MILWAUKEE -- They are in a final four with last year's World Series teams (the Astros and Dodgers) plus the 108-win Red Sox. So are the Brewers -- despite leading the National League with 96 victories and rocking the best bullpen in baseball since the start of September -- underdogs as their NL Championship Series against the Dodgers gets underway Friday?
Travis Shaw said yes. Mike Moustakas said no.
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"There's your answer then. It's a yes and a no," said catcher Erik Kratz. "I guess if you need to be viewed as the underdog? Sure. If that's what motivates you. But it's time to go.
"Small market? Does that mean we're going to try a little bit less? Are we shorter than the other players that are out there? Are we less? No."
Doesn't experience make a difference? The Dodgers have made the postseason six straight years, and are playing in the NLCS for the fourth time in that span?
"You mean like the experience that Lo Cain has? Or 'Moose' [Moustakas] has?" Kratz said. "We've got some guys. I think that's a moniker that's been put on us, that we don't have any experience. There's guys we can lean on. There's an NL MVP [Christian Yelich] that we lean on. There's a pitching staff that they probably don't have any awards for this year, but they deserve a lot of awards. Experience is great. It's an accomplishment [the Dodgers] have done the previous few years here. … But I don't think we're lacking in that department."
Shaw, who would love a World Series matchup against his former team, the Red Sox, embraced the underdog role.
"I think we're taking the underdog mentality," Shaw said. "Look at the four teams that are left. It's the Astros, the Red Sox, the Dodgers and -- the Brewers. We're the smallest market out of the four. We're the kind of no-name out of the four. But we kind of like that role. We like that underdog mentality. We're used to it. We were underdogs all year and we won the most games in the National League. We'll take on that role again."
Braun producing for Brewers
Ryan Braun is healthy at the right time for the Brewers.
The only player still around from Milwaukee's last NLCS, in 2011, is expected back in his usual three hole for Game 1 against the Dodgers on Friday, in part because of some forward thinking before the Brewers entered the home stretch of the regular season.
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Braun said during a workout on Sunday at Miller Park that it was manager Craig Counsell's call to be extra cautious after Braun felt tightness in his back during the third week of September. He returned to the lineup for good Sept. 21 and has started 12 of 13 games since, including all three games of the NLDS against the Rockies, slashing .356/.408/.733.
"He knows when I'm right, I still play this game at a really high level," Braun said. "Part of it was him taking the decision out of my hands to say, 'We want to give you a couple days off. We want to do everything we can to try to get you 100 percent down the stretch.'
"It's worked out, because obviously I've played my best baseball the last two weeks when it's mattered most. As you get to a point where you feel things, it makes sense to take that precaution."
Vote of confidence for Jeffress
The only Brewers pitcher who had a hint of a hard time in the NL Division Series against the Rockies was Jeremy Jeffress, who bounced back from a blown save to preserve a tie in the Brewers' 10-inning victory in Game 1, then exited Game 3 after two runners reached in the ninth inning.
Josh Hader finished the frame, and the Brewers' 3-0 sweep.
"The inning was always going to be split," Counsell said. "J.J. was going to have the first three hitters and then Josh had the rest."
Jeffress didn't pitch much down the stretch for the Brewers, mostly because of game circumstances. Might he have been a bit rusty?
"I will never tell you that rest is a bad thing for a relief pitcher," Counsell said. "If we try to tell a story where rest is a bad thing for a relief pitcher, I'll fight you on it. Because there is no way it is, especially at this time of year. J.J. had had an incredible season, and he continues to have an incredible season. But he is going to give up runs. [They all] have given up runs. They need to keep going. J.J. proved it in Game 1."
Pitching plan revealed
Counsell announced Thursday that Giovany Gonzalez would start Game 1 of the NLCS opposite L.A. ace Clayton Kershaw. Wade Miley will take the hill in Game 2, and Jhoulys Chacin is slotted for Game 3.
In the best-of-five NLDS, they began with an "opener" in Brandon Woodruff, then pitched Chacin on short rest in Game 2. Chacin threw a bullpen session Wednesday at Miller Park.