The magic of a seven-game playoff series, as opposed to a five-gamer, is that Game 3, should it follow a split of the first two, need not prompt all kinds of hysteria at its end. The Brewers won Monday night, 4-0, and, while no, the game wasn’t particularly close until Jeremy Jeffress’s nightly meltdown, the game also didn’t signal any fatal flaw in the Dodgers. It was just a baseball game, a brisk one by this series’ standards, and these teams will play another Tuesday night, and another after that one.
With all that out of the way, three quick thoughts off Game 3:
How ‘bout those Milwaukee starters?
Who was it who said Milwaukee’s starters shouldn’t be trusted in this series? (Oh, right, me.) With Jhoulys Chacín’s 5 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 3, Milwaukee’s starters now have thrown 13 innings of two-run ball in the NLCS. Chacín, like Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez, who pitched before him, is the sort of spare-part starter Milwaukee was quite reasonably questioned for trusting. Last offseason, with a glaring need for an ace or even two, the Brewers didn’t bid enough for Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta—instead they wound up with Chacín, coming off a rebound 2017 with the Padres, for two years and $15.5 million. He outpitched both of those putative aces in the regular season, and here in the playoffs, he’s had two strong outings.
It helped on Monday night that, in the second inning, he was able to face L.A. starter Walker Buehler and not a Dodgers position player when the bases were loaded. That was the night’s only significant trouble; when Justin Turner reached on an error in the sixth, Corey Knebel was double-switched in for Chacín to put out the fire. These starters’ performances for Milwaukee are not the stuff of future Father’s Day books or Cooperstown speeches, but they have gotten the job done.
The bullpen, on the other hand…
I can hardly guess at what Brewers manager Craig Counsell was thinking. Josh Hader appeared in back-to-back games five times all season. His average rest was a two-and-a-half-day layoff. All season, Counsell used him—to tremendous effect!—in the old-fashioned fireman role. So what in the hell was Counsell doing using him for just two measly outs in the eighth inning with the score 4-0 as though he were any other middle reliever? Jeffress, who spent the season as Milwaukee’s sturdy “closer,” came in in the ninth and loaded the bases, though he did escape without allowing a run. Did Counsell think Hader would be able to work effectively in Games 4 and 5 because he had pitched so little in Game 3? (It’s hard to imagine him working a back-to-back-to-back, even in the postseason.) Did he think it would be best to conserve Hader for a Game 4 for which Milwaukee hasn’t even named a starter yet? (If that’s the worry, then why pitch him at all?) Did he think an easy, confidence-building ninth would come for Jeffress if he pulled Hader? (Tell me, do you think that ninth inning did wonders for Jeffress’s confidence?)
Not so Manny happy returns
Manny Machado has been the Dodgers’ best contributor on offense this postseason, and Monday night brought more of the same: He went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. Qualitatively, though, his play has left a few Dodgers observers cold. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked about Machado’s occasional indifference to running out grounders—”I know that he’s doing a lot of things to help us win games. I don’t feel a need to have to address it”—and in Game 3 Machado embarked on a different set of basepath adventures. His fourth-inning slide into second on a fielder’s choice cost his team a baserunner when replay umpires ruled that he had violated the Chase Utley rule; it was his second disastrous slide into second of the night. These are very, very small things.
But with Machado under incomparable scrutiny before his possible record-breaking free-agent payday, one must imagine his agents, at the very least, want him to play a crisper game. Then again, if he slugs the Dodgers into the World Series, no one will remember his slides.