NLCS preview: Surging Brewers hold key Box-Toppers advantages over Dodgers

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The surging Milwaukee Brewers hold several key advantages over the Los Angeles Dodgers as they enter the National League Championship Series.

The Brewers have the edge over the defending NL champion Dodgers in the following areas as they head into the best-of-seven game series beginning Friday in Milwaukee:

Box-Toppers team rankings—The Brewers rank higher in Box-Toppers team rankings for 2018. The Brewers rank fourth, highest among NL teams, with 131.4 accumulated Box-Toppers points. The Dodgers rank sixth, second among NL teams, with 126.0 points.

Probable players—Brewers’ key starting players have more Box-Toppers points than Dodgers key probable players. Among a group of 17 players on each team (shown in the chart below), Brewers players have a combined 101.0 Box-Toppers points, while the comparable group of Dodgers players have 96.8.

Starting batting lineup—Brewers’ likely starting eight batting line-up have more combined 2018 Box-Toppers points than their Dodgers counterpart. The probable eight starting Brewers batters have 37.5 combined Box-Toppers points while the starting eight Dodgers batters have 29.7.

Bench—Brewers’ top three bench or platoon players have more 2018 Box-Toppers points than their Dodgers counterparts. The Brewers three top reserve, pinch hit or platoon batters have a combined 12.7 Box-Toppers points, compared to 11.5 for the top three on the Dodgers.

Relief pitching—The Brewers have Box-Toppers’ top-ranked NL relief pitcher, Josh Hader (10.7 Box-Toppers points). Dodgers’ likely closer Kenley Jansen had just 2.0 Box-Toppers points this year. But the Dodgers do have starter Kenta Maeda, who has been working out of the bullpen in recent weeks and had 10.7 Box-Toppers points in 2018, 2.0 earned as a middle reliever in September. The Brewers’ second-top reliever, based on 2018 Box-Toppers points, is Corey Knebel with 5.0 points.

The Dodgers key advantage is among starters:

Starting pitchers—The Dodgers top four starters have a combined 42.9 Box-Toppers points, compared to 35.1 for the Brewers.

A look at each team’s regular season

At the start of the season, Box-Toppers picked the Dodgers to win the NL West with 99 wins and advance as far as the NLCS. They won the NL West with 92 wins and have made it to the NLCS so far. Box-Toppers picked the Brewers to finish second in the NL Central, behind the Cubs, with 91 wins and to advance as far as the NLDS in the postseason. The Brewers actually won the NL Central with more wins than projected—96—and have already exceeded Box-Toppers’ expectations by making the NLCS.

The Dodgers led all NL teams in Box-Toppers team rankings for one week in July and two weeks in August before finishing the season as Box-Toppers’ overall second-ranked NL team behind the Brewers.

The Brewers came on late and did not lead Box-Toppers NL team rankings until September, leading for the final four weeks of the season. Their rise to the top of NL team rankings coincided with their Aug. 31 deadline trades in which they picked up outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Blue Jays and pitcher Gio Gonzalez from the Nationals. At the time Granderson had 6.7 Box-Toppers points (he finished with 8.2) and Gonzalez had 5.7 (he finished with 7.7).

Those moves helped them rise from 12th to fourth in overall team rankings in just one week. The Brewers also were boosted by winning 19 of their 26 September games. The team has also won 11 straight regular and postseason games entering the NLCS and haven’t lost since Sept. 22.

While the Brewers led Box-Toppers team rankings through September, they trailed the top NL team, the Cubs, in actual winning percentage until Oct. 1, when they beat them in the tiebreaker game to decide the NL Central champion.

Midseason acquisitions

The Brewers got a big boost from the previously mentioned Aug. 31 deadline trades to acquire Granderson and Gonzalez.

The Dodgers notably acquired shortstop Manny Machado from the Orioles in July. He had 4.0 Box-Toppers points upon joining the team and picked up 1.7 points afterward, giving him 5.7 points for 2018.

The Dodgers also picked up infielder David Freese (3.5) from the Pirates and second baseman Brian Dozier (2.5) from the Twins.

The Brewers also picked up reliever Jordan Lyles (4.0) from the Padres, second baseman Jonathan Schoop (3.5) from the Orioles, third baseman Mike Moustakas (3.5) from the Royals and reliever Joakim Soria (3.0) from the White Sox.

Starting pitchers

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler is Box-Toppers’ highest-ranked player on either team. With 15.1 Box-Toppers points in 2018 (including 2.0 points for being Player of the Day on Oct. 1 when only two division tiebreaker games were held), he ranks 16th among all players and sixth among NL pitchers.

Brewers’ top-ranked player is also their top starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, with 13.7 Box-Toppers points in 2018, 20th among all players and seventh among NL pitchers.

Clayton Kershaw, who normally leads Dodgers pitchers in Box-Toppers points, this year ranks fifth among Dodgers pitchers with 8.0 Box-Toppers points, 73rd among all players and 34th among NL pitchers. Kershaw had a record streak of earning 20 or more Box-Toppers points for seven straight seasons from 2011 to 2017 and also finished among the top three overall players in each of those seven years. Kershaw leads active players in career Box-Toppers points with 214.8, third-most since 1995, when Box-Toppers tracking started.

While the Dodgers hold the edge over the Brewers among starting pitching, the Dodgers’ pitching strength, as measured by Box-Toppers, has fallen since last year. In 2017, entering the NLCS, the top four Dodgers pitchers had a combined 54.5 Box-Toppers points, compared to the 42.9 for 2018.

Notable batters

Christian Yelich of the Brewers leads all NL batters in 2018 with 11.5 Box-Toppers points. While it is the most for NL batters this year, it is tied for the second-lowest point total to lead NL batters since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995. Yelich ranks 34th among all players in Box-Toppers points.

Manny Machado is Dodgers’ top batter with 5.7 Box-Toppers points, 158th among all players and 27th among NL batters.

One other notable player for the Brewers is Curtis Granderson with 8.2 Box-Toppers points, who ranks 72nd among all players and sixth among NL batters. Yelich and Granderson are the only players in the series ranked among Box-Toppers’ top 10 NL batters for 2018.

There are two batters among both teams’ projected starters who had 0.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018:

  • Dodgers left fielder Cody Bellinger, who had 0.0 points despite playing in all 162 games. He simply did not earn Player of the Game honors in any of the Dodgers wins. However, in 2017, Bellinger had 8.7 Box-Toppers points, most among NL rookies and also won 2017 NL Rookie of the Year award. Bellinger played in 132 games in 2017, 30 fewer than 2018.

  • Brewers catcher Erik Kratz had 0.0 points in 2018 and did not earn Player of the Game honors in any of the 67 regular season games he played.

Postseason journey for both teams

The Dodgers made the NLCS by beating the Colorado Rockies in the one-game NL West championship tiebreaker and then beating the Atlanta Braves in the NL Division Series in four games in the best-of-five game series. Dodgers’ Box-Toppers Player of the Game in the tiebreaker game was Walker Buehler. Top players in the NLDS were pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (game 1), pitcher Clayton Kershaw (game 2) and shortstop Manny Machado (game 4).

The Brewers made the NLCS by beating the Chicago Cubs in the one-game NL Central championship tiebreaker and then sweeping the Colorado Rockies in three games in the NL Division Series. Brewers’ Box-Toppers Player of the Game in the tiebreaker game was pitcher Josh Hader. Top players in the NLDS were pitchers Brandon Woodruff (game 1), Jhoulys Chacin (game 2) and Corbin Burnes (game 3).

National League Championship Series Game 1, Dodgers at Brewers

The pitching matchup Friday:

Dodgers—Clayton Kershaw, 8.0 Box-Toppers points, 73rd among all players, 34th among NL pitchers.

Kershaw was Player of the Game in the NLDS Game 2 win over the Braves on Oct. 5.

Brewers—Gio Gonzalez, 7.7 Box-Toppers points, 84th among all players, 41st among NL pitchers.

This is Gonzalez’s first appearance in the 2018 postseason.

About Box-Toppers—Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.

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NL Championship Series player comparisons

Likely starting players for the Dodgers and Brewers listed by position with their Box-Toppers point total (BTP) for the 2018 regular season and their overall rank among all players. Includes likely starting eight batters, three likely bench batters, four starting pitchers, top closing pitcher and one extra pitcher:  

Pos Dodgers BTP Rank Pos Brewers BTP Rank
1B Max Muncy 4.5 235 1B Jesus Aguilar 5.5 165
2B Enrique Hernandez 3.0 338 2B Travis Shaw 6.5 122
SS Manny Machado 5.7 158 SS Orlando Arcia 1.0 612
3B Justin Turner 2.0 431 3B Mike Moustakas 3.5 289
CA Yasmani Grandal 4.5 231 CA Erik Kratz 0.0 1433
CF Joc Pederson 5.0 200 CF Lorenzo Cain 3.5 285
LF Cody Bellinger 0.0 749 LF Ryan Braun 6.0 144
RF Yasiel Puig 5.0 185 RF Christian Yelich 11.5 34
PH Matt Kemp 4.5 222 PH Curtis Granderson 8.2 72
PH David Freese 4.5 230 PH Jonathan Schoop 3.5 284
PH Brian Dozier 2.5 375 PH Keon Broxton 1.0 552
SP Walker Buehler 15.1 16 SP Jhoulys Chacin 13.7 20
SP Hyun-Jin Ryu 10.1 49 SP Freddy Peralta 8.7 67
SP Rich Hill 9.7 53 SP Gio Gonzalez 7.7 84
SP Clayton Kershaw 8.0 73 SP Junior Guerra 5.0 205
CP Kenley Jansen 2.0 402 CP Josh Hader 10.7 45
PI Kenta Maeda 10.7 41 PI Corey Knebel 5.0 188
Totals 96.8 Totals 101.0