The biggest and brightest takeaway from game five of the NLCS isn’t the Dodgers win. It isn’t the Brewers loss. It is the next-level strategy that Craig Counsell and the Brewers put into play in the first inning. To recap, everyone on the outside thought Wade Miley was starting this game for the Brewers. This didn’t even look like the usual bullpening strategy that Milwaukee has employed throughout much of the postseason. This was one of their actual starting pitchers that you assumed would pitch at least to the fourth inning if he was having success. Miley went 5 2⁄3 innings in his first NLCS start, so something in that vicinity was to be expected.
Miley ended up technically starting yesterday’s game. It looked like business as usual through the first batter, as Miley faced Cody Bellinger. A leadoff walk started the drama though, as minutes into his start, Miley was pulled without injury. The strategy behind this had to with the lefty/righty split between the lefty Miley and the pitcher that followed him, righty Brandon Woodruff. The Dodgers had now stacked a righty-heavy lineup ready to go against the Miley, but the start was essentially Woodruff’s.
The strategy in place looked like it was to confuse the Dodgers by thinking they were facing a lefty, putting a righty in, and causing mass lineup chaos for the Dodgers. It worked in the sense that they had to quickly burn possible pinch-hitters, taking David Freese and Enrique Hernández out of the lineup rather quickly in order to bring Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig into the game. Luckily for them, Kershaw gave them seven innings, eliminating a few pinch-hit plate appearances and this game avoided extra innings. Had it, the Dodgers would have been left with Yasmani Grandal on the bench. That’s it.
This move did take away four plate combined plate appearances away from Pederson and Puig. It also gave David Freese a plate appearance against a right-hander, where he’s hit a more pedestrian .265/.337/.397 against compared to his .305/.381/.467 line against lefties in 2018. Nothing close to huge, but it did at least make a slight difference.
This move also helped save Miley, Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress for game six and stretched a bullpen piece into a starter’s length. And in a small vacuum, Woodruff might even be better than Miley. Woodruff, who has shown off intriguing throughout the postseason showed plenty more in yesterday’s contest. His fastball sat around 96-97 MPH, his slider played a major role in his eight strikeouts and 17.1 percent swinging-strike rate yesterday, and he his superb command held opposing hitters to an 84.7 MPH exit velocity.
This success from Woodruff isn’t necessarily anything new. Along with a few successful postseason appearances, he was solid across his 42.1 regular season innings, owning a 3.61 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and 18.7 percent K-BB-rate.
The final results of this unique move put into play by Craig Counsell and crew might end up not being significant at all in terms of how this series is decided. The importance of it could cause waves in the future though.
Will we see Major League Baseball intervene on this trick and insert some sort of requirements to assure that a starter pitches? Could we see something like this again? If not, maybe at least opposing teams will be more aware of the possibility of it when setting lineups. All in all, this move was entertaining whether you agree with it or not. It caused lineup chaos for the Dodgers, sparked up new discussion, showed an exciting arm in Woodruff, and flashed a level of outside-the-box managerial thinking we may have never seen in the history of this game.