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Milwaukee's offense came alive with four runs in the first inning to take the lead, turning over Game 6 to Wade Miley and the bullpen to force a winner-take-all Game 7.   

By Jon Tayler
October 19, 2018

The Brewers successfully avoided the reaper. Led by Wade Miley and a four-run first inning, Milwaukee staved off elimination and downed the Dodgers, 7–2, to even the NLCS at three games apiece. It will all come down to Game 7 on Saturday night to decide the pennant and the right to face the Red Sox in the World Series, but before that big-time battle, here are three thoughts off Friday’s action.

Wade Got It Made

This time around, there were no shenanigans—no revivals of century-old gambits or attempted rope-a-dopes or not-so-successful starter subterfuge. Wade Miley’s Game 5 outing lasted all of five pitches and one batter before Brewers manager Craig Counsell yanked him in a planned move. The strategy was tri-fold: throw the Dodgers for a loop, force Dave Roberts to field a righty-heavy lineup that could be instantly exploited, and avoid using the veteran lefty on short rest. Things were far more straightforward in Game 6: Miley, for as long as possible, to save Milwaukee’s season.

That ended up being 13 solid if unspectacular outs, as Miley once again kept a tough Dodgers lineup off balance. Just as he did in Game 2, the southpaw induced soft contact with a mix of cutters, curveballs and changeups, striking out four against five hits and a pair of walks. His only trouble came against resident Brewers killer David Freese, who tagged him for a solo homer to lead off the game and an RBI double in the fifth.

It was that latter inning that proved Miley’s undoing, but Counsell was ready, going to deposed closer Corey Knebel with two on and one out against Justin Turner and Manny Machado. The former popped out to center; the latter, the most hated man in Wisconsin this side of Fran Tarkenton and who was booed relentlessly during every at-bat, struck out swinging. (The two finished a combined 1-for-8 with three punchouts.)

Counsell did find time for some galaxy brain managing in the bottom of the fifth, letting Knebel take the first plate appearance of his professional career with the bases loaded, two outs and a three-run lead instead of using a pinch-hitter. That calculated sacrifice—and that’s what it was, as Knebel predictably struck out—was a vote of confidence in the bullpen’s ability to hold on against a dynamic offense. And it paid off: Knebel threw a scoreless sixth to reward his skipper’s decision; the shaky Jeremy Jeffress tossed a crisp and perfect seventh; and righty Corbin Burnes worked the final two frames to finish it.

Best Foot Forward

Coming into Friday night, the Brewers’ bats had been held in check. Over the last 22 innings of play, Milwaukee had tallied just three runs, and the lineup was littered with hitters bearing NLCS batting averages barely above their weights. For all the debate around Counsell’s pitcher maneuverings, the reality was that the Brewers stood no chance of surviving, much less winning the pennant, unless the offense came alive.

They wasted no time in Game 6, unloading two-dozen innings’ worth of frustration in one frame against Dodgers lefty Hyun-jin Ryu. Trailing 1–0 entering the bottom of the first, Milwaukee collected four runs on five hits and a walk—all of those runs coming with two outs. That included back-to-back doubles from the formerly absent Jesus Aguilar and Mike Moustakas, who both ripped flat Ryu offerings to the gaps to get the scoring started.

Milwaukee tacked on a fifth run in the second inning on a Ryan Braun RBI double and a sixth on a wild pitch in the seventh—a spiked Kenta Maeda slider that bounced in front of home plate and flew over Yasmani Grandal, who probably wishes he’d just stayed home this month. A seventh run followed on Aguilar’s third hit of the night, a two-out RBI single in the eighth. Those final runs didn’t just give Milwaukee some wiggle room, though. They also kept Counsell from having to use relief ace Josh Hader, thus saving him for as many innings as he can handle in Game 7. The awakened offense, then, proved doubly crucial for the Brewers.

Everything On The Line

Throughout this postseason, we’ve been denied the decisive series finale, as not one of the four Division Series pairings nor the ALCS went the requisite length needed to prompt a do-or-die game for both sides. Finally, though, we get one, and best of all, it comes with a trip to the World Series as the prize.

The pitching matchup is already set. For the Dodgers, it will be rookie righthander Walker Buehler on the mound. He was excellent on the year and through the first five innings of his first NLCS start, back in Game 3, before yielding late. Opposite Buehler will be well-traveled righty Jhoulys Chacin, who outdueled him in that start by throwing 5 1/3 shutout frames.

Don’t expect either of those two to be on the mound for long, though, barring stupendous efforts. Being Game 7, anyone and everyone will be available, save the Game 6 starters. Counsell and Roberts will surely go to their bullpen at the first sign of trouble—fittingly for a series that has been a parade of relievers and pinch-hitters.

Counsell should have everyone at his disposal. Knebel threw 25 pitches in his two innings of work (though he didn’t appear in Game 5), and Burnes needed 23 pitches to close things out. But aside from them, no other Brewers reliever was pushed on Friday, and as noted, Hader will be fresh and available for multiple innings.

As for Los Angeles, the looming figure in the bullpen will be Clayton Kershaw, fresh off dominating the Brewers in Game 5. He was a force in relief against the Nationals in the clinching game of last year’s Division Series and kept the Dodgers alive in Game 7 of the World Series, and Roberts could deploy him as a multi-inning weapon if Buehler falters early or to get to Kenley Jansen—who didn’t pitch in Game 6—late.

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