MILWAUKEE — If the best-of-seven National League Championship Series is as compelling as the seven games the Dodgers and Brewers played in the regular season, it will be a good one.
The season series went to a Game 7, which Los Angeles won … really, really, really won. But along the way, the teams traded memorable player debuts and highlight-reel defensive plays, a Milwaukee comeback against Clayton Kershaw and a Dodgers walk-off at home. Now, they will meet again for the NL pennant, beginning Friday night at Miller Park.
Here’s a look back at the teams’ regular-season drama:
Friday, July 20
Dodgers 6, Brewers 4 at Miller Park
The headline: Dodgers win Manny’s debut
With young shortstop Orlando Arcia in the midst of a slump that spanned most of the season, the Brewers made a strong offer for then-Orioles All-Star Manny Machado, only to see Baltimore trade him to the team that opened the second half of the season at Miller Park: the Dodgers. Machado, relieved to be able to focus on baseball after months of trade rumors, singled off Milwaukee left-hander Wade Miley in his first Dodgers at-bat and finished with two hits and two walks in a game decided by Enrique Hernandez‘s three-run homer in the ninth inning off Brandon Woodruff.
“It was amazing to go out there and put on that uniform,” Machado said.
Saturday, July 21
Brewers 4, Dodgers 2 at Miller Park
The headline: Brewers stage comeback vs. Kershaw
The series-opening loss extended Milwaukee’s losing streak to seven, its longest skid all season, and part of a larger funk leading into and coming out of the All-Star break during which the Brewers lost nine of 11 games. But with baseball being baseball, they snapped the skid against Kershaw in the lefty’s first loss since April.
Ryan Braun returned from the disabled list and scored twice, reaching on one Dodgers error and scoring the go-ahead run on another, as Milwaukee took advantage of miscues to score three unearned runs. Christian Yelich stayed hot with a game-tying home run, and rookie Corbin Burnes extinguished a bases-loaded no-out jam in the fifth inning on the way to his first Major League win in his home debut. Burnes tagged out Kershaw trying to score on a pitch in the dirt for the first out of that escape. This was also the night that Brewers relief ace Josh Hader returned to work after tearfully apologizing for hateful tweets he sent as a teenager.
“I feel like you just need one [win], just to get some positive vibe back on the team,” Yelich said. “You break through, you can take a deep breath and be like, ‘All right, we got back on the right side of things and now we can just try and build off that.'”
Sunday, July 22
Dodgers 11, Brewers 2 at Miller Park
The headline: Kemp powers L.A. rout
Matt Kemp‘s return to L.A. included one multihomer game. It was this one, in which he led off consecutive innings against Milwaukee left-hander Brent Suter with homers to help the Dodgers score 11 unanswered runs after Milwaukee took a first-inning lead against Alex Wood. It got so bad for the Brewers that they pitched multiple position players (Hernan Perez and Erik Kratz) for the first time since 1979 — but not the last time in 2018.
“I can’t imagine a much deeper lineup,” Wood said. “It’s the deepest one I’ve ever played with. It feels like we have eight guys every night and it’s, ‘Who’s going to be the game-changer?’ It’s a lot of fun to be out there pitching.”
This game proved costly for both teams. Justin Turner exited with a groin injury and would miss the rest of the month. Suter strained his forearm and was diagnosed with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery.
Monday, July 30
Brewers 5, Dodgers 2 at Dodger Stadium
The headline: Brewers stay hot out west
If Milwaukee general manager David Stearns was seeking motivation to make last-minute additions to a roster he’d just fortified with trades for White Sox closer Joakim Soria and Royals slugger Mike Moustakas, the Brewers provided it by winning for the fourth time in the first five games of a West Coast road trip, the final contest before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. An inning after the stadium lights went out, Eric Thames smashed a three-run home run off Kenta Maeda, and the Brewers “A” relievers — Hader, Soria, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel — covered the final five innings. Get ready to see a heavy dose of those five pitchers in the NLCS, including Maeda, who is now an integral member of the Dodgers’ relief corps.
For Los Angeles, Machado provided a silver lining by hitting a home run in his Dodger Stadium debut.
Tuesday, July 31
Brewers 1, Dodgers 0 at Dodger Stadium
The headline: Cain carries Crew
Lorenzo Cain climbed the wall, and the Brewers climbed back to first place just in time for the calendar to flip to August. In the narrowest of victories hours after Milwaukee’s bid to land a starting pitcher at the non-waiver Trade Deadline fell short, Cain drove in the game’s only run with a double in the third inning before saving a run in the seventh with the best of a series of superlative defensive plays. He leaped at the center-field wall to pull back Cody Bellinger‘s high fly, preserving what became a two-hit shutout for Miley and relievers Soria and Jeffress.
“I said, ‘Damn,'” Bellinger said. “That’s all you can say.”
The Brewers didn’t get a starter that day, but they did swing a surprising trade for Baltimore infielder Jonathan Schoop, who struggled to contribute down the stretch. Ditto for the Dodgers’ additions that day: second baseman Brian Dozier and reliever John Axford.
Wednesday, August 1
Dodgers 6, Brewers 4 at Dodger Stadium
The headline: Grandal’s walk-off homer seals see-saw affair
Dozier had a big night in his Dodgers debut, going 3-for-4 with a home run, and Yasmani Grandal had a bigger night, following a productive July with a pair of home runs on the first day of August, including a two-run home run in the 10th inning off Brewers reliever Matt Albers after Kemp snapped an 0-for-26 funk with a single. The win, a back-and-forth battle in which Los Angeles trailed, 2-0 after three innings, tied the game at 2 in the fifth and took a 4-2 lead in the seventh only to see it slip away in the eighth on run-scoring hits for Moustakas and Milwaukee catcher Manny Pina, snapped the Dodgers’ three-game losing streak and lifted them into a tie with Arizona atop the NL West.
“This was very much like the playoffs,” said Moustakas, who made the defensive play of the game in the eighth inning to deny the Dodgers a win in regulation. “Playoff atmosphere. The crowd was into it, [the Dodgers] were into it, we were into it. It was fun. This is what baseball is about, coming down the stretch and playing these types of games.”
Thursday, August 2
Dodgers 21, Brewers 5 at Dodger Stadium
The headline: Dodgers score three touchdowns
For all the drama of the first three games of the series, the finale was an absolute rout. In a matchup of Jhoulys Chacin and Kershaw that could be repeated in Game 1 of the NLCS, the Brewers set a franchise record by allowing 21 runs and Los Angeles set a Dodger Stadium record for runs scored while matching the franchise record for a home game by clubbing seven home runs. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig each homered twice, and Bellinger delivered the game’s big blow when he followed a disputed walk with a grand slam off Chacin that gave L.A. a 5-1 lead in the third inning. Once again, the Brewers called upon both Perez and Kratz to pitch an inning.
For the Dodgers, it was a heck of a tune-up for a visit from the Astros, who were in L.A. next for a rematch of the 2017 World Series.
“There’s no letdowns one through nine [in the Dodgers’ batting order], which makes an offensive team really good,” said Dozier. “It’s not just ‘sit back and hit with power’ and that kind of thing. It’s running the bases right and speed mixed with power.”
For the Brewers, it was “move on to tomorrow,” said manager Craig Counsell.
It’s that simple?
“Yeah, it is. It is that simple,” Counsell said. “That’s what we do. We lost, we move on to tomorrow.”
Two months later, the teams are ready for a rematch.