National League Championship Series Betting Preview: Dodgers vs. Brewers
Baseball's postseason is now down to its final four.
After blitzing through the Colorado Rockies in three games in the National League Division Series, the NL's top-seeded playoff team, the 96-win Milwaukee Brewers, will take on the defending NL pennant-winners from a year ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who defeated the Atlanta Braves handily in four games in the other NLDS. In the American League, the two best teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros, will meet in the ALCS (preview article coming Friday).
In the NLCS, it's also the two best teams going at it, and there are a lot of similarities between the two -- namely, power-hitting offenses and solid bullpens. But despite having four fewer regular season victories than Milwaukee and coming in without home-field advantage, the Dodgers enter as 4/6 favorites, per Paddy Power, to make it to the World Series for the second year in a row.
Let's break down the matchup.
Despite possessing an outstanding offense, one of the best in the NL, the Brewers are statistically inferior to the Dodgers in most categories.
LA finished 5th in runs scored this season, while Milwaukee finished 12th. The Dodgers hit the second-most home runs in MLB, the Brewers hit the fourth-most. The Dodgers had the second-highest isolated power (ISO), at .191, the Brewers were eighth, at .172, and Milwaukee struck out more than Los Angeles did -- 23.5% of the time, 7th-highest in baseball, compared to 22.6% for the Dodgers, tied for 13th.
In terms of wOBA, the Dodgers were third, at .333, and the Brewers had a .322 clip, tied for ninth. And in hard-hit rate, the Dodgers hit the ball hard 38.9% of the time, as calculated by Fangraphs, fourth-best in the league. The Brewers were right behind at 38.5%, fifth-highest in baseball.
The Brewers do have the presumptive NL MVP on their side in Christian Yelich, who came within a whisker of hitting for the Triple Crown. He led the league with a .326 batting average, finished two home runs behind Nolan Arenado, with 36, and finished 1 RBI behind Javier Baez, with 110. It all added up to a 7.6 fWAR season for the off-season trade acquisition. The Brewers also got an MVP performance from free agent Lorenzo Cain, who up up a 5.7 fWAR season and hit .308/.395/.417 with 90 runs scored, 30 steals and elite defense in center field.
Milwaukee can mash the ball, with first baseman Jesus Aguilar emerging as a power threat in the middle of the lineup. He hit 35 bombs this year and knocked in 108 in an All-Star season. Ryan Braun hit 20 bombs, and Travis Shaw went yard 32 times.
But the Dodgers have just as much hitting prowess, with one of the great young stars of the game playing shortstop for them in Manny Machado. The free-agent-to-be put up a 6.2 fWAR season and batted .297/.367/.538 with 37 homers, 107 RBIs and 14 steals for both Baltimore and LA.
Machaco is joined in a potent lineup by perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2018 season, Max Muncy, who slugged 35 homers and hit .263/.391/.582 with a .407 wOBA. Cody Bellinger (25 homers), Yasmani Grandal (24), Kiké Hernandez (21), Yasiel Puig (23) and Joc Pederson (25), all had outstanding power seasons, as well.
The rotation is where the Dodgers have the biggest advantage, and it could be the key to the entire series.
The Dodgers come in with an fWAR of 17.4 among their starting pitchers, fourth-most in baseball in the regular season. The Brewers' combined 9.4 fWAR was 17th. That's a huge gap. The Dodgers rotation ERA of 3.19 was the 2nd-best in baseball, while the Brewers' 3.92 ERA was 11th, and the Dodgers' FIP of 3.42 was 2nd, meanwhile Milwaukee's 4.32 FIP was 18th.
The Dodgers also did a lot better getting guys to whiff, with a strikeout rate of 25.7%, fourth-highest in baseball this year. Milwaukee's 20.3% strikeout rate was just 18th in MLB, and their 11.6% strikeout-to-walk ratio was 19th in baseball, while L.A.'s 19.6% mark was 3rd-best.
And when you look at the names in the two starting rotations, it's easy to why there is such a big divide.
Clayton Kershaw is the Dodgers' staff ace, and he'll get the ball for Game 1 of the NLCS. His 2.73 ERA in 26 starts this year was his "worst" since 2010, and his strikeout rate of 23.9% was the lowest it has been since his rookie season, when he was mostly used as a reliever. Still, his numbers are better than anything the Brewers have.
Kershaw is followed in the rotation by Walker Buehler (2.31 ERA in 23 starts, 9.9 strikeouts per nine), and left-handers Alex Wood (3.65 ERA in 27 starts), Hyun-jin Ryu (1.97 ERA in 15 starts), and Rich Hill (3.69 ERA in 24 starts this season). It's important to note, however, that the Brewers posted the 10th-best wOBA against left-handed pitching this year (.320), and that'll surely be a factor given how southpaw-heavy the Dodgers' rotation is.
Milwaukee will turn to mid-season acquisition Gio Gonzalez to start Game 1 for them. Gonzalez went 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA this year for the Washington Nationals and Brewers, a far higher ERA than last year's 2.96. Gonzalez also suffered from a career-low strikeout rate of 19.8%, down from his career 22.6% mark. Following Gonzalez will be Wade Miley, who in 16 starts put up a 2.57 ERA and a 1.5 fWAR with the Brewers.
Jhoulys Chacin, who was outstanding in Game 2 of the NLDS against Colorado, going five shutout innings and giving up no runs on three hits with three strikeouts and three walks and had a 2.6 fWAR season with a 3.50 ERA and 7.3 punchouts per nine. He'll get the Game 3 start, and could be followed by either Junior Guerra (4.27 ERA in 26 starts), or Freddy Peralta (4.40 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine in 14 starts). The Brewers had the second-lowest average velocity in their rotation (90.8 MPH), so none of these guys blow away hitters with their heaters.
We all know postseasons are often won or lost in the bullpens, at least in the modern game, and in a seven-game series, a stable of quality relievers can make up for even the worst starting rotations nowadays.
Milwaukee holds a decided edge here, with a bullpen fWAR of 7.1 that is 4th in the Majors, while the Dodgers' 3.1 fWAR is 16th. The Brewers' 3.47 ERA is 5th, while the Dodgers' 3.72 ERA was 8th. LA's FIP from the 'pen was also eighth-best (3.88), while Milwaukee had a 3.57 FIP that ranked fourth.
Both units struck out a lot of people. Brewers relievers had a 27.6% strikeout rate that was third-best, while Los Angeles' strikeout rate of 25.7% was fifth-best, and the Brewers had an 18.1% strikeout-to-walk ratio that was the fourth-best in baseball, the Dodgers' 17.5% clip was right behind in fifth.
Josh Hader is the best bullpen arm of the bunch, and Brewers manager Craig Counsell is going to ride him hard in this NLCS, as he likely will all his relievers. Hader had a 2.43 ERA this season and an insane 15.8 strikeouts per nine, but he's ably backed up by Jeremy Jeffress (1.29 ERA, 10.45 strikeouts per nine), Corey Knebel (3.58 ERA, 14.3 strikeouts per nine) and a stable of middle relief arms who can make up for short outings by the starters.
The Dodgers used to have money in the bank with Kenley Jansen, but there's no doubt he slipped this year. His 3.01 ERA is way up from the 1.32 and 1.83 ERAs he put up in the two previous seasons, and his strikeout rate dropped from 41.4% in 2016 and 42.3% last year to 28.4% this season. That is in large part due to a drop in his velocity, from 93.6 MPH in '16 and 93.2 MPH last year to 92.3 MPH this season.
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