Dodgers: What Did the Dodgers Learn so Far in the NLCS?

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 13: Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pulls Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in Game Two of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 13, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 13: Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pulls Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in Game Two of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 13, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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For a team that wholly embraces analytics, the Dodgers are ignoring some of the offensive statistics right in front of their eyes.

Friday night the Brewers started southpaw, Gio Gonzalez, in an effort to get to the somewhat weaker right-side of the Dodgers platoon.  Left-handers, Max Muncy and  Joc Pederson, had their bats taken right out of their hands, along with Yasiel Puig and his reverse splits, and Yasmani Grandal is flipped to his much less productive right side.

Instead, Chris Taylor, Matt Kemp and David Freese get the call.  That has been at the heart of the Dodgers playbook against virtually all left-handed starters, especially down the stretch.   And it has been effective.  You had the match-ups you wanted for the first couple of times through the order and then you have the much vaunted depth to be able to counter bullpen moves.

We know it’s been effective because we made it to the postseason.  I suppose a case could be made that a more static day in-day out line-up could have won more games, but they might have also won less.  But either way, it worked at least well enough to get the Dodgers into the NLCS.

The problem is, these Brewers don’t use their pitching staff the way most other teams do.  Their pitcher roles are also less defined.  There are no hard designated lines between starter and reliever.  It’s more fluid.  And they pushed it to a near extreme in the NLDS against the Rockies.  They didn’t have starting pitchers, they had “out-getters”.

There are those that advocate “bullpenning” as the future of baseball and those that can barely hide their contempt for the notion.  Personally, I think you may be able to do it for a short series, but it’s much more suspect in a longer seven game series.  That’s a lot of wear and tear on the arms over short periods with little recovery time.  You can only go so far for so long like that… at least according to traditional baseball wisdom.

Expect the Not-So Unexpected…

The Brewers pulled Gonzalez after just two inning, replacing him with Brandon Woodruff.  Woodruff then proceeded to dominant the Dodgers striking out four over two perfect innings; All while blasting a homer off the admittedly mortal (but at the same time, insanely unlucky) Clayton Kershaw.

It would  have been nice to have at least one of our righty-mashers in the line-up against Woodruff.  It would have also been best to not burn David Freese on one at-bat in the first inning.  In fact, given Freese’s pedigree of coming up big in high pressure situations, the Dodgers should have been able to send him up to the plate with runners on the corners and two outs in the 8th inning.  Nothing against Puig (that breaking ball was NASTY), but aren’t those the exact situations the front office brought Freese over for?

The Dodgers need to open their eyes and realize that the Brewers are not going to use their pitching staff in a more “conventional” manner.  They’re going to take their starters out fast even if they are doing well.  Their game plan is to keep us unbalanced by throwing lots of pitchers at us and flipping back and forth frequently.  The Dodgers can’t just run out their conventional right-handed platoon against a normal lefty starter.  They have to adjust their line-up for the inevitable fast-paced pitching changes the Brewers are going to use.

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What Next…

The Dodgers started Bellinger in Center, but they should have also started Muncy at first.  Not only does this hedge the line-up against the quick flip to the righty, but the thing is… Muncy can hit lefties.  Let me repeat that, Muncy can hit lefties.  In the regular season, Muncy slashed .255/.361/.529/.891 with 8 HRs and 16 RBIs in 102 at-bats against lefties.

In fact, in the NLDS, when the Braves brought in Fried to face the Dodger lefties, I literally said to my son, “The thing is… Muncy can hit lefties.”  And then moments later… BOOM Muncy crushed a game-tying home run.  How have the analytics guys not noticed this little tidbit?  I’ll grant you you’re giving up a bit on defense, but after watching last night’s game, it’s hard to think picking up Muncy’s bat wouldn’t be worth the risk to the defense at first.

Random Thoughts…

What the heck is going on with Yasmani Grandal and holding onto the ball this year?!  I seem to recall it happening on more than one occasion last season, but it feels like it’s been happening a lot this year.  Confession: I was hoping the FO was going to bring A.J. Ellis back at the trade deadline as the right-handed alternative to Grandal and Barnes.  Ellis slashed .294/.395/.368/.763 against lefties this year.  And it would have been great to have had Kershaw’s old battery-mate there to maybe help get him out of the jam.

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In every postseason, it seems like a few unexpected players make an out-sized impact.  Think Steve Yeager in the 1981 World Series and Mickey Hatcher in the 1988 World Series and Joc Pederson last year.  Let’s hope that Barnes and Dozier can have that kind of impact to make up for disappointing years.