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Four X-factors to decide who wins NL pennant

October 20, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- A complicated, fascinating National League Championship Series reaches the only logical conclusion on Saturday, when the Dodgers and Brewers play the first NLCS Game 7 since 2012.:: NLCS schedule and results ::It's certainly true that one baseball game can turn on just about anything, and it's often something

MILWAUKEE -- A complicated, fascinating National League Championship Series reaches the only logical conclusion on Saturday, when the Dodgers and Brewers play the first NLCS Game 7 since 2012.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
It's certainly true that one baseball game can turn on just about anything, and it's often something or someone unforeseen that wins or loses a single game. But even so, a few unknowns stand above the rest when it comes to the most likely determining factors in tonight's game.
With that in mind, MLB.com's crew at the series presents four questions that we believe will determine the outcome of Game 7.
Joe Trezza: How will the Brewers use Josh Hader?
It is the question that's loomed over every one of the Brewers' games this October, and it'll loom larger than ever tonight, with Hader on three days' rest and Milwaukee in a must-win situation. In what's been a constant chess match of an NLCS, Hader has been manager Craig Counsell's ultimate trump card, able to be deployed at any point in a game and for multiple innings.
The X-factor of this series now becomes the X-factor of Game 7, so much so that there was buzz suggesting Hader should start, ensuring the Brewers don't fall behind without using him. He won't, officially. Jhoulys Chacin is scheduled to start. But given the trickery that Milwaukee pulled with Wade Miley in Game 5, nothing is off the table. What's guaranteed is that Hader will be ready for both best- and worst-case scenarios, whether Chacin finds trouble early or is spotted an early lead.
Hader well-rested for must-win finale
"You'll see him [tonight]," Counsell warned, acknowledging the one thing we all do know.
NLCS gear:Dodgers | Brewers

Todd Zolecki: Will Manny Machado show why he should be a $300 million man with a big Game 7?
Machado has drawn plenty of unwanted attention in the NLCS. He did not run hard down the first-base line on a play in Game 2. Machado said in a FS1 interview that he will never be "Johnny Hustle" and that running hard and sliding into bases is not his "cup of tea." He then made contact with Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in Game 4, sparking a heated exchange and clearing both bullpens and benches. Afterward Christian Yelich called Machado a "dirty player." Machado then went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Game 6 as Milwaukee fans showered him with boos.

Machado can repair some of the damage with a big performance in Game 7. This is why the Dodgers got him, isn't it? For moments like this? This is why Machado will be one of the most coveted players in free agency this offseason, right?

Ken Gurnick: Is rookie Walker Buehler ready for The Moment?
The stuff is electric, the confidence is off the charts and he stepped up big-time in Game 163 to clinch a division title. But Game 7 is an entirely different animal, and Buehler is a rookie. He hasn't pitched like one, with the most glaring exception being the five-run second inning of Game 3 in the NL Division Series at a noisy SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
Miller Park was loud in Game 6, and the Brewers gave fans an assist for energizing their dugout. The noise also seemed to have gotten to Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, so Buehler's composure will be tested. Pitching at home in Game 3 against Chacin, Buehler struck out eight but allowed four runs in seven innings, including a homer to Orlando Arcia, a triple to Travis Shaw and doubles to Ryan Braun and Erik Kratz. There's a reason why it's been 11 years since the last rookie (Daisuke Matsuzaka) started a Game 7.

Adam McCalvy: Can the Brewers' offense do that again?
"We've got to do a little better job offensively," Counsell said after another quiet hitting performance in Game 5, an understated way to sum up the story of the series from Milwaukee's point of view. The Brewers came home 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position in the NLCS, with Yelich in a 3-for-20 funk, Mike Moustakas 2-for-21 and Aguilar a quiet 4-for-18.
Then came the first inning of Game 6, when Milwaukee tallied five hits -- including three in a row with men in scoring position -- to take a 4-1 lead in a game that never got closer than three runs the rest of the way. By the time the day was done, the Brewers had 11 hits to match their series high from a win in Game 1, with all of those hitters playing significant roles.

Can Milwaukee carry it over against Buehler?
"Really, since Game 1, I thought it was the first time we really did a heck of a job getting out pitch to hit a lot of the night," Counsell said.
"It's encouraging for us to move into tomorrow," Braun said on Friday night.

Ken Gurnick, Adam McCalvy, Joe Trezza and Todd Zolecki are reporters for MLB.com.