MILWAUKEE -- The whole season has been a dream for Christian Yelich, really, and it keeps getting better. It's about to continue with a National League Championship Series against his boyhood team.Yelich grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., just up the 101 freeway from Dodger Stadium. He attended too many
MILWAUKEE -- The whole season has been a dream for Christian Yelich, really, and it keeps getting better. It's about to continue with a National League Championship Series against his boyhood team.
Yelich grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., just up the 101 freeway from Dodger Stadium. He attended too many Dodgers games as a kid to count, starting with a climb to the powder blue seats in the upper deck as a seven-year-old. More recently, he found a spot in the stands for an October game during the Dodgers' recent run of postseason appearances.
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"I have a ton of friends and family that are diehard Dodger fans who say that they're not right now. I never thought I'd see the day, honestly," Yelich said. "My whole life, they always told me, 'If you ever play the Dodgers in the playoffs, we'd root for you to do well, but the Dodgers to win.'
"Now they want the Brewers to win. They've come a long way."
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So has Yelich, who was a heck of a ballplayer with the Marlins -- good enough to net four premium prospects in a late January trade -- but has turned into something else with the Brewers. A solid first half made Yelich an NL All-Star, and an otherworldly second half left him flirting with the Triple Crown and heading into the postseason as the frontrunner for the NL MVP Award.
The Rockies pitched him carefully in the NL Division Series after Yelich's two-run homer in Game 1, walking him six times in Milwaukee's three-game sweep.
Now he's the player to watch in the NLCS.
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You knew that, of course. But perhaps you did not know the numbers. The Dodgers boast a solid starting rotation with three left-handers; Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. The best of them is Kershaw, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who is lined up to start NLCS Game 1 against Giovany Gonzalez on Friday night. But Yelich is 9-for-17 with a pair of home runs in regular season matchups against L.A.'s ace, including a home run in July at Miller Park that sparked a Brewers come-from-behind win over Kershaw and the Dodgers.
Against the pitchers on the Dodgers' NLDS roster, Yelich has a .409/.429/.636 career slash line. Against all left-handed pitchers during the 2018 regular season, Yelich slashed .337/.396/.587. He was better against right-handers, as you'd expect. But not by much.
"Really good hitter," Kershaw said. "Obviously, he's had a tremendous second half. You know, who knows if this is what he could have done in Miami? But he's definitely swinging the bat very well, and honestly, I'm about to go look right now, so I don't know what he's changed since the last time I faced him or anything like that. But yeah, he's gotten some hits off me, for sure, and I'm going to try not to let him do that [in Game 1]."
Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: "Obviously, you're aware of him, and you have to kind of sequence him the right way, because he's swinging the bat very well. He's an MVP."
Those gaudy splits didn't surprise Yelich's teammates.
"Yelich hits lefties, righties, starters, relievers," said Ryan Braun. "He hits velocity and offspeed. There's nothing, really, that he doesn't hit."
Would Braun be surprised to hear that Yelich even hits Kershaw?
"He's such a great, pure hitter, so it doesn't surprise me," Braun said. "It's obviously challenging for lefties to hit other quality lefties, but we've seen it time and again, all year, he's just elevated his game to a level where there are very few players on the planet who are as good as he is at playing this game."
Braun grew up in Los Angeles as a Dodgers fan, too. So did Mike Moustakas. All said it would be special to play for a spot in the World Series at the ballpark they once visited as kids.
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"I've sat all over that stadium," said Yelich. "I was lucky enough to have some friends whose family had season tickets, and they would bring you along. It was before cell phones, so they'd call your house when you were eight years old -- 'Hey, you want to go to the Dodger game?' The answer was always, 'Yeah.'
"You would play your travel ball tournaments in the summer and go in your uniform to Dodger Stadium, change in the parking lot into normal clothes and then go in and watch batting practice and the game. You would go to that stadium hoping to one day be on that field, let alone in a playoff game in the situation we're in as a team.
"It's like a dream, I'm telling you. The whole year, really, has been crazy. But you could see this shaping up before the playoffs started. You just knew it was going to happen. Here we are.
"It's going to be fun. It's going to be loud."
It should be loud.
The World Series is on the line.
"Ten-year-old me probably would have never believed it was going to happen," Yelich said. "In that aspect, it's really cool. I'm going to have fun with it. Enjoy the experience, because it possibly could be a once-in-a-lifetime-type deal."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.