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Cancel your Saturday night plans: We’ve got a Game 7 in the National League Championship Series. One team — the defending NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers or the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers — will head to Boston to play the Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday. The other will spend Sunday cleaning out its clubhouse.
The most important thing of the day: If experience is supposed to be your guide in situations like this, many of this year’s Dodgers have been in a winner-take-all postseason game in the recent past — just last year, in Game 7 of the World Series against the Houston Astros. Unfortunately for them, they lost, so who says experience matters? Neither team has been here before, and both stand on the edge of greatness.
NLCS Game 7: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers
Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62 ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (15-8, 3.50 ERA), 8:09 p.m. ET, FS1 and ESPN Radio
The stakes: Penultimate, as these things go. Winner goes to the World Series; loser packs up and goes home.
Before Josh Hader, Walker Buehler or anyone else gets a chance in Saturday’s winner-take-all matchup, the ball will be in the hands of Milwaukee’s under-the-radar ace.
By forcing a winner-take-all game in the NLCS, the Brewers’ Saturday showdown with the Dodgers joins rare company in postseason history.
From the wild-card round through the World Series, we’ll have the 2018 postseason covered.
If the Brewers win: They return to the World Series for the first time since 1982 — and for just the second time in franchise history — after winning their first National League pennant. Can they add their first World Series title?
If the Dodgers win: They get another shot at winning it all, as they keep their NL crown and make consecutive World Series appearances for the first time since 1977-78 (when they lost both times). Can they add a championship on the 30th anniversary of their magical 1988 season?
One key stat to know: Brewers ace reliever Josh Hader has pitched 10 times while throwing on three days’ rest this year in the regular season and postseason combined, posting a 1.56 ERA in 17⅓ innings. He struck out 25 of the 60 batters he faced in those appearances. That 13.0 K/9 sounds like a lot, but it’s actually lower than his full regular-season average of 15.8 K/9.
The matchup that matters most: How Chacin does against the Dodgers’ big left-handed bats, especially the second time around the lineup. He held Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Yasmani Grandal to a combined total of 1-for-9 with a ground-rule double and a double play the first two times through the order while holding L.A. scoreless through five innings to help the Brewers win Game 3 in Dodger Stadium. If he can do anything like that again, this could be a surprisingly low-scoring game in the high-offense environment of Miller Park.
The prediction: In the moments after the Brewers lost Game 5 in L.A., manager Craig Counsell said, “We’re going back home, to me, in a position of strength. We’re sitting in a very good spot, to me, going home for Game 6. And we have a great opportunity.” And he was right.
After thumping the Dodgers in Game 6, Saturday’s winner-take-all matchup sets up very well for Milwaukee. Miller Park is going to be rocking. The Brewers have a veteran on the mound in Chacin against a rookie (albeit an incredibly talented one). Hader will be available whenever Counsell chooses to unleash him. Add it all up and I see the Brew Crew celebrating with a champagne party Saturday night before heading to Boston for the team’s first World Series in 36 years. Brewers 5, Dodgers 2. — Dan Mullen, ESPN.com