MILWAUKEE – It is not baseball the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing as much as it is intellectual warfare.
And after two games of the National League Championship Series, this chess match is a stalemate.
Six outs from dropping the first two games of the NLCS and seeing their playoff hopes perish for a sixth consecutive autumn, the slumbering Dodgers finally got the jolt they needed: A thunderous two-run home run from Justin Turner that lifted them to a 4-3 victory at Miller Park.
The teams head back to Los Angeles with the series squared at 1-1, but the momentum is firmly with the Dodgers.
For the second consecutive game, they dented the back end of the Brewers’ bullpen. This time, they finished the job.
A closer look at Game 2 and what’s next:
The Dodgers swung the platoon advantage in their favor and got the matchups they desired to erase a 3-0, seventh-inning deficit and, in essence, save their season.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell’s intentions were clear when he made an otherwise puzzling decision to start left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley in the first two games: The platoon-happy Dodgers would be forced to bench four to five of the seven players who hit at least 20 home runs for them this season: Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Yasmani GRandal and Yasiel Puig, a right-hander who hits righty pitchers better.
In Game 1, super reliever Josh Hader slammed the door on the Dodgers for three innings after Roberts liberated his lefty sluggers from the bench.
In Game 2, Miley put the Brewers in a position Counsell could not have dreamed up: He shut out the powerful Dodgers for 5 2/3 innings and banged out two hits – scoring their second run – as he handed a 2-0 lead to the bullpen.
It was 3-0 and, with Hader down, time for Counsell to roll with a cavalry of right-handed relievers.
And time for the Dodgers to counter-punch.
They staged an exhaustive two-run rally in the seventh, sending seven men to the plate, beginning with Muncy’s leadoff walk off Corbin Burnes. Manny Machado’s single preceded the contributions of two more lefty sluggers freed from the pine: Bellinger stroked an RBI single and Joc Pederson dropped in a little bloop to load the bases.
Though a Yasiel Puig strikeout and Grandal bases-loaded double play – capped by a sad feet-first slide into first – short-circuited a potentially huge inning, the damage had been done. Jeffress, the Brewers’ closer in name, had been lured into the game early. A decisive strike seemed imminent.
And after Chris Taylor’s infield single, it came: A no-doubt drive to left from Turner, who in Game 1 suffered his first four-strikeout game ever.
Things were different in Game 2. A lot of things.
- Injured Brewers pitchers told to stay out of dugout
- Dodgers let Kershaw down in Game 1
State of the Dodgers
They go home all square and will hand the ball to cocksure rookie Walker Buehler, who posted a 1.93 ERA at Dodger Stadium this season. Perhaps the home cooking will eradicate their sluggish performance throughout most of the two games under Miller Park’s roof.
Either way, they can take solace in the split as well as the performance of their bullpen: Relievers Kenta Maeda, Ryan Madson, Dylan Floro and Pedro Baez provided scoreless relief in both games, enabling the Dodgers to claw back in the late innings.
State of the Brewers
They will rue this loss, but deep down probably realized winning a game with a Hader-less bullpen and a starter in Miley who hadn’t pitched past the fifth inning in six weeks would be a bonus.
Of greater concern: The performance of Burnes, Jeffress, Corey Knebel and Joakim Soria, who have combined to give up seven earned runs in four innings pitched (a 15.75 ERA). They nearly lost both games – and definitely blew Game 2.
Man of the moment
Turner. He looked bad in Game 1, striking out to end the game with the tying run on third, his fourth punchout. Saturday started cheerier: He rolled a single to the opposite field to wash away Friday.
Seven innings later came one of the two biggest home runs of his career, joining the Game 2 walk-off homer he hit against the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 NLCS.
Miley. The man was probably expected to pitch three or four innings. He nearly pitched six, retiring 16 consecutive Dodgers after Turner’s first-inning single. Oh, and he banged out a pair of hits – scoring the Brewers’ second run – as Milwaukee pitchers have been some of their best offensive forces in this series.
What you missed on TV
Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar doffing his hat and acknowledging the crowd of 43,905 as he came off the field during a double switch. Oh, the standing O was for Miley? Details, details.