All we can ask of our league championship series is that the two best teams are involved, which is precisely the case with the National League Championship Series. The Milwaukee Brewers have won 11 in a row, tying the 1970 and '71 Orioles for the most consecutive victories heading into a championship series. The Brewers are playing with joy, commitment and a tremendous bullpen as they attempt to reach the World Series for the first time since 1982, and win it for the first time ever.
They are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who perhaps have a few more good players, and are motivated to win their first World Series since 1988. This is a toss-up series. It is going seven.
1. Starting pitching. This is the clearest advantage in the series. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, whose performance in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Atlanta -- eight scoreless innings, two hits, no walks -- is just another reminder that any postseason doubts are behind him, and that he's ready to be great.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was terrific in his Game 1 start of the NLDS and Walker Buehlerhas the best stuff on the staff. When Rich Hill doesn't have to start until the fourth game of a series, that is a deep rotation.
In the meantime, the Brewers have no true ace -- nothing really even close -- but in the sweep in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee's starters threw a combined 12 innings in three games, not allowing a run. The starters gave way to a brilliant Brewers pen, but the question is: A bullpen can sustain that kind of workload over three games, but can it over seven?
2. Power. The Brewers can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but no one in the NL does it better than the Dodgers. They hit more home runs than any Dodgers team in history, went 23 straight games with at least one homer (tying a team record) and had seven players with 20 or more homers. The Dodgers are relentless with that power; they can lead off with a dinger and have a No. 8 hitter who can go deep at any time. That great depth allows them, at times, to match up with the moves made in the Brewers' bullpen.
3. The mix. The Dodgers are an interesting group of kids, veterans, holdovers and newcomers; indeed, in the clinching game of the division series against the Braves, all six Dodgers runs were driven in by players not on the Opening Day roster. Since then, they have acquired, among others, Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, who have never been to the World Series and are free agents after the season.
They also acquired David Freese, whose two-run single in Game 4 against Atlanta was another big postseason hit in his career. It seems as though they have so much for which to win: for all the guys who lost in Game 7 last year, for the final season of Chase Utley's career, to keep Kershaw from even thinking about opting out of his contract, for making Machado even more interested in signing there long term and to guarantee a contract extension for manager Dave Roberts.
The Brewers aren't just hot, they're really good. That bullpen is spectacular: Its ERA since the start of September is 1.89, which is almost a run lower than that of any other team in that time. Manager Craig Counsell enters every game knowing that if he can get Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress into the game, he likely will win the last four innings. Plus, the Brewers, led by MVP-in-waiting Christian Yelich, can really score runs.
Their infield defense is also terrific, especially when Jonathan Schoop will play second base against left-handers Kershaw, Ryu and Hill. And it is time to acknowledge that the Counsell factor is real. He won two championship rings as a player and has a great touch and feel for his players, which is crucial today. He is a Milwaukee guy, and he's trying to take the Brewers to the World Series for the first time since 1982. The players love him, and they play for him. That's what managing, and connecting, is all about.