It’s been 36 years, but the Milwaukee Brewers are hoping it will be a case of deja vu when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Miller Park to close out the 2018 NLCS. The Brew Crew lost two of three games at Dodger Stadium to go down three games to two in their seven-game series.
The Brewers of 1982, better known as Harvey’s Wallbangers, lost the first two games of a five-game series in Anaheim to the California Angels in the ALCS before returning home to Milwaukee County Stadium and winning three straight and punching a ticket to the World Series.
The 2018 Brewers have the same task as the ’82 Brewers. Just win, baby!
Otherwise it’s lose and pack up the cars and go home.
Unlike the ’82 Brewers who had to win three straight games to advance to their first ever Fall Classic, this year’s Milwaukee team needs to win just two.
Call it a California closeout.
In 1982, when the Brewers traveled to Anaheim to take on the Angels after winning the AL East on the last game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles, things did not go well for Milwaukee in SoCal.
The Brew Crew lost Game 1 by a score of 8-3 and then lost Game 2 by a score of 4-2. That meant that the Brewers could not lose at County Stadium. They had to win all three games at home to get to the World Series.
In Game 3, on a Friday afternoon, behind a great pitching effort by veteran Don Sutton, the Brewers beat the Angels 5-3, as Pete Ladd closed out the game to get a save.
In Game 4, the Brewers beat the Angels 9-5, as the star of the game was Mark Brouhard, as he had three hits (including a homer), scored four runs and had three RBIs. Moose Haas got the win and Jim Slaton got the save in another afternoon contest.
That set up Game 5 on Sunday.
But before I get to that game, I want to point out an encounter I had with Rod Carew earlier in the year when I was in the Angel clubhouse. I saw Carew and I went up to him and introduced myself politely and asked him for a quick interview.
At that point, Carew did not utter a word and just stared at me. The stare probably lasted about a half of a minute, although it seemed a hell of a lot longer to me. Then Carew just walked away. I was shocked and I’m sure it showed.
Thankfully Bobby Grich of the Angels quickly came up to me and told me that Carew never talks to the media and that it wasn’t personal. When Grich told me that, he put his arm around my shoulder and was just as nice as he could be. Not only that, but he also did an interview with me. Anyway, I never forgot that great gesture by Grich.
Which takes me to Peter Ladd. I formed a pretty nice relationship with Ladd after he was brought up late in the season to help the bullpen. Pete always had time for me. He also became the closer for the Brewers after Rollie Fingers suffered a season-ending arm injury in September.
Ladd saved three games down the stretch for the Brewers in 1982. He would go on to save 25 games in 1983, as Fingers missed the entire ’83 season due to his arm injury (Tommy John surgery).
I wanted to bring up those circumstances before I set up the ending to Game 5. The Brewers started Pete Vuckovich (1982 Cy Young award winner), but he scuffled like he did towards the end of the season and into the postseason. Vuckovich was pitching through a shoulder injury we would find out later.
The Brewers fell behind 3-2 in the game before they scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Cecil Cooper singled home Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner. The Brewers had a precarious 4-3 lead.
Which brings up the drama in the ninth inning between Ladd and Carew. The Angels were able to get the tying run on second base, when Ladd needed to get two outs. No. 27 first got Brian Downing to ground out to 3B Paul Molitor and then enticed Carew to hit a one-hopper to SS Robin Yount to end the game.
I thought the ending was very apropos based on my interactions with both Carew and Ladd.
It should also be noted that Yount only hit .250 in the series against the Angels. No. 19 would later win the AL MVP honor, as he hit .331 with 29 homers and 114 RBIs.
Yount played up to his MVP status in the World Series however, as he hit .414, with one homer and six RBIs.
Which brings me to the NLCS, where now the 2018 Brewers can not lose another game in this series. They need to win both Game 6 and Game 7 to get to their second ever World Series.
Milwaukee needs another SoCal shutdown, just like the 1982 Brewers accomplished.
I believe it can happen as well.
It’s going to come down to good pitching and clutch hitting. The pitching has been very good for the Brewers for the most part in their matchup against the Dodgers. But the clutch hitting failed the team in both Game 4 and Game 5.
That has to change in Game 6 and Game 7.
The Brewers, who are about $90 million dollars below the payroll of the Dodgers, need to hit better at the top and middle of the lineup.
Clean up hitter Jesús Aguilar has been really struggling this postseason, although he got a hit in the ninth inning of Game 5. All in all, Aguilar is hitting just .172 this postseason, which includes 10 strikeouts. The big guy does have two homers though.
You might see manager Craig Counsell move Aguilar to the fifth spot in the order and hit Travis Shaw at clean up. Shaw is hitting .307 this postseason, with one homer and two RBIs. Shaw at least is seeing the ball better, even against lefthanders, as his home run came against Alex Wood.
The soon to be NL MVP, Christian Yelich, is hitting just .200 in the postseason, but I believe that will change. Still, No. 22 has been able to get 10 walks, which has allowed him to score five runs this postseason.
The guy who sets the table in the Milwaukee order, Lorenzo Cain, is starting to get into a groove. Cain hit only .083 in the Colorado series, but is hitting .250 in the series with the Dodgers. I see him continuing to hit the ball hard.
So if Cain (10-38-.308) and Yelich (36-110-.326) can basically do what they did in the regular season and get on base and be difference makers, that sets things up quite well.
The No. 3 hitter, Ryan Braun, is continuing to do what he did in the last week or two of the regular season, as he’s hitting .312 in the postseason.
If the top of the lineup can start making noise like it did did in the regular season, the Brewers will be in great shape in Game 6 and Game 7.
The middle of the order has had it’s issues, specifically Aguilar. 3B Mike Moustakas had a great series against the Rockies (.364), but is only hitting .095 against the Dodgers. That has to change. I believe it will.
The bottom of the order has been fabulous. Both catchers are hitting the ball well. Manny Piña is hitting .429 this postseason with five walks, while Erik Kratz is hitting .316 this postseason, but has struggled a bit in the series against LA, after hitting .625 versus the Rockies.
SS Orlando Arcia has had a stellar postseason, as he has three homers and is hitting .296.
The pitchers are getting their share of knocks as well. Brandon Woodruff hit a monster homer off of Clayton Kershaw, while Wade Miley had two hits in Game 2.
The Brew Crew just needs to get more consistent at the plate and drive in runs when the situation arises. I see that happening.
The Brewers are also in good shape pitching in Game 6 and Game 7. Miley gets the start in Game 6 and he has really pitched well against Los Angeles in 2018, both in the regular season and postseason (see Game 2).
If the Brewers can win Game 6, then they can put out staff ace Jhoulys Chacin, who is 2-0 this postseason, with an ERA of 0.00. No. 45 pitched 5.1 innings against the Dodgers in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, as the Brewers won 4-0.
Things are also setting up well for the bullpen, as both Josh Hader and Corey Knebel will be well rested going into Game 6. Jeremy Jeffress is struggling a bit, but Counsell will not hesitate to use him if it is warranted.
The best case scenario is for the Brewers to get a relatively easy win against lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 6 and rest the main guys in the bullpen.
That way, Hader and and Knebel can finish out Game 7 when the Brewers will be most likely facing rookie Walker Buehler.
Hader has been absolutely fabulous this postseason, as he has pitched seven innings and given up just four hits and struck out 12. Did I mention his ERA is 0.00?
Knebel has been almost as good, as he has pitched 7.2 innings this postseason, allowed only two hits, has 11 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.17.
Bottom line, I can see the Brewers of 2018 duplicating what the Brewers of 1982 did. That would be recovering from a tough trip to the west coast and coming home and taking care of business.
It would be really apropos if Manny Machado made the final out. If not him, David Freese would be appropriate as well.