Crew-Dodgers position-by-position analysis

Los Angeles topped Milwaukee in 7 games in 2018 NLCS

September 30th, 2020

The Dodgers finished 2020 with the best record in baseball, because they scored the most runs in the Majors and allowed the second-fewest, which is a nice combination. The 43-17 record they piled up in a short season is merely a 116-win pace over a full-length year.

Their reward: a best-of-three at home against the 29-31 Brewers, a team with the sixth-weakest offense in the Majors, one that spent exactly zero days above .500 this year. Sounds easy, right? Please note: It is not. This is a world where an upset in a three game series is not only plausible, but expected. This is a Brewers team that's in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, one that took the Dodgers to Game 7 of the NLCS two years ago.

There's more to life than bullpens, though. How do these two teams stack up? Let's go position by position. (All offensive stats are given in Weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+, where "100" is league average.)


It's amazing to think that Will Smith actually got off to a "slow start" this year, because he ended up with a 163 wRC+ and deserved status as one of baseball's 10 best hitters in September. Throw in the fact that Austin Barnes was decent, and the Dodgers actually had the second-best hitting catchers in baseball. We probably didn't make enough of the fact that Milwaukee's Omar Narváez went from one of baseball's weakest pitch framers to nearly the best, but his offense (59 wRC+) took a big step back.

Big advantage: Dodgers

First base

The Brewers released their regular first baseman, Justin Smoak, less than a month ago, and they've mostly been playing veteran journeyman -- and briefly a 2019 Dodger -- Jedd Gyorko, who's actually been pretty good this year (118 wRC+). It's fair to say that neither Max Muncy (100 wRC+) nor Cody Bellinger (114 wRC+) lived up to expectations this year, but they've each got a lot more track record to fall back on.

Advantage: Dodgers

Second base

Each team hoped to have a young star-in-waiting here, but Gain Lux (63 wRC+) never got untracked and Keston Hiura (87 wRC+) took a big step back from his excellent 2019 debut. The Dodgers will likely instead mix and match with Chris Taylor (132 wRC+) or Enrique Hernández (83 wRC+) or even Muncy. (Probably not Mookie Betts, though.) This isn't a strength of either club, but a small edge goes to Los Angeles, because Hiura isn't a strong defender and Taylor was great this year.

Small advantage: Dodgers


Very quietly, it seemed, Corey Seager (152 wRC+) had what could be considered an MVP-quality season; Dodger shortstops were baseball's best. Orlando Arcia, it should be pointed out, made huge strides this year, posting a nearly league-average 96 wRC+, after last season's 61 made him one of the game's weakest hitters. It was a nice step forward, but, you know, Seager.

Big advantage: Dodgers

Third base

Milwaukee had somewhat of a revolving door at the hot corner, though the primary duo became Luis Urías (66 wRC+) and Eric Sogard (54 wRC+). Brewers third basemen ended up with the third-weakest offense, but were very strong defensively. Meanwhile, Justin Turner (140 wRC+) spent much of the last month dealing with a hamstring injury, but that didn't stop him from hitting two homers on Friday night and mashing when healthy. If he can't go, Muncy or Edwin Ríos (145 wRC+) could slot in here, too.

Big advantage: Dodgers

Left field

Christian Yelich worried that some big players would have down years, and he ended up being one of them -- although it says quite a bit about how fantastic he is that a 112 wRC+ (remember, 100 is "average") is a considerable disappointment. It wasn't just "bad luck," either; his strikeout rate shot up from 20% last year to 31% this year. Meanwhile, AJ Pollock (132 wRC+) had the opposite, rebounding from a disappointing debut to a stellar followup.

Still, we did talk about track record above, and Yelich -- who, again, was still above average. A year ago -- even two months ago -- it would have been laughable to suggest this was even close. Such are the vagaries of a 60-game season.

Advantage: Brewers

Center field

Remember here that Lorenzo Cain decided not to continue playing after five games, so center for Milwaukee has been mostly manned by Avisaíl García, who was coming off a strong 2019 for Tampa Bay (112 wRC+, 20 homers, 10 steals). García, however, hasn't been able to find the same magic for the Brewers (82 wRC+, 2 homers, one steal), so even if Bellinger hasn't quite been his MVP self, the edge here is clear.

Advantage: Dodgers

Right field

With García in center, the Brewers have had to start six others in right, primarily a combination of Ryan Braun and Ben Gamel. It's actually been OK, more-or-less league average, though Gamel's availability due to a quad strain is still uncertain. If he's not available, rookie Tyrone Taylor or utilityman Jace Peterson might also see time here.

The Dodgers have Mookie Betts.

Big advantage: Dodgers

Designated hitter

That's right, designated hitter, in a National League playoff game, and does that still seem weird? It's almost normal now. Neither team had a regular DH this year, with the Dodgers starting 11 players there and the Brewers 10, and, obviously this is going to depend a little on platoon matchups. Even though Daniel Vogelbach got cut by two teams this year (Seattle, Toronto), we're going to give him the hot-hand edge (he hit .328/.418/.569, a 164 wRC+) over the last few weeks with Milwaukee.

Small advantage: Brewers

Starting rotation

In years past, we stopped splitting out starters and relievers, because why bother? But this year, with no days off in the middle of series, it's going to seem more "normal" again. You'll see something like starting rotations, or a three-game version of them, anyway.

This might have been closer had the Brewers not lost Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes to an oblique injury just last week, because he (2.11 ERA, 88 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings) was having a true breakout season. Now, Milwaukee will have to rely on Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser to start; the third starter would usually be either Brett Anderson (who left on Sunday with a blister) or Josh Lindblom, but let's be honest, if there's a Game 3, Craig Counsell is going to bullpen it -- and more on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are going to have Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw starting the first two games, and likely some combination of Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and/or Julio Urías if Game 3 is necessary.

Big advantage: Dodgers


Milwaukee's bullpen posted a 31.4% strikeout rate, the best in baseball, and that's mostly about Josh Hader (31 strikeouts in 19 innings) and rookie sensation Devin Williams (53 strikeouts in 27 innings). This bullpen did take a big hit, however, when Williams was removed from the roster with arm issues.

Thing is, it's not just them; Freddy Peralta whiffed 47 in 29 1/3 innings. Brent Suter struck out more than one per inning. So did Corey Knebel. Eric Yardley had a 1.54 ERA. You don't know who Justin Topa is, but he touched 99 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, any Dodgers fan knows that the bullpen has been something of an Achilles' heel of this recent run, though this year's version may be the best of any of them. (Though, oddly, without the same bat-missing skill; this year's group relies more on grounders.) Sure, reclamation project Jake McGee and longtime closer Kenley Jansen can still miss bats, but Victor González, Dylan Floro, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Adam Kolarek all put the ball on the ground. Dave Roberts has options, anyway.

Advantage: Brewers