MILWAUKEE -- The National League Championship Series will pit a pair of well-rested teams when the Dodgers meet the Brewers at Miller Park for Game 1 tonight.
Teams don't get any hotter than the Brewers, who have won 11 consecutive games, including a sweep of the Rockies in the NL Division Series during which Milwaukee's deep pitching staff set an NLDS record by allowing only two runs, and held Colorado scoreless in 27 of 28 innings.
The Brewers, who have strength in numbers, have decided to start left-hander Giovany Gonzalez in Game 1, while the Dodgers will counter with their ace. Clayton Kershaw would have pitched Game 5 of the NLDS against the Braves had Manny Machado & Co. not closed things out in Game 4 on Monday, setting things up perfectly for L.A. heading into the best-of-seven NLCS. Kershaw allowed four runs (one earned) in six innings and took the loss in his only Miller Park start this year.
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Dodgers: With the Brewers starting lefty Gonzalez, the Dodgers' lineup is almost similar to the one they used in Game 3 of the NLDS against Braves southpaw Sean Newcomb.
1. Chris Taylor, LF
2. Justin Turner, 3B
3. David Freese, 1B
4. Manny Machado, SS
5. Matt Kemp, RF
6. Enrique Hernandez, 2B
7. Cody Bellinger, CF
8. Yasmani Grandal, C
9. Clayton Kershaw, P
Brewers: With Kershaw going for L.A., the Brewers are employing a righty-heavy lineup Friday.
1. Lorenzo Cain, CF
2. Christian Yelich, RF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Jesus Aguilar, 1B
5. Hernan Perez, 2B
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
7. Manny Pina, C
8. Orlando Arcia, SS
9. Giovany Gonzalez, P
Who are the starting pitchers?
Dodgers: After Kershaw in Game 1, the Dodgers will start Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 2, Walker Buehler in Game 3 and Rich Hill in Game 4. With eight scoreless innings against the Braves in Game 2, Kershaw showed he can still dominate even after losing some fastball velocity. Ryu still relishes the big game. After his seven scoreless innings against the Braves, he has a 1.96 ERA in four postseason starts. Buehler came unglued in a five-run second inning with noisy Atlanta fans helping speed up Game 3 of the NLDS, so management decided to start him at home against the Brewers. He steadied the ship with three more scoreless innings to rest the bullpen. Hill struggled with a tight strike zone in the NLDS clincher, but he's immune to postseason pressure. The lefty also could be used in relief in the first two games.
Brewers: After tabbing Brandon Woodruff to start a bullpen day in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Brewers had another surprise in store for Game 1 of the NLCS. They are going with Gonzalez, the veteran acquired from the Nationals on Aug. 31 who made five regular-season starts for the Brewers in September but didn't throw a single pitch in the NLDS against the Rockies. He did not face the Dodgers at all in 2018, and in fact has not faced them since June 5, 2017, for Washington at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers had a .730 OPS against left-handers in '18 (it increased to .750 after they added Machado at the All-Star break), compared to an NL-best .798 mark against right-handers.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Dodgers: After a challenging regular season that included coasting in Spring Training, a hamstring injury and another heart scare, Kenley Jansen was back at his best in two appearances against the Braves, which was probably the best of all outcomes in the series. Kenta Maeda is the setup man again this postseason, with Pedro Baez continuing his under-the-radar great comeback and Scott Alexander is the situational lefty. Caleb Ferguson and Alex Wood were the other two lefties, and Ryan Madson and Dylan Floro delivered big outs. Thomas Stripling might replace one of the above after making a delivery adjustment to eliminate pitch-tipping that might have contributed to his second-half fade. Roberts also suggested that Josh Fields or Julio Urias could make the roster.
Brewers: Milwaukee and Los Angeles rank 1 and 2 in relievers' ERA since the start of September, led by the Brewers' sparkling 1.89 -- nearly a run better than the rest of the pack. Left-hander Josh Hader and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress were the top options all season, but it was resurgent righty Corey Knebel who won NL Reliever of the Month honors for September after returning from a stint in Triple-A. In 19 scoreless appearances since his return, Knebel has faced 66 batters, allowed five hits, four walks and two hit batsmen while striking out 37. Veteran right-hander Joakim Soria, one of Milwaukee's midseason trade additions, is the fourth member of the bullpen "A" team, though rookie Corbin Burnes has pitched his way into the group including four scoreless innings in the NLDS. It's an exceptionally deep group, and the clear strength of a team that led the NL with 96 wins in the regular season.
"We've used the word depth a lot, and sometimes you feel like it's just a buzz word, but in our case, I think it's really important," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Any injuries of note?
Who is hot and who is not?
Dodgers: As a team, the Dodgers batted just .210 in the NLDS, but slugged eight homers, two each by Machado and Muncy. They also drew a staggering 27 walks in the four games, illustrating their approach to stay in the zone, attack strikes or take walks, and pass the baton to the next in line. Bellinger, however, is 0-for-11 in his first postseason action since going 4-for-28 with 17 strikeouts in last year's World Series. Grandal had one homer, but was hitless his other 12 at-bats. The Dodgers have considered carrying an extra bat like Chase Utley or James Farmer to help combat Milwaukee's deep bullpen.
Brewers: Yelich pulled away from the pack of competitors vying for the NL MVP Award with a .770 slugging percentage after the All-Star break, capped by a sensational September that included hitting for a pair of cycles. He kept producing into October, with three hits in Game 163 against the Cubs and a two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Rockies. Colorado pitched carefully to Yelich, who had just two hits but walked six times. Milwaukee's other big offseason acquisition, Cain, was 0-for-10 in the postseason before logging a fifth-inning single in Game 3 against the Rockies. He'll try to get going in the NLCS; Cain was the ALCS MVP in 2014.
And look out for the 38-year-old catcher Kratz, who was 5-for-8 in his two NLDS starts after becoming the oldest player to start his postseason debut since Lave Cross of the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics.
"You want everybody to go into these four days off feeling really good about themselves," said Braun, the only player remaining from Milwaukee's last NLCS entry in 2011. "We know we can be better than we've been over the past few games."
Anything else fans might want to know?
The Dodgers won the regular-season series between the teams, 4-3, including an entertaining four-game series at Dodger Stadium that straddled the end of July and beginning of August. That series included a 1-0 Brewers win followed by Los Angeles' extra-inning walk-off, then the 21-run rout. … Milwaukee's 11-game winning streak -- which includes the final eight games of the regular season and an NLDS sweep -- is the second-longest in franchise history. The longest belongs to the 1987 "Team Streak", which set an American League record with a 13-0 start to the year. ... With temperatures possibly in the 30s tonight, the roof at Miller Park is expected to be closed.