MILWAUKEE -- The last thing Gio Gonzalez expected six weeks ago was to be the Game 1 starter in the National League Championship Series.
The veteran left-hander had slogged through a frustrating season with the Nationals and was 7-11 with a 4.57 ERA when the Brewers acquired him from Washington just before the deadline to trade for players and have them eligible for postseason play.
At the time, Gonzalez was hoping a change of scenery would do him well and was ready to accept whatever role the Brewers had in mind for him as they chased their first postseason berth in seven years. Instead of being a bit piece, though, Gonzalez played a vital role for Milwaukee, posting a 2.13 ERA in five starts, including five-shutout innings in the regular-season finale that sent the Brewers to a Game 163 showdown with the Cubs for the NL Central title.
"It's a pretty cool story," Gonzalez admitted Thursday as the Brewers and Dodgers worked out at Miller Park ahead of the series opener. "They wanted me to be a part of this."
Gonzalez likely won't be out there long. The Brewers have kept their starters' outings short all season, choosing to rely on one of the game's best bullpens and it's been no different in the postseason as no Milwaukee starter has worked more than five innings, including a three-inning stint by Brandon Woodruff as part of a "bullpen day" in Game 1 of the NLDS against Colorado.
Gonzalez was on the roster for that series but didn't see action. Some expected Milwaukee to turn to right-hander Jhoulys Chacin for Game 1, but he'll get the nod in Game 3 instead.
"We just like the matchup," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Gonzalez. "We like the matchup against their lineup. It's no secret that we're going to use our pitching a little different than the traditionalists might like and so for us, the first matchup we liked was Gio on the mound."
After avoiding a decisive fifth game against Atlanta, the Dodgers send ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the mound for the opener. In 14 career starts against the Brewers, Kershaw is 6-5 with a 2.86 ERA, including a 4-1 record and 1.40 mark in seven career starts at Miller Park.
He split his two starts against Milwaukee this season, allowing four runs (one earned) over six innings in a 4-2 loss at Miller Park on July 21 then striking out seven while allowing just two runs over six innings in a 21-5 rout at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 2.
The Brewers batted .250 (12-for-48) against Kershaw this season, numbers that were inflated by Christian Yelich, who went 4-for-6 with a pair of home runs against Kershaw in 2018 and is 9-for-17 (.529) against him for his career.
"He's a really good hitter," Kershaw said. "He's definitely got some hits off me for sure, so I have to try to not let him do that (Friday)."
Yelich is one of the few "for sure" players in Craig Counsell's lineup, along with fellow outfielders Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain as well as first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Beyond that, Counsell has mixed and matched the rest of his lineup depending on matchups all season long and doesn't expect that to change during the NLCS, especially with the Dodgers' lefty-heavy rotation.
That means Hernan Perez, Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Schoop could see significantly more playing time than they did in the NLCS, with Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas possibly seeing a little less action than they have the last few weeks.
"We'll have some different lineups in this series," Counsell said. "With three pretty solid left-handed starters, it's a good chance for our right-handed hitters to do some damage."