

4. The Dodgers' starting rotation can go toe-to-toe with Boston
Ryu struggled in the NLCS but was terrific in the NL Division Series and had a 1.97 ERA during the regular season. Hill, who resurrected his career with Boston late in 2015, is a savvy veteran. Walker Buehler has dynamic stuff and posted a 2.62 ERA as a rookie. And most importantly, Kershaw shook off a rough start in Game 1 of the NLCS -- and the narrative surrounding his postseason performance -- to dominate Milwaukee in Game 5. The Brewers, of course, have run their pitching staff in a non-traditional fashion this postseason, out of necessity. It has worked. With that said, Gonzalez's injury erases one option for Milwaukee, which will have used its top two starters (Miley and Chacin) in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, respectively. It's reasonable to wonder if the experiment could hold up through yet another round against Boston's stellar offense, which just rolled over Houston.

Video: NLCS Gm5: Kershaw fans 9 over 7 IP, scores run in win

5. The Brewers' bullpen might hit a wall
This is related to the last point, but it's worth considering on its own. This postseason, Dodgers relievers have thrown 37 1/3 innings, or about 42 percent of the team's total. Brewers relievers have thrown 53 2/3 innings, or about 63 percent of the team's total, although the bullpening strategy blurs that line, somewhat.

More to the point, Milwaukee has leaned on its top bullpen arms. Josh Hader (six games, seven innings), Corey Knebel (eight games, 9 1/3 innings), Jeffress (seven games, 6 2/3 innings), Joakim Soria (seven games, 4 2/3 innings) and Corbin Burnes (six games, nine innings) have gotten a lot of work at the end of a long season, with Jeffress and Soria enduring some significant struggles along the way. This group figures to go all out in Game 7 of the NLCS, with Hader, in particular, almost certain to log multiple innings. If so, there could be a price to pay in a matchup with the Red Sox.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Aguilar, 'pen spark Brewers to force Game 7

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Boston Red Sox

Machado looks past boos: 'I just want a W'

Shortstop finishes 0-for-4 in Dodgers' 7-2 loss in Game 6
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

MILWAUKEE -- Manny Machado was not interested in acknowledging Brewers fans or their boos in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/5:09 PT on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- Manny Machado was not interested in acknowledging Brewers fans or their boos in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/5:09 PT on FS1

View Full Game Coverage

But Machado heard them. And he heard the "Manny sucks!" chants. It is fair to wonder if they affected Machado in a 7-2 loss on Friday night to Milwaukee, which forced tonight's decisive Game 7.

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

Machado, who became Milwaukee's postseason villain following a controversial collision with Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in Game 4 at Dodger Stadium, went 0-for-4 on a night that the Dodgers' 2-3-4-5 hitters went a combined 1-for-15 with one walk and five strikeouts.

As the crowd erupted when Machado struck out in his first at-bat, he appeared to make a "louder" motion with his hands before entering the dugout.

"It was a tough loss for us today," said Machado, when asked about the hostile crowd. "We have to come back tomorrow and play better baseball."

But did the boos bother Machado? He entered the game hitting .316 (6-for-19) with one double, one home run, three RBIs and a .935 OPS in the first five games of the series. Machado struck out swinging with a runner on first and one out in the first inning, popped out to shortstop in the third, struck out swinging with runners on first and second and two outs to end the fifth and grounded out with one out in the eighth.

"We lost the game, you know?" Machado responded. "We didn't hit. We didn't execute. We've got to do a better job tomorrow. Tomorrow it's leave it on the line, leave everything on the field."

If there is any chance Machado was rattled, he would not admit it. He was asked several times about being booed and his reaction, but he never directly answered the question. But the boos were loud and they grew louder with each and every at-bat, reaching a crescendo in the eighth inning.

"That was loud," Aguilar said. "The fans, they did what they think they needed to do. They did it tonight. I think it [put] on a little pressure and that was good for us."

Machado dragged his left leg into Aguilar on a groundout in Game 4. It looked intentional, although Machado denied it. Afterward, Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich called Machado "dirty" and dropped a couple expletives, firing up Milwaukee fans who had their first opportunity to tell Machado how they felt.

Video: NLCS Gm4: Machado, Aguilar argue, later makeup

"I can't speak for Manny, but sometimes I think that makes the game more fun," Los Angeles left fielder Chris Taylor said. "When the crowd is into it, you can kind of build off that."

"Boos don't bother me, boos don't bother him," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. "Fans don't bother me. I don't think they bother any of these guys. It just makes us more locked in. If it's me they're booing, it makes me locked in even more."

Video: NLCS Gm6: Crowd erupts after Miley fans Machado

If Machado was locked in Friday, he did not have his best game. The Brewers' pitching probably deserves some credit for that.

So, Manny, one more time: How much would you personally love to silence Milwaukee fans and break their hearts with a big Game 7?

"I just want a 'W,' I just want a 'W.' That's all we want," Machado said. "Get them tomorrow. We've got one more game. We know we've got one of our best pitchers on the mound. I think we like our odds."

Video: NLCS Gm6: Dodgers on looking forward to Game 7

Todd Zolecki has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Machado

Trade bait? These players could be

All four LCS teams had highest share of production from swaps
MLB.com @mike_petriello

There's more than one way to build a contending team, obviously. Just look at how the four clubs that reached the League Championship Series this year constructed their rosters.

They can all point to successes in the Draft, both high picks (like first-rounders Walker Buehler and Andrew Benintendi) and low (11th-rounder Joc Pederson or 33rd-rounder Tyler White). They've hit it big by spending in free agency, like with J.D. Martinez or Lorenzo Cain. They all have plenty of examples of little-noticed minor moves that ended up producing surprising breakout stars, like Jesus Aguilar, Justin Turner or Max Muncy, and they've all found gems on the international market, either professionally (like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda) or as amateurs (like Xander Bogaerts, Jose Altuve and Yasiel Puig).

There's more than one way to build a contending team, obviously. Just look at how the four clubs that reached the League Championship Series this year constructed their rosters.

They can all point to successes in the Draft, both high picks (like first-rounders Walker Buehler and Andrew Benintendi) and low (11th-rounder Joc Pederson or 33rd-rounder Tyler White). They've hit it big by spending in free agency, like with J.D. Martinez or Lorenzo Cain. They all have plenty of examples of little-noticed minor moves that ended up producing surprising breakout stars, like Jesus Aguilar, Justin Turner or Max Muncy, and they've all found gems on the international market, either professionally (like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda) or as amateurs (like Xander Bogaerts, Jose Altuve and Yasiel Puig).

The point is that there's no one right way to do this. You have to add talent any way you can, and the best teams take those players and make them better. But there is one common thread running through these four clubs, one that could inform you about what to expect in the upcoming Hot Stove season. Each of them added about a third of their team value this year via trade. Each of them has found more value in trade than they have in free agency. 

Think about the names we're seeing on the final four clubs acquired via trade. When we point out that huge names Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Christian Yelich, Gerrit Cole, Josh Hader, Craig Kimbrel, Rick Porcello, Manny Machado, Chris Taylor, Travis Shaw, Corey Knebel, Rich Hill and Mike Moustakas all initially landed with their current club via trade, we're just scratching the surface -- there's also Ryan Pressly, Joe Kelly, Enrique Hernandez, Brock Holt, Steve Pearce and so many others.

In fact, if you look at breakdowns of the different avenues of how each team acquired production this year (expressed in Wins Above Replacement), you can see that for each of our final four teams -- and Major League Baseball as a sport -- the largest share of 2018 production was procured via trade.

Obviously, free agency still has a big role. Cain and Martinez are probably the two largest success stories of teams being aggressive and spending for free agents from last offseason (as we attempted to point out at the time), and the final four have also benefited from Jhoulys Chacin, David Price, Mitch Moreland, Josh Reddick, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon and others. This offseason, Machado, Bryce Harper and Patrick Corbin are going to get enormous contracts -- and they're going to deserve them.

But the once-historic 2018-19 free-agent class no longer looks quite so dynamic, thanks to age and injury. When we look back at last offseason, some of the biggest moves ended up coming via trades -- Yelich and Cole, but also Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Andrew McCutchen, Stephen Piscotty, Matt Kemp, Corey Dickerson, Joey Wendle and Dee Gordon. At least part of the reason is access to younger stars, since baseball has been trending towards youth for years.

All of which is to say that while we focus on Harper and Machado this offseason, the most interesting action might not be in who signs McCutchen, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton or Adam Jones. It might be in who makes the best trade, like Milwaukee did for Yelich. Here are 15 potential names to keep in mind.

C J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
Ever since the Marlins tore it down last offseason by trading Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna and Gordon, the question has been whether they'd continue by trading Realmuto (.277/.340/.484, 21 home runs), who has two seasons left before free agency and is probably the best all-around catcher in the game. It would be nice if Miami could build around him, but if it can't sign him to an extension, we're going to hear his name in many rumors.

Video: Frisaro on Marlins' offseason plans for Realmuto

Working in the Marlins' favor is that the state of catching in the game right now is weak, with many clubs needing a boost, and likely top free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal has done himself no favors with his high-profile struggles in the postseason. Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Lucroy are available as well, but neither is of Realmuto's caliber.

Possible fits: Rays, Red Sox, Nationals, Astros, Rockies, Brewers, Braves

SP Madison Bumgarner, Giants
This can't happen until the Giants name a new general manager, and in some ways it's difficult to envision the new hire arriving and immediately trying to move such an iconic player. Then again, the reason San Francisco even needs a new GM in the first place is that it has finished last and fourth in the past two years. Since the 2016 All-Star break, only the Orioles and White Sox have fewer wins. Change is coming -- and Bumgarner becomes a free agent after 2019.

Video: LAD@SF: Bumgarner K's Kemp to avoid early damage

Possible fits: Yankees, Braves, Angels, Astros, Brewers, Nationals

3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies
We'll admit that the Rockies don't seem likely to want to move Arenado, especially since their weak offense was already an issue even with him, and their main goal ought to be a long-term extension to keep him in Denver alongside Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, and a good young starting rotation for many years to come. That said, he's entering his final year before free agency, and if they can't reach an agreement, they might not want to simply watch him leave next offseason -- and young Ryan McMahon is ready now.

Possible fits: Phillies, Braves, Indians (if Jose Ramirez plays second), Cardinals, Angels

Video: NL WC: Arenado robs Bryant on remarkable diving stop

1B Paul Goldschmidt, D-Backs
1B Jose Abreu, White Sox
1B Brandon Belt, Giants
1B/RF Jose Martinez, Cardinals
1B Carlos Santana/Justin Bour, Phillies

Let's toss in all of these first basemen together, for one very big reason: the list of free-agent first basemen this offseason is grim. Pearce, Lucas Duda and Matt Adams have their uses, but there might not be a single starting quality first baseman out there. If you want one, you'll need to get one via trade.

In some cases, these are strong hitters in their 30s entering the final years of their contracts (Goldschmidt, Abreu). In others, it's the Phillies desperately needing to move one or both of Santana or Bour to allow Rhys Hoskins to come back to first from the outfield, improving the defense. The Cardinals would do well to find an American League home for the defensively challenged Martinez, while the Giants, if they decide to move Bumgarner, might just want to do it all and trade the constantly underrated Belt too.

Possible fits: Red Sox, Angels, Mariners, Yankees, Twins, Rockies

LF Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
Yes, Schwarber will forever be a legend in Chicago because of what he did in the 2016 World Series, but there was an argument to trade him that offseason, and there remains one today, especially since the firing of hitting coach Chili Davis seems unlikely to be the only change made to what ended up being an unsatisfying offense.

Video: CIN@CHC: Schwarber's homer leads to limbo in 'pen

While Schwarber did improve his defense somewhat, he's turned out to be more of a good player than a great one, with large career platoon splits (.349 OBP/.509 SLG vs righties, just .300 OBP/.308 SLG vs lefties) and probably better suited to some time at DH in the AL -- especially if the Cubs can get pitching in return. He still has three more years left before free agency.

Possible fits: Astros, Rays, Twins, Mariners (if free agent Nelson Cruz departs)

RF Nicholas Castellanos, Tigers
Speaking of corner outfielders who rely far more on slugging value than defense, Castellanos has one more year before free agency, and he just hit .298/.354/.500 with 23 home runs for Detroit. (Along with negative-25 Outs Above Average, the lowest mark in the game.) The rebuilding Tigers are unlikely to contend in his final year, and he would also fit best on an AL team looking to add some slugging and has DH time available. 

Possible fits: Astros, Rays, Twins, Mariners

2B Scooter Gennett, Reds
2B/OF Whit Merrifield, Royals
2B Cesar Hernandez, Phillies

Need a second baseman? There are actually decent options in the free-agent market -- DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Brian Dozier or Daniel Murphy -- but teams might also be interested in this younger trio, who are team-controlled for one (Gennett), two (Hernandez), or four (Merrifield) years. 

Video: CLE@KC: Merrifield singles to take MLB lead in hits

If it's power you want, Gennett turned himself from a light-hitting Brewer into a slugging Red, putting up a line of .303/.351/.508 and 50 home runs over the past two years. Merrifield doesn't have that power, but he's stolen 79 bases in 2017-18 and can also play the outfield, to go with his .296/.347/.449 line. Hernandez has spent the past three years as a league-average bat, setting a career-high with 15 homers in 2018, and the Phillies might be motivated to make room to get Scott Kingery back to his natural second-base position.

Possible fits: Dodgers, Indians, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins, Rockies

SP Jon Gray, Rockies
Finally, a change-of-scenery starter. Gray looked like he'd be the next Rockies ace, but he's clearly been surpassed by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, and he didn't even make Colorado's National League Division Series roster. It's not even about Coors Field in Gray's case, because his career splits are about even. It's that he's been so up and down in his short career that he was even sent to the Minors last summer, yet still had a strikeout rate (24.6 percent) as high as Noah Syndergaard or Clayton Kershaw.

Gray wouldn't come cheaply, because he's still young, talented and would come with three more years of control before free agency. Then again, this could be a good avenue for the Rockies to add the offense or relief pitching they badly need, and a team like the Astros might do wonders to bring out the best in Gray.

Possible fits: Astros, Twins, A's, Brewers, Cubs, Nationals, Mariners

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Unused in Game 6, Hader well rested for finale

Counsell says relief ace will face Dodgers with World Series bid on line
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- Just as important as the events that transpired in the Brewers' 7-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night was one event that didn't.

Josh Hader never emerged through the bullpen door.

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- Just as important as the events that transpired in the Brewers' 7-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night was one event that didn't.

Josh Hader never emerged through the bullpen door.

View Full Game Coverage

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on FS1

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

Instead, Hader will have three days' rest in the tank and be ready for Saturday's Game 7 at Miller Park, meaning the Brewers will have their best reliever at full strength behind their best starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin. They'll join the rest of the staff in vying for a spot opposite the Red Sox in the World Series.

How many innings could Hader cover in Game 7?

"Twelve," manager Craig Counsell said.

Counsell was kidding.

"But you'll see him tomorrow," he said.

Debating the use of Hader was Milwaukee baseball fans' favorite parlor game in 2018, when the 24-year-old led NL relievers with 81 1/3 innings and 140 strikeouts, but took a fascinating path that often included multi-inning outings with multiple days of rest in between.

That's how Hader performed best, the Brewers learned. When rested, his power fastball/power slider combination made him one of the most challenging pitchers to hit in baseball, against hitters from both sides of the plate.

"That's their best reliever, and obviously you would have liked to have kept the game close enough to have them use him tonight," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "They got away tonight because of the run differential."

Hader declined to speculate how early in Game 7 he might be deployed or how many innings he might pitch. His season highs were three innings on July 3 against the Twins and Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, when he set a season high by throwing 46 pitches in a Brewers win. The team that wins Game 7 will have two days' rest before Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Roberts on not facing Hader in Game 6

"I have no idea," Hader said. "I don't make those calls."

Whenever the call comes, Hader is eager to be on the mound in Game 7.

"It was amazing how loud everybody got," he said. "You feed off of that adrenaline and that energy. Hopefully [on Saturday], it's even louder, and there are more people. This is what we played for the whole season. This is the point we want to be at. There's no backing down."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Josh Hader

Rumors: Morton, Brantley, Myers, J. Gray, Braves

The latest MLB free agent and trade rumors for Hot Stove season
MLB.com

As the postseason concludes, Hot Stove season begins. MLB.com is keeping track of all the latest free agent and trade rumors right here.

• Complete list of free agents this offseason 

As the postseason concludes, Hot Stove season begins. MLB.com is keeping track of all the latest free agent and trade rumors right here.

• Complete list of free agents this offseason 

Morton, Keuchel among Astros' key free agents
Oct. 19: After their hopes of back-to-back World Series titles were dashed by the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Astros now turn their attention to an offseason in which they have a number of key free-agent decisions to make.

The rotation could have a different look next season, with Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel entering free agency. Morton has pondered retirement, but he indicated that he'd like to continue his career after Thursday's season-ending loss.

"I'd love to keep playing, I'd love to be an Astro," Morton said, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. "I'd love to be part of this again. Ultimately, it's not really up to me. It's not solely up to me."

Tweet from @Chandler_Rome: Charlie Morton, who is 34 and a pending free agent: ���I���d love to keep playing, I���d love to be an Astro. I���d love to be part of this again. Ultimately, it���s not really up to me. It���s not solely up to me.���

If Morton decides he wants to come back for one more season, he might be open to accepting a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer to finish his career with Houston. Keuchel, though, is expected to seek a multi-year deal.

Houston does have several internal options who could step into the rotation if needed, including Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh, Josh James and top prospect Forrest Whitley.

On the other side of the ball, the Astros' don't have to worry about losing anyone from their core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer, but utility man Marwin Gonzalez is set for free agency. Houston could look to bring Gonzalez back, as his ability to play all over the diamond while providing above-average offensive production (112 wRC+ from 2014-18) makes him an important part of the roster.

The Astros are also expected to have some turnover at the catching position, with Martin Maldonado headed for free agency and Brian McCann's $15 million club option unlikely to be picked up. Evan Gattis will be a free agent as well, though he made just two appearances behind the plate in 2018. The Astros will probably let Gattis walk, opening up more at-bats for Tyler White at designated hitter in 2019.

To address their need at catcher, Houston could pursue Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos in free agency, or explore a trade for the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto.

What will Indians' outfield look like in 2019?
Oct. 19: With Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall set to hit the open market, the Indians have question marks at all three starting outfield spots for next season. As a result, Brantley is a logical candidate to receive the $17.9 million qualifying offer, in the opinion of MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.

After getting just 101 games and 1.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per FanGraphs, from Brantley over 2016-17, the Indians nonetheless exercised his $12 million option for '18. The move worked out, as Brantley made the All-Star team and produced 3.5 WAR. Brantley also recorded 10.0 WAR from '14-15, so his '18 production wasn't out of the blue.

Moreover, Bastian thinks the Indians could pursue free agent Andrew McCutchen if Brandon Guyer's $3 million option isn't picked up. Guyer's primary role was to platoon against southpaws, and he posted a 120 wRC+ in those situations this past season, compared to a 34 mark vs. righties. McCutchen performed well vs. lefties (128 wRC+) and righties (118 wRC+) in '18, so he wouldn't need to be held to a strict platoon role. More >

Trading Myers a potential option for Padres this offseason
Oct. 19: With first baseman Eric Hosmer signed to a long-term deal and Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe staking claim to the corner-outfield spots, the Padres don't have an obvious position for Wil Myers in 2019.

San Diego has an opening at third base, but Myers struggled defensively in limited action at the position this past season. Although Myers could improve as he gains more experience at the hot corner, he likely brings the most value to the club as a left fielder.

As a result, MLB.com's AJ Cassavell expects general manager A.J. Preller to explore a trade this offseason that would clear some of the outfield logjam.

Dealing Myers makes the most sense for the small-market Padres, but his contract -- Myers is owed $74 million from 2019-22, with most of that coming in the latter three years -- could be a deterrent. San Diego would also be selling low, as Myers played just 83 games this past season. Thus, Preller might have to trade Reyes or Renfroe instead to fix the situation.

"We'll get into the offseason and talk about what's the best configuration for our club," Preller said. "We have some depth at different positions that I'm sure will be discussed with other teams as well. ... [We'll] figure out what's the best mix." More >

Could Rockies look to trade Gray?
Oct. 19: The Rockies' rotation was surprisingly a strength of the team in 2018, with Kyle Freeland and German Marquez enjoying breakout seasons, but Opening Day starter Jon Gray was a disappointment.

Although he fanned 183 batters, Gray allowed more earned runs than anyone in the National League (98), posting a 5.12 ERA over 172 1/3 innings. His FIP was much lower at 4.08, mirroring a career trend (lifetime 3.68 FIP, 4.65 ERA).

The right-hander has shown flashes of ace potential in four big league campaigns, but he hasn't put it all together yet, and his future role is a major question mark for Colorado.

According to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, the Rockies didn't act on the inquiries they received about Gray before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But with Gray's tantalizing stuff and three remaining years of team control, the trade requests aren't likely to go away this offseason. And after Gray was left off the NLDS roster, Colorado might be more open to dealing him this time around.

Braves could be active on trade market, may take cautious approach to free agency
Oct. 19: While the Braves may have at least $60 million to address their multiple needs, which include a catcher, a corner outfielder, bullpen depth and a frontline starter, they may take a cautious approach to the free-agent market to avoid deals that hinder them down the road.

"We're not going to just walk in the store and buy because we have money in our pockets," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "If we don't find the right deal with something we like, there's still other opportunities to shop. There could be opportunities next season. If you start signing guys to big, long deals, if you feel good about the deal, you do it now. I wouldn't force a deal right now that would limit you in years from now."

Atlanta, though, could be active on the trade market, as the club has significant prospect depth from which to deal. Exploring a trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto could be a top priority.

Of course, that doesn't mean the Braves should be completely ruled out as potential suitors for some of the top free agents on the market. While they are unlikely to make offers to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, they could target left-hander Patrick Corbin, or potentially seek a reunion with closer Craig Kimbrel. Both hurlers would fill needs for the club.

Atlanta also hasn't ruled out re-signing right fielder Nick Markakis or catcher Kurt Suzuki, though they would prefer to add a surefire starting catcher so Tyler Flowers can move to a backup role.

"I don't think with our club, with what we have, that the value is going to be there in the free-agent market," Anthopoulos said. "It doesn't mean it won't. We'll certainly explore it. But if I could sit here in the middle of October, I'd say it's more likely we go the trade route. It's not ideal to give up young assets, but it's also not ideal to do a deal you don't believe in -- that may look good for a year or two, and then in years three, four and five, it does not." More >

Cardinals eyeing left-handed relievers
Oct. 19: The bullpen was a weak spot for the Cardinals in 2018, even with the emergence of flamethrowing Jordan Hicks and a strong campaign from Bud Norris, who was signed to a Minor League contract before the season. The left side was particularly troublesome, and as a result, St. Louis is expected to make improving that area a priority this offseason.

The free-agent market will have several options who fit that bill, including Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Tony Sipp and Justin Wilson.

In recent years, the Cardinals haven't done well when giving Major League deals to free-agent relievers. In fact, St. Louis committed a total of $68.25 million combined to Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Brett Cecil and Seunghwan Oh for a cumulative WAR of 0.3.

But president of baseball operations John Mozeliak indicated that the club's lack of past success in that area won't be a deterrent in the coming months.

"We did choose to [be aggressive in that market] a few years back, and it has not been a home run. We get it," Mozeliak said. "That's not going to create some paralysis for us now. We understand the volatility of it. And trying to get it right is what we're going to continue to do." More >

Kimbrel delivers first scoreless appearance of 2018 postseason in ALCS Game 5
Oct. 19: The Red Sox beat the Astros, 4-1, in ALCS Game 5 on Thursday to win the American League pennant and advance to the World Series, with closer Craig Kimbrel throwing a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Red Sox win the American League pennant

It was Kimbrel's first scoreless appearance of the entire postseason. Although he is 5-for-5 in save chances, the right-hander has allowed five runs over 6 ⅓ innings while yielding six hits, six walks and two hit batsmen in this year's playoffs. With Kimbrel struggling on a big stage, it's fair to wonder how much he has hurt his stock with free agency upcoming after the season.

Kimbrel has long been one of the most dominant closers in baseball, and he had another strong campaign in the 2018 regular season. However, he also showed some signs of regression, posting a career-high 3.13 FIP with a 3.1 K/BB ratio (1.42 FIP, 9.0 K/BB ratio in '17).

Recent history may also give teams pause when it comes to the size of Kimbrel's next contract, as the lucrative deals given to big-name closers such as Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and Mark Melancon in the past few offseasons haven't gone as well as the signing clubs likely hoped they would.

Still, most teams will likely view Kimbrel as the best available option among the free agents with closing experience, and given the ever-growing importance of relievers in today's game, there shouldn't be a shortage of clubs interested in his services -- especially if he can rebound in the Fall Classic.

Will Realmuto be with Marlins in 2019?
Oct. 18: J.T. Realmuto's future with the Marlins has been a persistent storyline since the club began its rebuild by dealing Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon last offseason, and that's unlikely to change during the coming months.

Realmuto, who will be 28 years old on Opening Day in 2019, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro notes, the Marlins will likely need to present him with a path to contention within that timeframe to convince him to sign a long-term deal.

According to Frisaro, the Marlins will try to do that this winter but are also expected to explore trade scenarios for the backstop to keep their options open.

Realmuto made the All-Star team for the first time in 2018, hitting .277 with a personal-best 21 homers, 74 RBIs and .825 OPS. He also posted a 38 percent caught-stealing rate -- 10 percentage points above the MLB average -- and allowed just eight passed balls in 951 innings behind the plate.

The Nationals, Astros, Phillies, Red Sox, A's and Rockies are among the contenders that could be in the market for a catcher, though the Marlins' asking price will likely remain lofty. More >

Yankees expected to pursue Machado after Gregorius undergoes Tommy John surgery
Oct. 18: With Didi Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the shortstop position is now an unexpected question mark for the Yankees. The speculation, of course, is that Gregorius' injury may only increase the Yankees' interest in impending free agent Manny Machado, who was already expected to be on the club's offseason radar as a potential option at third base.

And as MLB Network insider Jon Heyman notes in an article for Fancred Sports, there's good reason for that speculation. New York has tried to land Machado before, and Machado's interest in joining the Yankees was documented back in August, when Heyman reported that people close to the slugger were suggesting that the club was his first choice in free agency.

Machado, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at the hot corner, struggled defensively at shortstop with the Orioles this season (-18 defensive runs saved), but he has been much improved since joining the Dodgers in a July trade (6 DRS).

And while Machado's lack of hustle has been a topic of conversation during the postseason, teams may be willing to overlook that problem given his immense talent.

Gregorius has been worth 8.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over the past two seasons, per FanGraphs, so the Yankees aren't going to be in a hurry to move on from him. But the shortstop can become a free agent next offseason, and signing Machado would give the Yankees extra leverage in contract negotiations with Gregorius, as well as insurance in case his recovery from Tommy John surgery doesn't go smoothly.

The Yankees could also sign Machado and then work out an extension with Gregorius to secure the left side of their infield into the next decade, but they would need to trade or find a new position for third baseman Miguel Andujar.

Another possibility, if New York doesn't land Machado this winter, could be Giants second baseman Joe Panik, who is expected to be on the trade market, according to Heyman. Panik, who was an All-Star in 2015 and won a Gold Glove Award in '16, has been beset with injuries much of the last few seasons. But he turns 28 at the end of the month, and is under team control for another three years. The Yankees could have him at second with Gleyber Torres at shortstop. Panik would also provide a left-handed bat to replace the left-handed-hitting Gregorius in the Yankees lineup, which is heavily right-handed.

Granted, the rotation is arguably a greater area of need than the offense, with Luis Severino struggling in the second half and CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn hitting free agency. Adding a starter such as left-hander Patrick Corbin, who is expected to be one of the Yankees' free-agent targets, according to another report from Heyman, may be the club's top priority.

But as Heyman points out, the Yankees could be in position to sign multiple top free agents, considering they won't be subject to the luxury-tax repeat-offender penalty after staying under the threshold in 2018.

Phillies set to make run at Machado, Harper
Oct. 18: Will Manny Machado and Bryce Harper join forces in Philadelphia? According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an appearance on "The Rundown" on Thursday, the Phillies are prepared to pursue both players, and many expect them to come away with at least one.

"People around baseball are going to be surprised if [the Phillies] don't get at least one of these two players, and maybe both," Heyman said.

Heyman had a similar report back in September, writing for Fancred Sports that multiple rival executives believed that the Phillies could land both superstars.

However, as Heyman pointed out Thursday, it could ultimately be tough for any team to pull that off, as both players are looking to break the bank in free agency. Furthermore, any club looking to sign either player will have plenty of competition.

Video: Heyman on Mariners, Phillies free agent rumors

Nats planning to make strong effort to retain Harper
Oct. 18: As fan bases and front offices around the Majors dream of having Bryce Harper in the fold next season, the only team Harper has ever played for is holding out hope that the impending free agent will be back.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman in an article for Fancred Sports, the Nationals plan to make a strong effort to retain Harper this offseason, though they are also formulating an alternative plan in case he opts to sign elsewhere.

This comes after Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported last week that the consensus within the Nats organization is that the club does not want to eclipse the competitive balance tax threshold after doing so in each of the past two seasons.

If Harper is signed for roughly $30 million annually, it could considerably hinder the Nationals' ability to address other needs on the roster. However, it doesn't sound like that will prevent Washington from making a major push to re-sign its homegrown star.

Janes also reports that if Harper signs, it could mean center fielder Adam Eaton goes on the trade block. Eaton has only played in 118 games during two seasons with Washington due to injury, hitting .300/.394/.422.

Aguilar sparks Crew's tone-setting rally in G6

First baseman's 2-run double fuels pivotal 1st frame vs. LA
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

MILWAUKEE -- The first blow came from the old nemesis, recast as a leadoff man -- another David Freese homer to silence another October crowd at Miller Park. The counter came collectively, the Brewers matching the jab with one, two, four of their own, the fruits of an ear-splitting rally that manager Craig Counsell said "lifted the roof off the place."

Safe at second, Mike Moustakas' arms flung up. On his back after sliding past home, Ryan Braun basked. Counsell sighed in the dugout, overcome with relief. It wasn't only how the four-spot against Hyun-Jin Ryu motored the Brewers toward a 7-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night. It was the ripple effects their first-inning rally set in motion, long before the ink on their series-evening win was dry.

View Full Game Coverage

MILWAUKEE -- The first blow came from the old nemesis, recast as a leadoff man -- another David Freese homer to silence another October crowd at Miller Park. The counter came collectively, the Brewers matching the jab with one, two, four of their own, the fruits of an ear-splitting rally that manager Craig Counsell said "lifted the roof off the place."

Safe at second, Mike Moustakas' arms flung up. On his back after sliding past home, Ryan Braun basked. Counsell sighed in the dugout, overcome with relief. It wasn't only how the four-spot against Hyun-Jin Ryu motored the Brewers toward a 7-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night. It was the ripple effects their first-inning rally set in motion, long before the ink on their series-evening win was dry.

View Full Game Coverage

NLCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 7: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on FS1

:: NLCS schedule and results ::

"Especially after they jumped ahead on David Freese's homer, I thought it was incredibly important for us to answer back as quickly as possible, keep the crowd into it, keep the pressure off of us," Braun said. "I think it was inspiring for us for the rest of the game and encouraging for us to move into tomorrow."

Fueled by 43,619 fans, the Brewers could almost cruise the rest of the night to force a winner-take-all game on Saturday. They now set up as well as possible for that game: their relief corps rested, the momentum squarely on their side. Not only did the four-run first allow the Crew to save Josh Hader for Saturday, when it will take an even more all-hands-on-deck approach to run prevention. But it also marked a positive turnaround for several of Milwaukee's important hitters, like Jesus Aguilar, whose two-run double opened the scoring.

Aguilar doubled again and added an RBI single later in the night as well, marking the slugger's most productive game of the postseason. A force in the middle of the Brewers' lineup in his first full year, Aguilar entered play 5-for-32 (.172) this postseason.

"Tomorrow it can be somebody else, but tonight it was me," Aguilar said. "I'm really happy about it. It means I am getting hot, and hopefully I stay hot."

Aguilar was far from the only slumping Brewers hitter. Milwaukee entered Friday having scored just three runs over its previous 22 innings, and just seven combined over the three games of this NLCS in Los Angeles. Aguilar, Moustakas and Erik Kratz came in particularly cold, combining to go 7-for-50 (.140) in the series prior to the inning.

But that all changed after Lorenzo Cain led off against Ryu with an infield single, then advanced to second on a Christian Yelich grounder. Braun walked, setting up a two-on, one-out situation for Aguilar, who poked his two-bagger into the right-field corner.

Video: NLCS Gm6: Aguilar records 3 hits, 3 RBIs in Game 6

"Aggie's hit, you couldn't describe it as any bigger," Counsell said. "The first inning was loud from then on."

Moustakas then pulled a similar double to score Aguilar, scoring on Kratz's opposite-field hit a batter later. All told, it marked just the seventh time in 491 half-innings this postseason that a team put up a four-spot or better, according to MLB Network research. Two of the previous six involved a grand slam (Ronald Acuna Jr., Jackie Bradley Jr.).

The four-run output was the largest in any inning this postseason for the Crew, and it came directly after what Kratz called "a gut punch" from Freese, who has made a career of hitting dramatic postseason home runs. Freese is better remembered for his famous walk-off homer for the Cardinals against the Rangers in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but few in Milwaukee forget that he earned NLCS MVP Award honors that year as well, after hitting .545 with three home runs in six games against the Brewers.

Video: NLCS Gm 6: Braun and Moose discuss 4-run 1st inning

Freese's first-inning homer in Game 6 that year, also at Miller Park, put the series on ice for St. Louis. His first-inning homer in this Game 6 only lit a fire under the Crew.

"Then, the energy was back," Aguilar said. "I can't wait for tomorrow."

Video: Aguilar jokes about Puig's throw after Game 6 win

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.