After not one, but two Game 163s and a thrilling National League Wild Card Game, we’ve arrived at the NLDS. In one series, the NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers will take on the Wild Card Colorado Rockies. In the other, the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers will do battle with the NL East Champs, the Atlanta Braves.
The two series will feature big names like Christian Yelich, Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Nolan Arenado. We expect that some will excel while others will struggle. Who falls into what category? Also, which NLDS manager might be managing his final games for his team?
With the two NLDS’ set, these are some predictions to look forward to.
Clayton Kershaw’s postseason struggles will continue
Kershaw has had his share of struggles in the postseason. We’re not expecting any kind of break from that in this series. The Braves aren’t the most powerful team in the league, they are dangerous. They put balls in play and have the speed to turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples, etc. Additionally, Kershaw has certainly come into past postseasons much better than he’s coming into this one (3.89 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in September). We may not see the big haymaker or an early-inning exit in Kershaw’s Game 2 start. But we don’t like how Kershaw matches up to this offense.
Nolan Arenado will average more than a home run a game
Arenado is a career .320/.374/.609 hitter at Coors Field and while he’s very good everywhere, his numbers generally suffer on the road. Milwaukee is an exception. At Miller Park, Arenado has a .392/.466/.784 with five home runs in only 13 games. He’s going to feast in this series. Anything more than two home runs in a best-of-five series is usually quite notable. But we’re expecting more from Colorado’s third baseman. We’re looking at Arenado to hit more home runs in this series than there are games played. It’s a lot to expect, for sure. But Arenado is more than qualified.
Ronald Acuna Jr. will hit for the cycle
Dodger Stadium is generally not considered a great place to hit. The deep walls can be somewhat intimidating to hitters, especially those who play in hitter-friendly parks. The But Acuna is a different breed. In fact, Acuna’s unique combination of speed and, of course, power works especially well in Los Angeles. We’re expecting to see him show that off in the first two games of the series, making some history in the process. To date, a cycle has never been hit in the postseason. But there’s a first time for everything. This is a great opportunity for Acuna to put an even bigger stamp on an already great rookie year.
Rockies will keep Christian Yelich in check
It seems nuts to project that someone who hit 10 home runs and slashed at .352/.500/.807 will be kept in check at a series that will be played at two of baseball’s best hitter’s parks. But Yelich is a .273/.348/.379 career hitter against the Rockies and a .272/.355/.333 hitter at Coors Field. Hitters can tend to lengthen their swings a bit too much in hitter’s parks. For a young player in his first postseason experience, it’s an even bigger risk. Make no mistake; we’re not projecting a complete shutdown here. But the torrid pace that Yelich finished the season at does figure to cool down a bit.
Mike Foltynewicz will strike out 10+ Dodgers in Game 1
The 2018 season was a real coming out party for Foltynewicz, who posted a 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and struck out 202 hitters in 183 innings. We expect more of the same in this series. While the Braves are a rough matchup for Kershaw, the Dodgers are a pretty good matchup for Foltynewicz, especially in Game 1. We have a team that strikes out, a pitcher with good strikeout rates, and a start time where the shadows will make it very hard for the hitters to see the ball. We expect to see at least 10 Los Angeles hitters sent packing in the series opener.
Kyle Freeland will throw another gem
In Tuesday’s Wild Card Game win, casual fans learned something about Freeland that people who follow baseball closely already knew. The guy is one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 1.25 WHIP is solid and his 2.85 ERA is great even before we consider the curve we have to grade on because of Coors Field. He was masterful in Chicago on Tuesday and we expect more of the same in a likely Game 3 start. He’s got the stuff to keep the powerful Milwaukee offense off balance. If the offense can come through for him, we like Freeland to carry the Rockies to victory in the always crucial Game 3.
Yasiel Puig will have a three home run game
Just like Puig’s home stadium suits Acuna well, Acuna’s will be quite nice for Puig. SunTrust Park is new, having just opened its doors in 2017. But one thing that we can say about that park is that it’s live. The ball jumps off of bats. Puig is also entering the NLDS hot, having hit eight home runs in September. Puig spoke rather brashly after the Dodgers clinched the division, saying that Los Angeles will win the World Series. That’s going to be a tall order and by and large, we actually think that Atlanta’s pitching staff will handle this series well. But for at least one game, Puig will back up his big talk.
Lorenzo Cain will carry the Brewer offense
Normally, we’d be concerned with Milwaukee’s tendency to strike out a lot and rely a little too much on the home run. But it’s hard to get too worried about a team with Cain hitting atop the lineup. Cain hit .308/.395/.417 in 2018. In the postseason, he’s a .295/.376/.377 career hitter. His game translates to October. Cain will get on base a lot. If the hitters behind him are driving the ball, he’ll score a lot of runs. If they’re struggling, he’ll get in motion and make things happen with his legs. He’s a Swiss Army knife on offense, capable of doing damage in a lot of different ways. That will work in favor of the Brewers.
Dave Roberts manages his last game with the Dodgers
Atlanta seems built to expose the Los Angeles flaws. The reverse is not true. This is just a bad matchup for Roberts and the Dodgers. If Roberts is denied here, he’ll be three years into his tenure without a championship. It will also be an NLDS loss, which is a downgrade from the NLCS loss in 2016 and the World Series loss in 2017. That’s not a good spot to be in. It means that the Dodgers’ front office knows that a deep playoff run is in this team. But without a championship, Roberts doesn’t have the equity built up to withstand an early exit. That’s what we see here.
Milwaukee will ride overpowering bullpen to NLCS
So, we’ve got Arenado and Freeland dominating, and Yelich struggling. That means Colorado advances to the NLCS, right? Not exactly. Even if Yelich struggles, the Milwaukee offense is deep enough to adjust. And while we do think Freeland will do well, he’ll only get one start. The X-factor is going to be the Brewer bullpen. The Rockies are going to take leads, and probably big ones, against the Milwaukee starters. If Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corbin Burnes, and Corey Knebel are given leads, Colorado will find itself in a lot of trouble. The bullpen advantage is just too hard to ignore in this era.