The Los Angeles Dodgers hit the most home runs in baseball and produced the best staff ERA in the game, yet they will enter the opener of their first-round National League playoff series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday looking to get even better.
It is nice to be the best team in baseball with a 43-17 record and roster depth teams envy. But the Brewers will explore some zones of vulnerability.
The Dodgers' Game 1 starter, Walker Buehler (1-0, 3.44 ERA), was on the disabled list twice in September because of a blister at the tip of his right index finger. He pitched just 11 2/3 innings in September.
Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger has struggled to maintain his over-exaggerated swing, batting .239 with an anemic .455 slugging percentage. And third baseman Justin Turner (hamstring) played just 10 games in September.
Yet the Dodgers chugged along, winning 10 of their last 12 games. They went 39-10 in games when they hit a home run, and they socked 118 homers in all.
Mookie Betts and Corey Seager powered the offense. Betts batted .292 with a .927 OPS while Seager was at .307 and .943. The right-left duo combined for 31 home runs and 80 RBIs. AJ Pollock had 16 home runs, tied for the club lead with Betts.
Buehler will be backed by a bullpen that led the NL with a 2.74 ERA.
Buehler has faced the Brewers just once, giving up one run in seven innings in 2018 but still taking the loss.
"I think the pieces are there and now we just have to go out and play good quality baseball," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "The pitching has carried us, in my opinion, along with the defense, and now we have to go out there and execute. Take good at-bats and play every pitch."
Perhaps looking for any advantage they can get, or undecided on how to handle all that Dodgers firepower, the Brewers hadn't named a Game 1 starter through Monday.
Right-hander Corbin Burnes went 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 appearances (nine starts), but he won't pitch in the series after he came away with a strained left oblique last week. Neither will top reliever Devin Williams, who was left off the roster with a reported arm issue.
Instead, the Brewers will go with a bullpen game in the opener, giving the start to left-hander Brent Suter (2-0, 3.13 ERA). In his four appearances as an opener, he had no decisions and a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings.
Milwaukee finished sixth in the NL with a staff ERA of 4.16, and the team's relievers were fourth with a 4.17 mark.
The Brewers could use some improvement on offense. They batted .223 as a team, 26th in the majors, while Christian Yelich batted .205. The 2018 NL MVP had a .786 OPS, nowhere near his marks of 1.100 in 2019 and 1.000 in 2018.
Second baseman Keston Hiura led the NL with 85 strikeouts this season. Daniel Vogelbach was plucked off waivers on Sept. 3 and went 19-for-58 (.328) with four home runs in 19 games for Milwaukee. He sustained a leg injury Sunday but is on the roster.
Mentally the Brewers are willing, despite their 29-31 record, but physically they might not be able to push the Dodgers as they did in the 2018 NL Championship Series, when Los Angeles needed seven games to advance to the World Series.
"I feel like we owe them a lot, losing to them in Game 7 in 2018," said Brewers reliever Josh Hader, who had a 3.79 ERA in 21 appearances this year and led the NL with 13 saves.
"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."
--Field Level Media
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