MILWAUKEE -- It doesn't take a crystal ball to see the National League Championship Series will come down to some key matchups. Not only will the Brewers juggle their pitching often to seek advantages against the Dodgers' platoons, but manager Craig Counsell also plans to pen "a bunch of different
MILWAUKEE -- It doesn't take a crystal ball to see the National League Championship Series will come down to some key matchups. Not only will the Brewers juggle their pitching often to seek advantages against the Dodgers' platoons, but manager Craig Counsell also plans to pen "a bunch of different lineups."
This strategy is nothing new to the Dodgers, who rarely trotted out the same eight position players in consecutive games during the regular season. Player Page for Max Muncy, their leading home run hitter, shrugged when admitting he doesn't think he'll start Game 1 against left-hander Giovany Gonzalez. The lefty slugger expects to sub in after Gonzalez leaves, and Milwaukee turns to its right-heavy relief corps. The Brewers could do something similar with Travis Shaw against Los Angeles' three left-handed starters.
"Matchups are a part of today's game," Counsell said. "The managers are trying to get matchups. ... And ultimately this boils down to the players competing against each other, which is how it should be decided, is the players competing against each other. So they've got left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters and we offer the same thing. So, it's challenging for both sides to navigate through that."
The Brewers, though, might have an initial advantage built in. Three of the Dodgers' four starters, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu, are left-handed. On paper that seems to favor the Brewers, whose lineup, Kershaw said, features "a lot of talented righties."
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
And it's not just the right-handers who hit lefties. The Brewers ranked fourth among NL teams with a .742 OPS against left-handers this season. But their best hitters truly crush lefties: In Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar and Ryan Braun, Milwaukee flaunts four of the NL's top 17 hitters against southpaws in terms of OPS.
Cain and Braun are career-long lefty tormenters, while Aguilar emerged this season as one of the NL's biggest -- and least expected -- right-handed power threats. Thanks to their Trade Deadline acquisition of Jonathan Schoop, the Brewers can stack their lineup with righties behind those bats, go entirely right-handed except for Yelich if they want. (Interestingly, the Brewers' prime right-handed-hitting bench option, Domingo Santana, hit just .172 against lefties this season.)
"Look, it's our right-handed hitters with three pretty solid left-handed starters," Counsell said. "Obviously, the series for our right-handed hitters is, if you're playing the platoon matchups, it's a good chance for them to do some damage."
Here's how some of their key hitters stack up:
Cain vs. left-handers: .373/.451/.528 Overall: .308/.395/.417 The skinny: Cain has always mashed lefties, but he took it to a new level in 2018, when his .373 average against southpaws led all NL hitters. He is a career .314/.374/.483 hitter opposite lefties.
Yelich vs. left-handers: .337/.396/.587 Overall: .326/.402/.598 The skinny: Yelich led all left-handed hitters in batting average, slugging and OPS against left-handed pitching, and slugged 170 points above his career mark in same-side matchups. That improvement mirrored his second-half breakout against all pitchers, during which Yelich set career bests in nearly every offensive category and emerged as the frontrunner for NL MVP.
Braun vs. left-handers: .246/.340/.523 Overall: .254/.313/.469 The skinny: Braun isn't the masher he once was, but his .863 OPS ranked 15th among NL hitters vs lefties. It also put him on par with David Freese, who will start for the Dodgers in Muncy's place Friday, in a platoon-inspired move.
Aguilar vs. left-handers: .282/.379/.550 Overall: .274/.352/.539 The skinny: Aguilar's strikeout rate dropped and his walk rate spiked against lefties in his first full season. He also ranked 11th in the NL in OPS and wRC+ against southpaws.
Mike Moustakas vs. left-handers: .260/.301/.420 Overall: .251/.315/.459 The skinny: After struggling against southpaws early in his career, Moustakas has narrowed the gap between his platoon splits as he's aged. He's more than playable against lefties now, at 30, and his NLDS heroics -- he hit .364 and notched the game-winning hit in Game 1 -- likely mean Moustakas plays more than he doesn't going forward. His 35 home runs off left-handed pitching since his first full season in 2012 rank 11th among active left-handed hitters across baseball.
Schoop vs. left-handers: .238/.286/.361 Overall: .233/.266/.416 The skinny: Schoop was acquired to provide right-handed-hitting infield depth despite having reverse splits, which span his entire career. Still, he gives the Brewers a better option against lefties than left-handed-hitting Shaw, who hit .209/.303/.296 off southpaws this season, including only two of his 32 home runs. Those numbers mean Shaw likely sits in place of Schoop on Friday.
Hernan Perez Vs. left-handers: .277/.304/.479 Overall: .253/.290/.386 The skinny: Perez earned playing time against left-handers down the stretch, and made the most of his NLDS start opposite southpaw Tyler Anderson, doubling twice and driving in the deciding run in Milwaukee's Game 2 win. That recent history makes him an option to start again Friday in place of Orlando Arcia at shortstop. But given the Brewers' litany of right-handed options, they could also opt for Arcia's superior glove in a game against Kershaw in which runs figure to be at a premium.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.