2018 NLCS travel day memos: Part II

Three more points of interest after five NLCS contests between the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers

Three notes as the teams return to Milwaukee for the balance of the series:

The Dodgers showed why they are defending NL champions

I may be a homer, but even I can retain a level of professional distance and recognize the obvious: the Dodgers earned their 2017 NL pennant, and they’re showing us right now why they are the defending league champs.

No one expected the brutal Brewers (Brew-tal?) implosion in Game 5, but the Dodgers have showed their championship mettle while hosting their portion of the NLCS. After the Game 3 anomaly, the Dodgers got stout pitching, worked counts and exploited opportunities to earn a 3-2 series lead and the opportunity to clinch Friday at Miller Park.

Yes, there were antics, but this is a supremely-talented, veteran club demonstrating that they’ve been here before and they know exactly what they need to do. As much as it pains me to say it, one can’t say the same about the Brewers, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas notwithstanding. Craig Counsell may have two World Series rings, but playing in the Fall Classic and managing Postseason ball are two different things. This is a learning experience for Counsell as it is for the roster and, if they want to break through to the World Series, they’re going to have to master these lessons in a hurry in addition to beating the Dodgers twice. With a day-off and a return to God’s country, the Brewers can circle the wagons. Wresting the pennant away from the Dodgers is attainable, to be sure, but a tall order.

Give credit where it’s due: the Dodgers, #Machode and all, have done what it takes to win in the last two games. The Brewers are backed into the corner.

Counsell is a mad genius, it’s just too bad it didn’t quite work

Much has been made of Counsell’s rope-a-dope strategy to start Wade Miley, force Dave Roberts into a RH-heavy lineup and then swap in Brandon Woodruff after the first batter. What does Baseball do now that the Brewers have farted all over the traditional starting pitcher?

The answer? Nothing.

Football didn’t ban the on-side kick, the hook and ladder play, the flea flicker, direct snap or wildcat. Baseball hasn’t banned the hidden ball trick. Why should they Goodell-style meddle here? Moreover, the Brewers didn’t even win the game. If they want to burn a pitcher for a single first-inning at bat, and theoretically rough it short-handed, God bless ’em. How is this distinct from a situational reliever?

Starting Miley Wednesday was next-level brinkmanship, a bold managerial chess move that trapped Dave Roberts. The Brewers’ failure to seize upon the moment is the only reason it looks bad in hindsight, but the Brewers are now officially on the bleeding edge. They’ll now live and die–and be under greater scrutiny–based on their orthodoxy or lack thereof.

Concede no runs in postseason baseball: a mini-Snap Throw

Lost in the subsequent meltdown at Dodger Stadium was one distressing element when the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead courtesy Max Muncy‘s seeing-eye single in the sixth. (Video here, starting at :35, sorry about the ads.)

Runners at first and second, one out. Woodruff had been solid all game up to this point, where he yielded a base hit to Justin Turner and [inadvertently] hitting Manny Machado with a pitch. Muncy does what has killed the Brewers all second half: a bleeder through a mouse hole into the outfield.

Note where Ryan Braun is playing: deep left. At :53, you can see Muncy’s spray chart, indicating what we all know — Muncy is a pull-heavy hitter. Why are the Brewers, who should have access to similar data and are universally considered one of the strongest analytics teams in Baseball, not shading Braun toward the infield? Muncy doesn’t have oppo home run power (not yet, at least) and yet Braun is playing as though he’s going to get a deep drive. That’s a bad decision stemming from inadequate coaching. But wait, there’s more!

Braun leisurely jogs to the ball and concedes Turner as the go-ahead run. Is Turner out at the plate if Braun is properly positioned and makes an aggressive play firing home? Braun has a great arm, but there’s no guarantee. Regardless, when the Brewers are slumping at the plate, conceding a run may as well be seen as conceding the game. That ball has to come home and the Brewers have to make the Dodgers earn that go-ahead run. Anything less throws Woodruff and the team under the bus. That was a poor decision by Braun the tenured, de facto clubhouse captain. The rest is history.

Speaking of history, Braun’s dogging it reminded me too eerily of another Brewers defensive decision that indicated surrender: July 31, 2015 — As one of Doug Melvin’s final moves as Brewers general manager, Gerardo Parra was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for then-prospect Zach Davies (who, incidentally, was called upon to mop up the mess Wednesday night.) The Brewers were playing the Cubs at home, the game tied at 1. Starlin Castro singled to left field, where Khris Davis, who was always an outfield liability, clearly let up and conceded a go-ahead run. The Cubs went on to win that game 4-1 and completed the four-game sweep in Milwaukee two days later.

I know Davis let up because I was there and saw it happen, watching from the Commissioner’s Box balcony. Ryan Braun was there, too, playing in right.

May history not repeat itself.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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