Will Milwaukee Be the Latest to Reverse the Curse?

As the MLB season whittles down to its final four contenders, few are surprised to see the likes of the defending champion Astros, 108-win Red Sox, and perpetual NL West champion Dodgers heading in to the pennant deciding series in their respective leagues. The novelty of the Astros transformation from bottom-feeder to powerhouse has worn off, as did the Red Sox evolution from lovable losers over a decade ago. There is no question the ALCS will feature the Junior Circuit's two best teams.

On the NL side, however, there is still a little bit of intrigue to the presence of the Milwaukee Brewers, who improved upon a surprise 2017 by winning 96 games and toppling the heavily favored Cubs (also no longer lovable losers) for the division crown in game 163. Milwaukee hopes to continue the three-year trend of curse-reversing Fall Classics, which saw the Royals, Cubs, and Astros snap a combined 190 years of World Series futility.

A championship in 2018 would be the first in Brewers history, dating back to 1969, and would be the first for the city of Milwaukee since the Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews-led Braves captured the crown in 1957. The Brewers have been mired in futility throughout most of their franchise history, making only five playoff appearances in 50 seasons. Their lone pennant came in 1982, when the famous "Harvey's Wallbangers" club lost a seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

In order to make their first Fall Classic appearance since Ronald Reagan's first term, however, Milwaukee will have to take down a Dodgers team with as much playoff pedigree as any team in baseball. Los Angeles has won six consecutive division crowns and made three consecutive NLCS appearances, but one glaring omission hangs over this winning era of Dodger baseball: a title.

While it feels like the Dodgers have become baseball's quintessential "never rebuild, always reload" franchise, replacing departing veterans with a seemingly never-ending supply of Rookie of the Year contenders, Los Angeles' run is beginning to look very similar to that of the legendary Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. Legendary for their ability to rack up regular season wins and division titles, but similarly memorable for their failure to go all the way. Yes, the Braves had their moment in 1995, but 1 out of 14 on a club with multiple future Hall of Famers still feels like championships left unclaimed.

The Dodgers have now won nine division titles and made 10 postseason appearances since the turn of the century, but face increasing scrutiny to finish the job as Clayton Kershaw enters into the latter half of his career. So while Los Angeles carries the pedigree, Milwaukee carries the momentum heading in to the NLCS.

The Brewers had a whirlwind end to the season, taking the Central division race to the season's final day and forcing a game 163 tiebreaker before blowing through the Rockies in the NLDS. Overall, the Brew Crew has won 11 straight games, and play in front of a fanbase that is as passionate and hungry (no pun intended ... well, maybe) as they come. Much has been made about Milwaukee's lack of starting pitching and their inability to land the big name starters they sought this past offseason, but a combination of an electric offense and power bullpen has put them at the forefront of baseball's new era.

Josh Hader, Cory Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress have become household names to MLB fans, as the trio have combined for 213 1/3 innings pitched, 320 strikeouts, and a 2.32 ERA this season. Not too shabby. But it will be the plug-and-play pieces Craig Counsell employs that will make the difference in this series.

Wade Miley. Brandon Woodruff. Corbin Burnes. Joakim Soria. These are the names that will have to join forces with some combination of unlikely ace Jhoulys Chacin, key trade acquisition Gio Gonzalez, and incumbent Chase Anderson if the Brewers want to outlast an offense that features nine players who hit 20 or more home runs in the regular season. Oh, and that's after getting only 115 plate appearances from Corey Seager in 2018. It's a little bit scary to think what this Dodger team will be capable of in the hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park, but we haven't even made mention of the likely NL MVP Christian Yelich, and the other two 30+ homer guys in the Brewers lineup.

I'm getting excited just thinking about it. The MLB playoffs have provided memorable thrills over the last several seasons, and after a fairly uneventful division series round, the run for the pennant is looking like another for the ages.

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