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Dodgers hope to see Brewers' vaunted bullpen early and often

Bill Plunkett

The Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers acknowledge the Milwaukee Brewers have a very good bullpen, maybe the best in the National League. And they hope to see a lot of it.

"They have a good bullpen. They have electric stuff," Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy said. "They throw strikes, most importantly. You can talk about the stuff all you want, but I think one of the biggest keys to their bullpen is they throw strikes. I don't care if you have great stuff or average stuff — if you get ahead of guys, it gets tougher to hit. They're getting ahead of guys and on top of that, they've got great stuff.

"They've got high-velocity arms, good breaking stuff. They've got one of the best pitchers in baseball in (left-hander Josh) Hader. He's not a comfortable at-bat from either side of the plate."

The three-headed monster at the back end of the Brewers' bullpen — Hader and right-handers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress — plus former closer Joakim Soria (acquired from the Chicago White Sox at midseason) each pitched in all three games during the Brewers' sweep of the Colorado Rockies in their National League Division Series. Only Jeffress allowed a run in a combined 11-1/3 innings. Hader, Knebel and Soria allowed one hit against 13 strikeouts.

"They just have a lot of really good arms. They have like four closers," Dodgers infielder/outfielder Chris Taylor said accurately — each of the four had at least 12 saves during the season (Soria's all came with the White Sox).

But the Dodgers believe the balance could shift with the greater demands of a best-of-seven series. Brewers manager Craig Counsell will have to weigh the cost of using those relievers game after game.

"It's a seven-game set," Muncy said. "That's more games you're putting more stress on the bullpen. Yeah, the bullpen is great. But if we're getting to them early it means we're putting runs on the starter or we're putting them in a stressful situation. So now we're talking about putting their bullpen guys in back-to-back games, three games in a row. I don't care how good you are, that's tough.

"They each have a unique repertoire they're coming at you with. Maybe the key is getting to face them and you wear them down and maybe they're burned for a game."

The Brewers' bullpen backs a weak starting rotation, so much so they started a reliever (Brandon Woodruff) in Game 1 of their NLDS and could do the same one or more times during the NLCS against the Dodgers. It doesn't matter, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. The game plan remains the same.

"When you're talking about a seven-game series and you're talking about (the first) five games in six days, having those guys go to their 'pen and taxing them, beating the starter -- there's still a lot of value in that," Roberts said. "Yeah, they have some good arms and arguably one of the best 'pens in baseball and they've performed as such. But our goal, whoever takes the mound, whether it be for a hitter, an inning, four innings — whatever it might be — our goal is to beat that starter."

Right-hander Jeremy Jeffress and the Brewers bullpen helped lead the team to a three-game sweep of the Rockies in the NLDS, but can they hold up to the workload that a beat-of-seven series might demand? The Dodgers hope to test their stamina.

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