The Brewers treated every game during the final week and a half of the regular season as a must-win game, as they attempted to run down the Cubs in the National League Central Division.
By winning their final seven games in the regular season, they were able to pull even with the Cubs and force a one-game playoff for the division title, which they also won.
They just keep winning.
With complete domination in every facet of the game, the Brew Crew swept the Rockies in the NLDS, winning the three games by a combined 13-2 score. That dominance came from solid starting pitching, tremendous work out of the bullpen and timely hitting throughout the lineup.
On Friday, the stage shifted to the NLCS and a matchup against Dodgers’ all-world southpaw Clayton Kershaw. If the Brewers were going to extend their winning streak to 12, they would certainly have to earn it.
Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell tabbed Gio Gonzalez to start the game, but referred to him as his first “out-getter” in the game. While he didn’t specifically come out and call him an “opener”, it was implied that Gonzalez wouldn’t work too deep into the ballgame and the Brewers would be relying heavily on their strong bullpen.
Gonzalez came out firing, retiring the Dodgers in order in the first inning. He was tagged by Manny Machado for a leadoff home run in the second inning though, giving the Dodgers an early 1-0 lead. He battled back to retire the next three hitters in order, but Counsell had seen enough by then.
In an effort to neutralize the right-handed heavy lineup that the Dodgers rolled out against Gonzalez, Counsell turned to right-hander Brandon Woodruff to begin the third inning. The 25-year-old hurler set down the Dodgers in order in the third, but was due to lead off the bottom half of the inning for the Brewers.
Counsell had mentioned pregame that due to the fact that he may have to rely heavily on his bullpen during the series, there would be situations in which his relief pitchers would have to hit, you simply can’t double-switch every time the pitcher’s spot is due up. So Woodruff had to take his turn at the dish, a left-handed hitter against Clayton Kershaw, who had limited same-handed batters to a .243/.268/.412 slash line with six homers and 34 strikeouts in 136 at-bats during the regular season.
Woodruff himself had just 10 plate appearances during the regular season, going 2-for-8 (.250) with a home run that he hit off of Pirates’ hurler Nick Kingham. So naturally, Woodruff clobbered a Kershaw fastball over the wall in center field for a game-tying 407-foot home run.
Woodruff became just the third relief pitcher to hit a home run in a postseason game, joining Rosy Ryan (1924) and Travis Wood (2016). He also became the first left-handed hitting pitcher to homer off of a left-handed pitcher in postseason history. That’s improbable enough in and of itself, without factoring in that it was done off of Clayton Kershaw.
In addition, he also had the fewest number of regular season at-bats (18) of any player to hit a home run in the postseason.
The Brewers scratched out a second run to take the lead in the third inning, as Lorenzo Cain singled, advanced to second on a walk by Christian Yelich, took third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hernan Perez. Perez came to the plate with the bases loaded in the inning after Jesus Aguilar had reached on catcher’s interference after his bat came in contact with Yasmani Grandal’s glove.
Speaking of Grandal, it was a brutal night all around for the Dodgers’ catcher. He became the first catcher in MLB postseason history to have two passed balls and two errors in the same game. That’s in addition to the catcher’s interference call that prolonged the third inning and allowed the Brewers to tack on another run.
In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Dodgers are now the only team in MLB postseason history to commit four errors and have two passed balls in the same game. That’s not the type of thing that you want to be in the record books for.
Woodruff remained in the game for the fourth inning, and appeared to be riding high on the momentum of his improbable home run. He mowed right through the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup, needing only 14 pitches to strike out Max Muncy, Manny Machado and Matt Kemp in succession.
Kershaw ran into more trouble in the fourth inning, allowing the first two hitters to reach before pinch-hitter Domingo Santana broke things open with a two-run single. That was it for Kershaw who allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits over three-plus innings. It was the shortest postseason start of Kershaw’s career, and it came on the heels of him delivering his longest and finest postseason outing his last time out.
The Brewers added to their lead in the fourth inning as Santana swiped second base, then raced home on an RBI single off the bat of Ryan Braun. That increased their lead to 5-1 at the time.
That’s how the score would remain until the seventh, where Jesus Aguilar crushed a solo homer off of Julio Urias to make it a 6-1 game. At the time, it seemed like nothing more than a tack-on insurance run, but it would end up proving to be extremely valuable.
After Woodruff, the Brewers turned to Josh Hader who struck out four while twirling three shutout innings, keeping it a 6-1 game heading into the eighth inning. The left-hander threw a career-high 46 pitches in the game, a remarkable 34 of them for strikes in the dominant performance. He'll likely be unavailable for Game 2 on Saturday.
Counsell continued to massage his bullpen in the eighth inning, calling on Xavier Cedeno to begin the inning. The left-hander allowed a leadoff single to Yasmani Grandal, then got Joc Pederson to hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning. Joakim Soria then came on, allowing a single to Chris Taylor and a two-out walk to Max Muncy to load the bases.
Counsell then turned the game over to Jeremy Jeffress. Manny Machado greeted him by serving a two-run single into left field to cut their deficit to 6-3. Matt Kemp followed with a run-scoring single of his own and all of a sudden what once looked to be an insurmountable lead was now just a two-run advantage.
After getting the first two outs of the inning rather easily, he issued a walk to Joc Pederson that put the tying run at the plate in the form of Chris Taylor. Taylor crushed a ball into the gap in right center that Lorenzo Cain nearly made a spectacular running grab on, but the ball popped out of his glove just before he crashed into the wall. Taylor checked in at third with an RBI triple and all of a sudden it was a one-run game.
With ice water in his veins, Knebel stormed right back to strike out Justin Turner, stranding the tying runner at third and giving the Brewers the critical Game 1 victory.
These two teams will meet again on Saturday as Wade Miley will do battle against Hyun-Jin Ryu. With the Brewers leaning on their bullpen for seven innings in the first game of the series, they’ll likely be hoping for more than six outs from Miley in that start. As alluded to above, Josh Hader is expected to be unavailable in that game after working three stellar innings on Friday.
With another left-hander on the hill for the Dodgers, expect the Brewers to roll out a similar lineup on Saturday, perhaps with the only exception being a change behind the dish from Manny Pina to Erik Kratz.
Tommy John for Didi
In the same week that the Yankees were bounced from the postseason, they were dealt another blow on Friday when it was announced that shortstop Didi Gregorius was diagnosed with an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow and would be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Gregorius suffered the injury on a throw during Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, then toughed it out for the remainder of the series.
Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone indicated that he still expects Gregorius to play the “bulk” of the 2019 season, but there’s no clear timetable for his return at the moment. There’s virtually no chance that he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season.
The Yankees could decide to slide Gleyber Torres over to shortstop to cover the position while Gregorius is rehabbing, though they are also likely to weigh options outside of the organization as well.
When preparing for 2019 fantasy drafts, I think it’s safe to assume that Gregorius misses at least the first month of the regular season. That takes him from what would have been a likely seventh round pick in 15-team formats, likely into the 10th or 11th round.
American League Quick Hits: Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that former Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi interviewed for the Rangers’ managerial vacancy on Friday. The Rangers are casting an extremely wide net in their search. They have already interviewed Jayce Tingler, Brandon Hyde and Joe Espada and are expected to conduct a formal interview with interim manager Don Wakamatsu. Grant also notes that they have done background work on Rod Barajas, Chris Woodward, Mark DeRosa, David Bell, Rocco Baldelli, Dusty Wathan and Sandy Alomar Jr. Girardi has also interviewed for the Reds' manager job...CC Sabathia underwent successful surgery on his right knee on Friday, the same cleanup procedure that he had last winter to battle a chronic knee problem. He should be fully recovered and ready to go for the start of spring training… Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman said Friday that trading Sonny Gray this offseason would be best for both parties. The right-hander is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, but could be an attractive commodity in the trade market… The Astros made a few changes to their roster in advance of the ALCS starting on Saturday, replacing reliever Will Harris and pinch-runner Myles Straw with a pair of long-time setup men in Hector Rondon and Joe Smith… Mitch Moreland (hamstring) made it through Friday’s workout without any issues and declared himself ready for the start of the ALCS… Carlos Correa told reporters Friday that his back is fully healthy, and that he feels the best that he has since returning from the disabled list… The Twins removed Gregorio Petit from their 40-man roster, sending him outright to Triple-A Rochester… White Sox’ prospect Luis Robert was removed from Friday’s Arizona Fall League contest with an apparent leg injury, sustained while legging out a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning.
National League Quick Hits: The Dodgers shuffled their roster a little prior to the start of the NLCS, adding left-handed phenom Julio Urias to the roster in place of Scott Alexander. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicated that the move was made to add more length to the Dodgers’ bullpen. Ross Stripling, who also would have added length, albeit from the right-side, was passed over in favor of Urias… The Brewers also made one tweak to their roster for the NLCS, replacing outfielder Keon Broxton with left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno to provide an extra arm in a bullpen that looks as though it’ll play a pivotal role in the series… The Marlins made a slew of 40-man roster moves on Friday sending Javy Guerra, Tyler Cloyd, Rafael Ortega, James Needy and Chris Bostick outright to Triple-A New Orleans…