As is often the case in October baseball, a certain individual, often an unexpected one, steps up for his team in a huge way and carries the load or perhaps delivers *the* hit that results in a series win. Sometimes it is the superstar of a team, like Madison Bumgarner who put the Giants on his back in the 2014 World Series, and other times it is a largely unexpected hero. For example, who would have predicted that Nyjer Morgan would be the star for the Brewers in the 2011 NLDS? or even Erik Kratz, the 38-year-old catcher making his major league debut for the Brewers in the sweep of Colorado? It’s difficult to predict who this X-factor will be, but looking at matchups as well as other factors gives me a few hints as to who it could be.

 

Broadly speaking, Craig Counsell’s unorthodox methods of managing his pitching staff will be a key determining factor in how this series is decided, as well as how those pitchers execute the plan in place, which they were able to accomplish beautifully in the NLDS against Colorado.

In terms of specific players, let’s take a look at who may be poised to have a big-time series against Los Angeles’ lefty-heavy rotation. One name that sticks out is Lorenzo Cain. As a right-handed batter, Cain naturally performs well offensively against left-handed pitching. The always-smiling Brewers center fielder has a tremendous on-base percentage of .451 this season against left-handed pitching, which will prove to be critical because he typically is followed by Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun in the batting order, both of whom are driving in runs at a very high clip of late.


Matchup factors aside, Cain is due for a big series for more reasons than one. Cain’s presence as a clubhouse leader is just as important as his presence on the field. Being one of two players on the roster with a World Series title, the moment is never too big for LoCain. With a roster comprised of many young and inexperienced players, pitchers and position players alike, Cain’s postseason experience and success are invaluable to the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.

An additional reason why Cain will have a breakout series is that he is due for some big hits and to once again find his stride at the plate. He had just one hit in the Divisional Round, and if we know anything about Lorenzo, it’s that his slumps don’t last long. Cain is aware of his recent struggles at the plate. After game two against the Rockies, Cain told reporters: “I’ve been playing like (bleep)… I’ve definitely got to get it going.” A slew of left-handed pitchers should help him bust out of it and be the dynamic, base-stealing, offensively and defensively gifted stud of a center fielder. And while it is a good thing that the Brewers have been able to win game after game despite their All-Star center fielder having success who was among league leaders in WAR (6.9), his emergence will make the Brewers lineup that much more formidable.


Another name to watch as potential X-factors are second baseman Jonathan Schoop who, as a right-handed batter with power, may see more plate appearances this series than he did in the previous one. Travis Shaw’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well-documented, and Craig Counsell stated in a presser earlier this week that he will not hesitate to shake his lineup more against the Dodgers than he did against the Rockies. Schoop didn’t get a start in the Divisional Round, and my gut says he will get one at the very least in the upcoming Championship series.

Clearly, the quest for the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 36 years will have to be a complete team effort. The Crew faces an uphill battle against a much larger market team with what most consider to be a deeper pitching staff, but they don’t seem like the type of group to not step up when the lights are shining the brightest. As Ryan Braun said during the Brewers’ most recent champagne celebration, in their eyes, they have three celebrations down and two more to go.

Let’s do this, Milwaukee.

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