MILWAUKEE -- By the sound of things after the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, you might think that lefty reliever Josh Hader was starting Game 7 for Milwaukee on Saturday night. After all, he got all the postgame buzz from both the Brewers and Dodgers, with everyone wondering how many innings he can pitch in the win-or-go-home series finale.
"Twelve," Brewers manager Craig Counsell joked after he was able to rest Hader in Game 6.
But before Hader ever touches the ball, Counsell will first hand it to righty starter Jhoulys Chacin. Perhaps lost in all the bullpenning the Brewers have done this postseason is the fact that Chacin is every bit as good as any starter pitching in the NL this October -- though seemingly no one is talking about him. He's the player on the Brewers who could win or lose the game before Hader ever has a say.
"He's definitely under the radar," catcher Erik Kratz stated. "His stuff is always really good. He's never not given us the best of what he's got. It's always the same. It won't be different in a big game."
Kratz can be confident of what he says because Chacin has done it over and over again for the Brewers in crunch time this season. His ERA over his past 13 starts -- encompassing all those big games in September and October -- is a nifty 2.28. One of those efforts came in Game 3 when he shut out the Dodgers over 5⅓ innings. And not unlike Friday night, there was very little talk of Chacin's prowess before that game as well.
The oddsmakers made the Dodgers the heavy favorite in that game, and if you watched the game on television, three former all-world players -- Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and David Ortiz -- all picked L.A. to win on the pregame show. So did former All-Star Dontrelle Willis. But it was the Brewers who won 4-0 behind a gem thrown by the 30-year-old. In fact, Chacin hasn't given up a run this postseason, spanning 10⅓ innings, as he has carried over his performance from the regular season.
"It would be an honor for me to pitch in Game 7," Chacin said Friday afternoon. "I think it's way more than what I dream about. And just to think about it, just blows my mind away."
He might not be the only one whose mind is blown. When Milwaukee signed Chacin away from San Diego last December, it barely registered on the MLB Richter scale. With free-agent pitchers like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta available, Chacin's two-year, $15.5 million deal with a small-market team simply didn't get the attention merited by a pitcher who would wind up making 35 regular-season starts and be on the mound for Game 7 of the NLCS. During the regular season, he ranked in the top 10 in innings pitched and WHIP. And he was 14th in the league in ERA. Plus, he has been even better when the Brewers have needed him most.
"He's using his curveball more," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Obviously has a slider that's really tough on right-handers, and he's got a two-seamer that runs in. We've seen him a lot. We know how he's going to attack us, and now it's about taking advantage of potential mistakes."
If the Dodgers' plan is to wait for a mistake from Chacin, they might be waiting until next season for it. He hasn't given up more than a single run in an outing since mid-September. And with the Brewers' bullpen having already broken the all-time record for postseason innings pitched, relying on the righty as much as the lefty Hader could be key.
Of course, you can bet it will be Hader who garners the headlines if Milwaukee wins, but that's been par for the course this season. Chacin's teammates say he doesn't care. He's the same no matter the situation, though it never hurts to prove people wrong while shutting up a few talking heads on television, at least according to one Brewer.
"I think the biggest part of Chacin's game is knowing what he has to do, what he's capable of doing," teammate Jeremy Jeffress said. "And for the naysayers to doubt our abilities on the field, we just shut them up, that's all we have to do. Just go right at them and shut them up."
Chacin has done it all season, and the Brewers need him one more time, before anyone else can be the hero. Maybe Saturday, it'll be just him.