When the Dodgers drew the Nationals as a first-round opponent last year, Washington was considered an underdog to fear because of starting pitching. But the Nationals had won 93 games.
This year’s unique rules for the best-of-three Wild Card Series seem stacked in favor of the Dodgers. All games will be played at Dodger Stadium, where Los Angeles went 21-9. This year’s 28-man roster favors a team with depth, and nobody has more than the Dodgers. Beyond that, the Brewers posted a losing record (29-31) in the regular season.
But, as the Dodgers know from being eliminated in seven consecutive postseasons, anything can happen in a short series, even though they lost only one series all regular season.
"They’re the favorites for what they’ve done in the regular season and they’re a great team, no doubt, but we’ve got a chance,” the Brewers’ Christian Yelich said. “We’ve had some great battles against each other in the past. I think our teams are very familiar with each other.
“We’re going to go in there with our best effort and see what we can do. It’s a three-game series. That’s a unique aspect of this year’s postseason, so anything can happen.”
Here are some of the questions entering Game 1:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
The game is set for 10 p.m. ET today, airing on ESPN.
What are the starting lineups?
1) Christian Yelich, LF
2) Ryan Braun, RF
3) Jedd Gyorko, 1B
4) Daniel Vogelbach, DH
5) Avisaíl García, CF
6) Orlando Arcia, SS
7) Eric Sogard, 3B
8) Keston Hiura, 2B
9) Omar Narváez, C
1) Mookie Betts, RF
2) Corey Seager, SS
3) Justin Turner, 3B
4) Max Muncy, 1B
5) Will Smith, C
6) Cody Bellinger, CF
7) AJ Pollock, LF
8) Edwin Ríos, DH
9) Chris Taylor, 2B
Who are the starting pitchers?
Brewers: The Brewers will start Brent Suter in a bullpen game for Game 1 on Wednesday. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee's best starter in 2020, landed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left oblique on Saturday and won’t be eligible for this series. Brandon Woodruff, their Opening Day starter, struck out 10 batters in eight scoreless innings on a season-high 108 pitches on Saturday and would have been on short rest for a Game 1 start. Suter delivered three scoreless spot starts in September, the most recent a four-inning outing against the Cardinals in Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader. With Suter going, Woodruff will be on full rest for Game 2.
Dodgers: Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw will start the first two games in that order, as they did in last year’s NL Division Series, setting up Buehler to start twice in a second round. A potential Game 3 start could go to Tony Gonsolin, or the right-hander could follow an opener like Brusdar Graterol or Victor González.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Brewers: Until Wednesday’s stunning news that right-hander Devin Williams was left off the roster with a shoulder injury, Milwaukee’s bullpen was its strength. Now it’s Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Alex Claudio, an improving Corey Knebel and a number of rookies -- Eric Yardley, Drew Rasmussen and Justin Topa -- who will have to step up into huge roles. Peralta has brought swing-and-miss stuff to extended outings in the middle innings, but he was needed for 53 pitches of emergency (and not very effective) relief on Sunday after Brett Anderson left with a blister. Rasmussen has a high-90s fastball and can be electric if he controls it.
Dodgers: It’s complicated. For Games 1 and 2, Kenley Jansen is the closer, Pedro Báez and Blake Treinen are the right-handed setup men, González has emerged as the go-to lefty with Caleb Ferguson having just had Tommy John surgery, while Dylan Floro seems to be Roberts’ choice to pitch out of jams and Jake McGee is the pick when a strikeout is needed. Graterol and his triple-digit fastball is a favorite opener. Joe Kelly is a wild card. Then there are starters Julio Urías and Gonsolin, at least one of whom figures to be held back for Game 3.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Brewers: Peralta, potentially, although it helps that the series does not begin until Wednesday. Hader, however, is well rested and ready.
Dodgers: Dustin May threw four innings of relief on Sunday, making him most likely to be held back until a possible Game 3 start or long-relief role in that game. Otherwise, with two days off, everybody should be well rested.
Any injuries of note?
Brewers: Vogelbach has given the Brewers’ anemic offense a jolt down the stretch, but he pulled up running to first base late in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis with a right quad issue. He was well enough to make the roster. Gamel came off the 10-day injured list (left quad) to make the Wild Card Series roster. Catcher Manny Piña is out for this round, but more concerning are the pitching injuries. Burnes was in the running for the NL ERA title going into the final week, and he’s a huge loss. The Brewers are also without lefty starter Anderson because of a blister, so someone else would have to start a potential Game 3.
Dodgers: The Dodgers seem confident that Turner (hamstring), Buehler (finger blister) and Betts (hip contusion) all will be ready to go on Wednesday.
Who is hot and who is not?
Brewers: The Brewers set a dubious franchise record with their worst team batting average ever, so there are more players in the “not” category. Following consecutive NL batting titles, Yelich hit .205 with a .786 OPS -- down from 1.100 in 2019 and 1.000 in ‘18, when he won the NL MVP Award. His struggles, combined with Keston Hiura’s NL-worst 34.6 percent strikeout rate, tell a lot of the story of the Brewers’ struggling offense. On the hot side is Vogelbach, who went 19-for-58 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 19 games for the Brewers after going 5-for-57 with the Mariners and Blue Jays to start the year. And L.A. native Ryan Braun had another big September despite a 2-for-25 finish, with an OPS approaching 1.000 for the final month.
Dodgers: Although Turner -- “Mr. October” -- finished the season with a streak of 30 consecutive games reaching base and Seager had been nearly as valuable as Betts, the other hot names are not who you would think. Bellinger, Muncy and Pederson have had disappointing seasons, although they showed some signs of life in the last week. Betts tailed off a bit before getting drilled in the hip on Saturday night. The real hot bats belong to Pollock, with 10 homers in September; Smith, who is a slugging machine; and Edwin Ríos, who is homering at a rate Babe Ruth would appreciate. Jansen is having a better season than his critics would acknowledge, González has been a godsend with the loss of Caleb Ferguson, and Jake McGee is an amazing turnaround story after being released by Colorado.
What is the postseason history between the two clubs?
The Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in a seven-game NL Championship Series in 2018.
“I feel like we owe them a lot, losing to them in Game 7 in 2018,” Hader said. “For me, personally, and I would assume for the whole team, we have a lot going into this series, for sure. There’s definitely a chip on the shoulder, wanting to finish this out the right way.”
Anything else fans might want to know?
When Kershaw starts Game 2 for the Dodgers, Austin Barnes almost assuredly will catch him, with Smith serving as designated hitter. The Brewers prefer their lineup with Braun in right field and Vogelbach at DH, but they may have to adjust based on Braun’s balky back, which gave him trouble late in the season. And these teams have played each other close in L.A.; while the Dodgers won two of the three games at Dodger Stadium during the ‘18 NLCS, the Brewers have won or split each of the last three-regular season series between the teams there.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.