- Cody Bellinger sent everyone at Dodger Stadium home with a 13th-inning walk-off single that scored Manny Machado. The Dodgers and Brewers are tied, 2-2, through four NLCS games.
For those who are fans of solid contact and balls in play, the Dodgers’ 2–1 extra-innings win over Brewers in Game 4 wasn’t the matchup for them … or anyone else whose idea of thrilling baseball is anything but pitching changes and strikeouts.
For those who remained awake, Cody Bellinger’s 13th-inning walk-off single provided a momentary thrill in in a close, ultimately exciting but mostly torpid affair at Dodger Stadium. It was a game that featured just two total extra-base hits (both by the Brewers), 32 strikeouts and an astonishing 64 swings and misses between both teams. Below are three thoughts on L.A.’s crucial win over Milwaukee in NLCS Game 4.
These aren’t the offenses we were promised, but the bullpens have been great!
The casual observer perusing the sports page would have reason to believe that the Dodgers and Brewers would provide plenty of runs despite the team’s strong pitching staffs. After all, the Dodgers finished the regular season second in team home runs (235) while the Brewers finished fourth (218); both were top-10 in team OPS; both teams added formidable bats to their lineup in the middle of the season (Manny Machado to the Dodgers, Mike Moustakas to the Brewers). Instead, every game has been a host of swings and misses, light ground balls and meek pop-ups.
These teams employ the two hottest hitters of the second half of the regular season (future NL MVP Christian Yelich and Dodgers 3B Justin Turner), but only Turner has managed even a slight dent on the series, which was his Game 2 home run to elevate the Dodgers. Otherwise? It’s been a dreary scene. After going 3-for-5 in Game 1, Lorenzo Cain is 1-for-15. Yelich, the expected MVP, is 3-for-16 with no extra-base hits. Manny Machado is 6-for-16, but his highlights (or lowlights) from the series have been not hustling out a grounder, being called out because of an illegal slide and taking a strike three after he thought he was awarded timeout.
The two bullpens, though?
Forget Cain, Yelich and Ryan Braun! This series has been all about the bottom of the order for Milwaukee. Entering Game 4, the team was 11-for-30 with three homers and five extra-base hits. Through nine innings on Tuesday, the Brewers’ only RBI came from Domingo Santana, who was pinch hitting for Freddy Peralta, to drive in Orlando Arcia from first base.
With Christian Yelich scuffling and Cain essentially silent since Game 1, the Brewers have relied on their lighter hitters and bench for the biggest hits of the series. From Brandon Woodruff’s seemingly impossible Game 1 homer to Arcia’s opposite-field blast off of Walker Buehler in Game 3, the seemingly light bottom half of the Milwaukee lineup has anchored one of the National League’s best offenses in their biggest games since 2011.
The gamesmanship is exhausting
As early as Game 1, Dave Roberts clarified through his substitution patterns that he didn’t plan on deviating from his matchup patterns. After Roberts pinch hit Max Muncy for David Freese—one of the hottest hitters in baseball through September—in the third inning so Muncy’s lefthanded bat could face righthander Brandon Woodruff, he guaranteed that matchups were king no matter the inning. On Tuesday, Roberts once again lifted Freese before the veteran infielder could even take his second at-bat, putting Muncy in to face righthanded reliever Freddy Peralta with the bases loaded. Muncy struck out looking, and Freese was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the contest.
Pitting Roberts and Counsell—two highly analytical and intelligent managers—against one another has taken the “chess game” narrative to its logical extreme. Excluding Justin Turner and Manny Machado, every Dodgers is liable to be substituted if Roberts finds the matchup suitable. Even their finest relievers might face no more than one hitter depending on where the Brewers are in the lineup. It’s a risky strategy; in Game 2 the Dodgers had an empty bench and one reliever remaining in the bottom of the ninth inning.
It can pay off if the hitters succeed, but while Counsell can change the handedness of a pitcher until he runs out of lefties or righties, Roberts can never re-enter a player into the game. It makes one wonder why, then, Roberts doesn’t simply start Muncy instead of eliminating one of his best bench assets in Freese by the early innings.
An Extra Thought On MACHADO AND AGUILAR
• Jesús Aguilar shouldn’t have his foot that far on the first base bag. It is easy for a runner to trip over an exposed ankle, risking injury to both players.
• Aguilar and Machado weren’t scuffling because of Aguilar’s exposed ankle; they were scuffling because Machado kicked him. There isn’t any excuse or circumstance for Machado to kick Aguilar with his opposite leg. It’s nakedly dirty.
• Between his questionable slides, his perceived lack of hustle and now a bench-clearing incident, it’s hard to imagine prospective employers are thrilled with the star shortstop’s behavior during the NLCS.