You want further proof that baseball’s Wild Card round is, well, just too darned wild?
Ask the manager that benefited from it the most. Milwaukee was the last team into MLB’s postseason tournament, and the 29-31 Brewers will be prohibitive underdogs beginning Wednesday night against the 43-17 Dodgers, who led baseball in runs scored (349), run differential (plus-136), home runs (118), team ERA (3.02) … shall we go on?
Asked during an off-day Zoom conference Monday how he felt about this year’s expanded format – let’s call them the Pandemic Playoffs – he didn’t exactly follow the script Commissioner Rob Manfred would have preferred.
“I think the playoff scenario is a good one this year because of the shortened season,” Craig Counsell began, but added: “I would advocate either less teams in a full season or a much bigger reward for having a good regular season. You know, the number of teams, it’s probably on the high end for me. But I’m not going to get a vote there. None of us are, actually. There’s going to be 30 people (owners) who get votes on that. So it’s on the high end for me.
“And I think you have to reward teams that have a great regular season. … One of the best things we do is that we have an incredibly difficult regular season. And to me, if you get through that, you have to be rewarded for it. If you play well, do that whole thing, you absolutely should be rewarded for it. And this format – we didn’t play 162 games, but this format does not reward that.
“I feel like we have the same scenario as the one seed,” he continued. “I don’t know if we’re an underdog; I guess we are. But for any team that hasn’t played as well in the regular season, you have the same chance as the team that played much better than you.”
His Dodgers counterpart, Dave Roberts, is diplomatic enough not to come right out and say it – he’d hint it, maybe – but I’m sure he’d agree. Dodger fans, already stressed out even before the playoffs begin, almost certainly agree and I’m sure won’t be shy about saying so.
As for the rest of the baseball universe? Lots of people are rooting for chaos, for upsets in these best-of-three sets – call it the Edge Of The Cliff round – to drive the point home to Manfred and his minions that even with the uncommon factors of this 60-game season, this is a really rotten format. Brewers over Dodgers? That would be the jackpot for those folks.
This round, which begins Tuesday with four American League games, doesn’t quite carry the Cinderella possibilities of March Madness. But MLB.com does have brackets prominently placed on its front page, shilling for a contest presented by BetMGM. (Kennesaw Mountain Landis just rolled over in his grave, by the way.)
This is scary enough for the Dodgers faithful. It could be even scarier except the Brewers, who have depended on pitching all year, are hurting. Right-hander Corbin Burnes (4-1, 2.11, .174 opponents average) would have been their Game 1 starter, but he’s on the injured list with an oblique strain. One-time Dodger Brett Anderson, who would have been in line to start a Game 3 if necessary, came out of Sunday’s regular-season finale in St. Louis with a blister issue and he’s questionable.
No, Counsell didn’t disclose who his starter would be in Wednesday night’s Game 1 against Walker Buehler. It could be a bullpen game. It could be scheduled Game 2 starter Brandon Woodruff – who was, you might remember, the bulk pitcher two years ago in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, when Counsell started lefty Wade Miley and removed him after one batter.
That won’t work this time for two reasons: Now a pitcher has to face at least three hitters. And the Dodgers are far less platoon-oriented than they used to be, especially since two of their better hitters against lefties are lefty swingers, Edwin Rios and Corey Seager.
“I can assure you that Brandon Woodruff will start a game,” Counsell said Monday. He just didn’t say when.
The Dodgers achieved the best record in baseball against the AL and NL West, and played only 13 games against teams that finished over .500 (they were 6-4 against the Padres and 2-1 against the A’s, so there’s that). Milwaukee played in an NL Central in which four teams made the postseason, and they played six playoff teams from the Central divisions in all (and were 19-24 against teams over .500).
“I mean, we’ve got a really tough division,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich told Milwaukee media members Sunday after his team secured its postseason berth. ” … All those teams are bunched together, and we had to earn it. And it was tough. We beat each other up, all four teams.”
Milwaukee’s hammer is its bullpen, as it was two years ago. This time Josh Hader (13 saves in 15 opportunities, .123 opponents batting average) is complemented by rookie right-hander Devin Williams (4-1, 0.33 ERA in 22 games, 53 strikeouts in 27 innings and an .090 opponents average), who combines a wicked changeup with big-time velocity. The Dodgers have seen him exactly once, two-thirds of an inning in spring training.
We must keep in mind that this four-season stretch of Dodgers baseball – regular season baseball, anyway – has been awfully fun to watch: 104 victories in 2017, 106 in ’19, and a 60-game stretch in 2020 that, if that pace held, could have tied the major league record of 116 wins. October? Another story.
Roberts was asked Sunday morning if he felt his team might be better prepared to win a World Series this year.
“I thought we were very prepared the last four years,” he said. “I think we have a deeper bullpen. Certainly adding Mookie (Betts) to the mix makes us better. And I think the experience, all that stuff combined, gives us an even better chance this year.”
It’s time to prove it. If they can get past all of these obstacles, there will be no asterisk attached.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter
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