And then there were two.
It took both teams 163 games, but at the end of the nearly seven-month long MLB season, two teams stood above the rest in the National League: The Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both teams finished first and second in the national league and have been on a collision course for the championship series ever since they made a multitude of moves at both the non-waiver and waiver trade deadlines in July and August.
In July, the Dodgers acquired Manny Machado, Brian Dozier, and John Axford.
Milwaukee countered with Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, and Joakim Soria.
In August, the Dodgers acquired David Freese and Ryan Madson.
Milwaukee countered with Xavier Cedeno, Gio Gonzalez, and Curtis Granderson.
Each and every player acquired from both teams has played a pivotal role in the postseason push and the Dodgers and Brewers would not be four wins away from the World Series without them.
The two teams have never met in the postseason, the Dodgers are looking to advance to the World Series for the 20th time in franchise history, the Brewers are seeking their first trip to the Fall Classic as a National League team, and just their second in franchise history.
The Dodgers are chasing demons after a demoralizing Game 7 loss to the Houston Astros in last year's World Series. They haven't won a championship in 30 years, since Kirk Gibson hit the most historic home run in baseball history in 1988.
After a massive rebuild just three years ago, the Brewers are definitely grateful just to be here, but with the moves they made in the offseason and during the season, they definitely feel like the future is now and they have the opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle in 2018.
Milwaukee might be the more hot team, winners of 11 straight games dating back to September, but the Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games, with their only loss coming in Game 3 of the NLDS on a grand slam from Ronald Acuña Jr.
That is why, despite the history of each franchise (or lack thereof), this NLCS matchup is not the juggernaut versus underdog story many people are making it out to be. No, it's more like a 12-round heavyweight fight with each team trading knockout blows before it ultimately and inevitably goes the distance.
The Dodgers are going to rely heavily on their starting pitching and depth, the Brewers on their vaunted bullpen and MVP candidate Christian Yelich, so without further ado, here is a preview of the best-of-seven NLCS series between the Dodgers and Brewers:
Clayton Kershaw gets the ball in Game 1 of the NLCS opposite former Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
Kershaw's legacy will one day be cemented in Cooperstown, but his postseason demons are still very much alive. Kershaw's postseason ERA is 4.08, and despite throwing 12 shutout innings in his last two playoff appearances, Kershaw will forever be tortured by the blips in his game logs, like the six runs he allowed in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series in Houston, including losing not one, but two different four-run leads in the game.
Meanwhile, Gio Gonzalez is well-rested and ready for his moment in the spotlight after not appearing in the division series against the Colorado Rockies. Gonzalez has made six career postseason starts, sporting an ERA of 4.78.
However, he's had success in his career against the Dodgers, including a victory in Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS at Dodger Stadium where he allowed just three runs in 4 and 1/3 innings in an 8-3 Nationals win.
Needless to say, the Game 1 matchup is definitely an advantage for the Dodgers, as is the starting rotation for the rest of the series.
The Dodgers have three different starters posting a sub-three ERA (Kershaw 2.73, Buehler 2.62 and Ryu 1.97). Only LHP Wade Miley has a sub-three ERA among the Brewers starting pitchers.
The Dodgers definitely have the big bats in the lineup, leading the National League in home runs this season while setting a franchise record for longballs in the process.
However, the Brewers finished second in the league in home runs and in addition to having the ability to change the game with one swing, they can also hit you to death, keeping their opponent on their toes throughout the game.
Milwaukee's lineup might be better overall than the Dodgers. Lorenzo Cain batted .308 with 37 steals on the season. They have the eventual NL MVP in Christian Yelich who batted .326 with 36 home runs. Jesus Aguilar hit 35 home runs and Ryan Braun, and Mike Moustaks each hit over 20. Not to mention Jonathan Schoop who they acquired from the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline.
Outside of Justin Turner, the Dodgers might not have the batting average numbers, but they have the power, with seven different players hitting 20 or more home runs in the 2018 season.
Miller Park is a hitter's paradise, so expect a lot of home runs in Games 1 and 2 before the series shifts to Los Angeles for three.
Battle of Bullpens
It goes without saying that both teams have stellar bullpens, but it’s the relief core where the Brewers definitely have the edge over the Dodgers.
Milwaukee's relievers had the best ERA over the last six weeks of the season, and they relied heavily on them during their NLDS sweep of the Rockies.
Los Angeles' bullpen finished the 2018 campaign with a solid 3.67 ERA good for fifth in the national league, but the Brewers finished with a 3.47 ERA, second in the NL behind only the Chicago Cubs.
Milwaukee's formula over their last 11 games has been simple: get four or five innings from the starter, build a lead, and then turn it over to four dependable arms in the bullpen for the final four or five innings.
That strategy worked to perfection in Game 163 against their NL Central rivals, and against the Rockies in the NLDS. The Brewers built a lead, and then turned it over to their bullpen who had a 1.17 ERA with two wins against the Rockies.
Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, and Josh Hader comprise the lights out relievers, and it's something outside of closer Kenley Jansen the Dodgers will have difficulty combatting.
Jansen finished second in the league with 38 saves this season, and seems to have settled down since his 11-day DL stint in August with a heart issue. Jansen recorded a save in Game 2 of the NLDS and closed out the series in Game 4, but he has allowed twice as many homers (18) this season than any other previous year, and that does not bode well for the right-hander in Miller Park.
Things To Look For
The Dodgers will try to not let Christian Yelich beat them. Milwaukee's MVP has been a one-man wrecking crew over the last six weeks of the season, and that seems to have carried over into his first ever playoff appearance.
In his last eight games, Yelich is batting .458 with five homers and 17 RBI. He also has dominated Kershaw in their one-on-one matchups this season, posting an average of above .500 and two home runs against the left-hander in two games this year.
Meanwhile, on the Milwaukee side, the Brewers will have their hands full with Dodgers breakout star Max Muncy. Muncy was a castoff two seasons ago, but broke out in a big way with the Dodgers this year after being called up in mid-April because of injuries.
The left-hander bashed 35 homers this season and has already hit two in his first taste of the postseason. So far, the Brewers strategy appears to be to keep him out of the lineup by staring left-handers against the Dodgers. However, Muncy will appear off the bench at some point and it will be interesting to see how Milwaukee manager, Craig Counsell, handles Mad Max.
We all know the names at the top of the lineup for both teams: Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, etc. However, it could be the bottom of the lineup that makes the difference in the NLCS.
Brewers catcher Erik Kratz has been a big reason Milwaukee has made it this far, as has Orlando Arcia and Hernan Perez. Arcia has hit .329 over the last two months and if the Dodgers breathe a sigh of relief after getting past the heart of the order, they will be in for a big surprise if they underestimate the back of the lineup.
On the flip side, the back of the Dodgers lineup is lethal. It features super utility player Kiké Hernandez who hit 21 home runs this season, as well as reigning NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, and the man who lead the NL in home runs for catchers in Yasmani Grandal with 24. When a right-hander starts, expect to see Yasiel Puig in the back of that lineup, something that definitely should strike fear in Milwaukee's pitchers.
If the Brewers can get an early lead against the Dodgers starting rotation, it could be an early exit for Los Angeles. However, if the Dodgers can get an early lead against Milwaukee's starters, and force the bullpen to come into the game early and often in the series, the advantage definitely shifts to the more experienced veteran laden team in Los Angeles. Either way, we should be in for an entertaining series.
Game 1: Friday, Oct. 12, in Milwaukee, 8:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 2: Saturday, Oct 13, in Milwaukee, 4:09 p.m. ET (FOX)
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 15, in Los Angeles, 7:39 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Los Angeles, 9:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct.17, in Los Angeles, 5:05 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 6*: Friday, Oct. 19, in Milwaukee, 8:39 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 7*: Saturday, Oct. 20, in Milwaukee, 9:09 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 2.73) vs. Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21)
Game 2: Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 1.97) vs. Wade Miley (5-2, 2.57)
Game 3: Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50) vs. Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62)
Game 4: TBD vs. Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66)
Game 5*: TBD vs. TBD
Game 6*: TBD vs. TBD
Game 7*: TBD vs. TBD