NLCS preview: 6 players who could decide Dodgers vs. Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich warms up for practice for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series baseball game Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Milwaukee. (Matt Slocum/AP)

The Milwaukee Brewers know what the Los Angeles Dodgers are all about — or at least that was the case after Aug. 1, when the Dodgers hit seven (count ’em) home runs and blasted the Brewers 21-5 at Dodger Stadium, setting a stadium record for runs in a game.

In some ways this whole second half of the NL regular season seems to have been setting up this showdown — each team needed a 163rd game to finalize its post-season entry, the Brewers went 19-7 in September, the Dodgers 18-9, and perhaps most intriguingly, it was the Brewers and Dodgers who made serious runs at shortstop Manny Machado, who was eventually traded to L.A. by the Baltimore Orioles.

Here are six players who should help decide the series:

YASMANI GRANDAL, DODGERS

How on earth is this free-agent-to-be so under the radar?

Yasmani Grandal re-gained the No. 1 spot with the Dodgers this season and set all manner of career highs to emerge as one of the premier offensive catchers in the game. He’s thrown out just a shade under 28 per cent of opposing base runners — good for fifth in the NL — and when he homered in the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NL Division Series, he snapped an 0-for-20 post-season drought.

The 29-year-old has hit the Brewers hard this season, going 7-for-17 (.412) including a two-homer game (including a walk-off shot) in a win at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 2 — one day after the Brewers were slammed 21-5. His 20 RBIs over the past four seasons are a personal high against any non-NL West opponent.

The Dodgers have had some gilt-edged offensive catchers in their history, but that multi-HR/walk-off HR game was the first by a Dodgers catcher since Roy Campanella accomplished the feat against the New York Giants on May 27, 1957. He’s one of the best pitch-framers in the game.

KENLEY JANSEN, DODGERS

Whoever said you can never have enough pitching must have anticipated that Dave Roberts would be managing some day. The gut call, here, is that when this series is all said and done, the day will belong to whichever manager has the best touch with his relief corps. There’s little doubt, then, that Kenley Jansen’s stabilizing influence could make life a lot easier for the Dodgers.

Jansen, who missed 10 days with an irregular heartbeat and has also fought hamstring issues, had a four-seam fastball topping out at 96 m.p.h. and a cutter that came in at 93 m.p.h. on his way to three strikeouts in a pair of relief outings in the NL Division Series win over the Atlanta Braves. “This is who I am,” Jansen said later.

Look: Pedro Baez has been a beast and his efficiency against lefty hitters makes him a key weapon in this series, Kenta Maeda has been dependable, but Roberts’ job is a whole lot easier if, at the end of the day, he knows he has Jansen to wrap it up. Those 13 home runs allowed… yeah, that’s a concern, especially at Minute Maid Park.

WADE MILEY, BREWERS

One of the real questions in this series is whether the Brewers’ weak starting pitching will be exposed over a potential seven games, thereby creating a trickle-down effect on the bullpen against an opponent with a deep bench.

Brewers starters held the Colorado Rockies scoreless over three games… a total of 12 2/3 innings. They’ll need more innings from their starters in the NLCS and Wade Miley can have a big say in this: he pitched two solid games against the Dodgers this season, scattering six hits over 13 scoreless innings, walking four and striking out seven.

Miley was a mess with the Baltimore Orioles last season, but, after battling through nagging groin and oblique issues and developing an effective cut fastball that helped shave off two walks per nine innings, he worked himself into the confidence of manager Craig Counsell. The Dodgers don’t chase, though, so it will come down to quality pitches in the zone. Will Miley’s stuff play up?

MIKE MOUSTAKAS, BREWERS

Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain have post-season experience from their days with the Kansas City Royals, and it’s been overwhelmingly positive: they’re both 7-1 in playoff series, the loss coming in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

Regardless of how Counsell manages this series and uses his bench, it seems likely that one of the keys will be the ability of the Brewers’ lefty hitters to handle a right-hand heavy Dodgers bullpen and that can’t all be on Christian Yelich.

Moustakas hit a solid 4-for-11 in three games in the NL Division Series and played the hero in Game 1 with a walk-off hit in the 10th inning. Good way to get a last laugh for a guy who is one of the poster-children for the impoverished, offensively one-dimensional, free-agent corner guy.

JUSTIN TURNER, DODGERS

I mean, why overthink? Justin Turner is a career .325 hitter in the post-season (second in franchise history only to Steve Garvey) and when the Houston Astros beat the Dodgers in the World Series a year ago, holding Turner to a .160 average was a major reason. His career post-season OBP (.452) is up there with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Yeah, Machado’s great and Matt Kemp has been reborn but Turner is the best all-around hitter on this team and the key to this lineup. When he puts up good post-season numbers, the Dodgers generally win. When he doesn’t, they generally lose.

CHRISTIAN YELICH, BREWERS

Much like with Turner, looking past Christian Yelich as one to watch seems criminal; the analytical version of over-managing.

As if his overall numbers weren’t impressive enough, consider this: he’s a Cali guy from Thousand Oaks who has good career numbers against lefties Clayton Kershaw and owns Alex Wood, the latter of whom figured to play a significant role in the Dodgers bullpen this post-season.

Yelich’s outfield defence and that of centre-fielder Cain will be an important factor in Chavez Ravine.

PICK: Brewers in five.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.