The Milwaukee Brewers looked primed to extend their win streak to 13 games Saturday night. But with one swing, Justin Turner changed the narrative.
The Los Angeles Dodgers star third baseman blasted a game-winning two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning to give the Dodgers a 4-3 victory over the Brewers in Game 2 of the NLCS at Miller Park.
Milwaukee cruised through the first six innings, as home runs by Orlando Arcia in the bottom of the fifth and Travis Shaw in the bottom of the sixth helped the team build a 3-0 lead.
But the Dodgers responded with two runs in the top of the seventh off a Cody Bellinger RBI single and a bases-loaded walk by reliever Jeremy Jeffress. Then Turner changed the tide of the series, blasting a two-run shot off Jeffress to put the Dodgers ahead.
The bullpen handled it from there, as Kenley Jansen held down the ninth to earn the save and send the series back to Los Angeles.
Brewers' Bullpen Strategy Can't Sustain Them for 7-Game Series
Brewers manager Craig Counsell has relied on his bullpen—namely Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel and Corbin Burnes—heavily in the postseason. The strategy is to get his best arms a solid chunk of innings, and throughout late September and early October, it was foolproof.
The plan worked against the Colorado Rockies, who only scored two runs in a three-game sweep. But against the Dodgers, the strategy's weaknesses have showed.
In Game 1, Counsell went to his bullpen after two innings. For five frames, Milwaukee kept the Dodgers off the board, though a late L.A. rally made things close.
In Game 2, however, the bullpen couldn't hold after Miley came out in the top of the sixth. The Dodgers scored two runs in the seventh and two in the eighth, punctuated by Turner's home run.
In theory, Counsell's approach could work. It has worked. But getting more innings from the starters will be key. If Milwaukee continues to need two frames per contest from each of its top bullpen arms, the team won't have them available for later games or they could wear out. That might set up a domino effect, wherein one game's struggles leak into the next.
Any concerns will dissipate if the Brewers' starting pitchers continue to offer more quality innings or are allowed to pitch through early struggles. Frankly, the starters have been better than the relievers, shocking just about everyone:
It's important to note Milwaukee's approach worked in a 12-game win streak, so it's unlikely Counsell will panic.
But it's time to tweak the strategy, because the Dodgers have the offensive talent and depth to play the matchups and punish an overtaxed bullpen. In Game 1, Milwaukee's relievers bent. In Game 2, they broke. How Counsell handles his pitching staff could shift the series.
Dodgers Can't Continue Digging Early Holes
Much like Milwaukee with its bullpen, the Dodgers are putting pressure on their lineup by continually falling behind. On Friday, the Dodgers trailed 5-1 by the bottom of the fourth. In Game 2, they were down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth.
In both contests, L.A. got to Milwaukee's bullpen, though it wasn't enough in Game 1. And it may not be enough in future matchups, either, against the Brewers' dangerous relief corps.
Turner is a special player, no doubt...
...but relying on late moments of brilliance is playing into Milwaukee's strengths.
One of the keys to this series for the Dodgers will be jumping on the Brewers' starting rotation. The more innings the Dodgers can force out of the opposing bullpen, the more they can wear it down.
Building an early lead also changes the dynamic of how Counsell can deploy his relievers, a point Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made before the series, per Michael Baumann of The Ringer:
"Their highest-leverage guys are going to be used or have been used with leads. So it is important that if you can get a lead, it kind of changes their kind of way they deploy guys. And every inning is important, but when you look at their guys in the pen, it's tough to score runs. They do a very good job of preventing runs. How long each guy goes, that's up to Craig, but I do think that in a seven-game series, regardless of how good a pen is, the more innings you can have them log, I think that that's in our best interest. So the idea of beating the starter still for me makes sense."
If Milwaukee gets solid innings from its starters and can keep its bullpen fresh, however, L.A. will be in trouble. Yes, Roberts' club has scored late in both games, but repeatedly having to chip away at deficits is a difficult way to win.
Of course, it doesn't help when Lorenzo Cain is robbing home runs in the top of the first, either:
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Nonetheless, the Dodgers need their dangerous offense to get going earlier. Take away Turner's clutch home run, and they could be staring at a 2-0 deficit. Instead, they'll go back to L.A. tied, thanks to a strong showing from their bullpen Saturday and a resurgent offense that keeps finding its footing a little late for comfort.
Dodgers Cannot Allow Brewers Pitchers to Continue Making a Difference at the Plate
Brewers pitchers have been raking.
In Game 1, reliever Brandon Woodruff hit a solo home run in the third inning, which would be shocking enough if it didn't also come off superstar Clayton Kershaw. The homer tied the contest, though the Brewers went on to win by just one run, 6-5.
In Game 2, starting pitcher Wade Miley had two hits, including a single in the bottom of the fifth. He eventually scored on a fielder's choice to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
The Brewers are dangerous enough when their pitchers don't chip in. Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun may only have two hits between them in the NLCS, but they're a threat to dominate from the plate at any moment (and will need to get going if Milwaukee is to reach the World Series).
In many ways, this series has been a paradox for the Brewers. The bullpen and players such as Yelich were expected to carry the day. Instead, the starting pitchers have provided stability, both on the mound and at the plate.
Weird trends emerge in October. But the Dodgers cannot continue to get hurt by Milwaukee's pitchers at the plate. That sort of unexpected production makes a difference in a series this tight.
And in turn, the Brewers' top players need to heat up. They can't continue to rely on such unexpected offensive production from their pitchers in a tight series.
The series will continue in Los Angeles on Monday night at 7:39 p.m. ET. Jhoulys Chacin is expected to take the mound for the Brewers against Los Angeles' Walker Buehler.