With these Dodgers, it’s al­ways a wild-card se­ries

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - in mil­wau­kee

Oh, their won­der­ful bullpen! Ah, that great Chris­tian Yelich! Hey, look at the mus­ta­chioed dude go­ing down that slide!

We in­ter­rupt all this lovely talk about the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers to re­veal the real truth about the up­com­ing Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

It’s not about the Brew­ers. It’s all about the Dodgers.

There’s no bit of mo­men­tum in the streak­ing Brew­ers that the Dodgers can’t stop. There’s noth­ing the ef­fec­tive Brew­ers re­liev­ers can do that the Dodgers can’t swat. There is no part of the for­mi­da­ble Brew­ers bat­ting or­der that the Dodgers can’t smother.

The Dodgers are deeper, broader, more ver­sa­tile, more bat­tle tested and, hon­estly peo­ple, just a bet­ter base­ball team. That is, as long as they’re the Dodgers. Prob­lem is, some­times they’re not the Dodgers. Some­times they leave scads of run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion. Some­times they walk the bases drunk. Some­times they blow up late.

Some­times, as in Game 3 of the di­vi­sion se­ries against the At­lanta Braves, they do all of this all at once.

Yes, the Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games by a mar­gin of 54-16, but when asked this week to con­firm the pre­vail­ing the­ory

that the Dodgers are play­ing as well as they’ve played all year, Max Muncy de­murred.

“There’s still more to go,” he said.

He’s right, there is. Even in this stacked Dodgers deck, there are wild cards, play­ers whose per­for­mance could be tremen­dous or dev­as­tat­ing, play­ers walk­ing a tightrope that will be stretched even longer in a se­ries with­out home-field ad­van­tage against an un­der­dog team with noth­ing to lose.

The Dodgers might be the bet­ter team, but they’ll need these wild cards to as­sert them­selves for them to be the win­ning team.

Clay­ton Ker­shaw

How can a player who just pitched eight in­nings of two-hit, score­less base­ball in a play­off game be con­sid­ered a wild card?

Be­cause that happened against the vastly over­matched Braves in Game 2 of the Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries, with Ker­shaw run­ning on the an­gry fumes of be­ing passed over for the Game 1 start.

The Dodgers aren’t snub­bing him again, slot­ting him to start the NLCS for them in Game 1 on Fri­day in Mil­wau­kee, which means all the pres­sure is on him again, and the wor­ries about him be­fore last week will resur­face.

He still has a 4.20 earne­drun aver­age in his last five starts of the reg­u­lar sea­son. He still be­gan these play­offs with a 4.35 ca­reer post­sea­son ERA.

And then there’s the is­sue of Yelich, the prob­a­ble Na­tional League MVP. He has been hit­ting everyone well this year but has been pound­ing Ker­shaw for­ever. Yelich is nine for 17 in his ca­reer against Ker­shaw for a .529 aver­age with two home runs and three RBIs, so, yeah, that matchup will be a nifty one.

It says here Ker­shaw has re­claimed his sta­tus as the ace and should be start­ing Game 1. But he is go­ing to need to pitch like it.

Cody Bellinger

Just when everyone had al­most for­got­ten about his .143 aver­age with a record 17 strike­outs in last year’s World Se­ries, here come the post­sea­son strug­gles again.

Bellinger didn’t have a hit in 11 at-bats against the Braves while botch­ing a grounder in the out­field that led to the one big Braves in­ning.

Dodgers man­ager Dave Roberts doesn’t sound wor­ried, not­ing he is see­ing a much bet­ter ap­proach from Bellinger, who drew four walks against the Braves and took some of their pitch­ers into deep counts.

“I still feel Cody is in a good place,” Roberts said. “I think he’s in a con­sid­er­ably bet­ter place me­chan­i­cally and men­tally than he was last year.”

They haven’t needed him yet, but they will. If he is go­ing to break this post­sea­son slump, this would be a good time to start.

Yasiel Puig

Same old Puig, right? He’s been both bril­liant and bone­headed, col­lect­ing dra­matic hits and mak­ing dra­matic mis­takes.

In the NLDS he scored a cou­ple of runs and col­lected three hits in nine at-bats, but he also fool­ishly ran the Dodgers out of one in­ning when he was caught steal­ing and laid back on a fly ball that he nearly didn’t catch.

Dur­ing those Game 2 shenanigans, he was chat­ted up by Roberts in the dugout. Af­ter­ward, when asked about the lecture, Roberts jok­ingly left the in­ter­view ta­ble as if he didn’t hear the ques­tion.

Fans love the emo­tion that oozes from good Puig. But the Dodgers wince at the dam­age that can be caused by bad Puig.

Which is it go­ing to be? A se­ries could de­pend on it.

Yas­mani Gran­dal

This time last year, Gran­dal barely played, rel­e­gated to the post­sea­son bench be­hind the hot Austin Barnes. This year, he’s slugged his way into the play­off lineup, but since then has strug­gled to du­pli­cate his reg­u­lar-sea­son suc­cess.

He bat­ted .077 with one hit — a home run — in 13 at-bats against the Braves. But he’s a wild card for more than just his bat. It’s about his arm.

One of the for­got­ten stats about the Brew­ers is that, in an era when few try to man­u­fac­ture runs, they led the Na­tional League in stolen bases with 124. Mean­while, dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, Gran­dal threw out 28% of at­tempted base steal­ers, rank­ing fourth among reg­u­lar Na­tional League catch­ers.

It will be a matchup worth watch­ing. It is a matchup the Dodgers need to win.

Walker Buehler … not

Ah, leave the kid alone. He threw about a dozen lousy pitches in the NLDS Game 3 loss in At­lanta but recovered to re­tire the next 10 hit­ters, then stuck around to face the tough ques­tions and prom­ise to learn from his brief lack of fo­cus.

He’ll be fine.

The bullpen … again

The ex­tended NLDS starts of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ker­shaw — they each lasted at least seven in­nings — took a lot of pres­sure off a bullpen that has yet to be truly post­sea­son tested.

The Brew­ers have about three times as many good hit­ters as the Braves. The bullpen will be tested now.

The group, which a cou­ple of months ago nearly set the sea­son aflame by los­ing four straight games in the op­po­nents’ fi­nal at-bat for the first time in fran­chise his­tory, was needed for only a few cru­cial sit­u­a­tions.

In one, Ryan Mad­son worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam. In an­other, Alex Wood gave up an even­tual game-win­ning homer to Fred­die Free­man. As for Ken­ley Jansen, he was needed for only one save, al­though he did pitch two score­less in­nings and his ve­loc­ity reached 96 mph, so maybe he’s back.

We’ll find out. We’ll find out a lot of things in the next weeks and, no of­fense to the Brew­ers and their bullpen and their MVP and that big slider named Bernie, but this one’s all about the Dodgers.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

CLAY­TON KER­SHAW, who came up big against At­lanta last week, re­gains his usual Game 1 start­ing spot against Mil­wau­kee on Fri­day night.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

YASIEL PUIG MAKES plenty of plays, spec­tac­u­larly good or bad, that wind up on the high­light shows. The Dodgers can’t have the bad ones at this point.

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