LOS ANGELES -- The Brewers have a better bullpen than the Dodgers. The Brewers have a better bullpen than the Dodgers. The Brewers … and so on and so forth.
No doubt, with a wipeout left-hander like Josh Hader and right-handed closer in Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee enters into the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers well-armed in relief.
"Honestly, this is the best bullpen I've ever seen in the big leagues ever put together," said Brewers starter Giovany Gonzalez, an 11-year veteran.
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But Los Angeles didn't reached the NLCS for a third consecutive season without enjoying some late-inning success of its own. The Dodgers' bullpen allowed fewer runs per game this year than the Brewers' relief corps. Milwaukee relievers have allowed more inherited runs and a higher percentage of inherited runners to score than Los Angeles' relievers.
The Brewers have only a slight advantage over the Dodgers in save percentage (66 percent to 64 percent). Milwaukee had 49 saves and 25 blown saves, Los Angeles 48 and 27. When leading after eight innings, the Brewers were 84-3, the Dodgers 80-4.
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The soiled reputation of Los Angeles' bullpen mostly stems from the unfortunate episode of the irregular heartbeat experienced by Kenley Jansen, the following 10 days the bullpen imploded while he was on the disabled list and his struggles getting back to top form. That was very much on display for Jansen against the Braves in the NL Division Series.
Los Angeles relievers were charged with 10 losses in the 49 games after Jansen was stricken, while the All-Star closer posted a 5.40 ERA and allowed a staggering seven homers in 19 outings that preceded the NLDS.
"The bullpen finished strong and actually got off to a good start, but it got bumpy especially when Kenley was out," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "I also think the way this team -- with the roster construction and starters that don't go deep into games and an offense that struggled -- it brought the bullpen more into the forefront than it probably should have.
"The story got funneled to the bullpen, because it was handed a lot of very narrow leads early in games. When we look at the overall performance, we have guys with good stuff, guys that miss bats, don't walk guys. There's a good amount of specialization to exploit certain matchups. We certainly feel good about the group as a whole."
The Brewers and Dodgers bullpens finished ranked Nos. 1-2 in ERA in September, so both units enter the series as a strength.
If there is a real difference between the two 'pens, it's in the usage. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell often extends his relievers beyond one inning and makes fewer changes. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is more focused on matchups and makes more frequent pitching changes seeking incremental advantages.
As long as Jansen's cutter is cutting and he isn't asked to pitch in Colorado, the Los Angeles bullpen sets him up with Kenta Maeda primarily handling the eighth inning, Pedro Baez being under-the-radar great lately in the seventh inning and Scott Alexander as the situational lefty who will probably get very familiar facing Christian Yelich in this series, if it isn't rookie Caleb Ferguson.
Yelich is 0-for-1 with a strikeout against Alexander, but he's 3-for-5 with a double and triple off Jansen, 4-for-9 against Maeda, 13-for-32 against Alex Wood, 0-for-2 with a walk against Baez and 0-for-1 against Dylan Floro and Ryan Madson.