MILWAUKEE -- When they fell 10 games below .500 to basically put their season on the brink in the middle of May, the Los Angeles Dodgers responded by winning 43 of their next 63 games, thrusting themselves into the race. When a bullpen meltdown prompted a 3-9 stretch around the middle of August, they came back to win 11 of 15. When back-to-back losses to the hapless Cincinnati Reds soured their playoff hopes, they took three of four from the St. Louis Cardinals and swept the Colorado Rockies. And when they entered the final weekend of September in desperation, they won four in a row, including a one-game tiebreaker, to claim their sixth consecutive division title.
The Dodgers need another answer.
They bounced back every time they were challenged throughout the season, and now, after a 7-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, they'll head to a Game 7, one game -- on Saturday, starting at 8:09 p.m. ET from Miller Park -- to decide whether they'll advance to a second consecutive World Series.
"I mean, since August we've been playing for our lives," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. "Here we are again, with another shot at it. Listen, man, they're a good team. We also know we're good too."
The Dodgers will start their electric, precocious rookie Walker Buehler, and the Brewers will counter with Jhoulys Chacin, who rode his slider to an impressive career revival. But neither team will have any qualms about turning to its reinforcements early.
Clayton Kershaw, who exerted 98 pitches in a masterful Game 5 performance Wednesday, can give the Dodgers an inning. Jansen, who has had the past two days off, can provide more than that. But so can Josh Hader, the devastating left-handed reliever who warmed up in the Brewers' bullpen late in Friday's Game 6 but never entered.
Hader probably would have pitched if the Dodgers had threatened in the top of the eighth. But instead, they went down in order against Corbin Burnes. Now Hader will enter Game 7 with three days off and the ability to pitch up to three innings.
"To beat him," Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy said, "you just get runs on the board before he comes in."
The Dodgers did that Friday, riding a first-inning home run from David Freese, who started in the leadoff spot for only the fourth time in his 10-year career. But Hyun-Jin Ryu struggled with the command of his off-speed pitches and gave up four runs in a 31-pitch first inning, more than he had given up in any start all season.
The Dodgers tacked on another run on Freese's fifth-inning double. But Ryu gave up an additional run on Ryan Braun's double in the second, then Kenta Maeda gave up another on a wild pitch in the seventh, and Rich Hill yielded another on Jesus Aguilar's single in the eighth.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts could have pulled Ryu earlier, but he was concerned about what might lie ahead.
"There's the thought of trying to go to your pen in the first inning or the second inning," Roberts said, "but there's a significant cost for a potential Game 7."
Home teams are 55-56 throughout postseason history in winner-take-all games, which would indicate that a sold-out crowd might not give the Brewers too much of an advantage. The Dodgers are 4-1 all time when playing winner-take-all games on the road, the latest being Game 5 of the 2016 NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals, which ended victoriously.
"We all knew this was going to be a tough, hard-fought series," Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said. "I don't think anyone is too surprised it's going seven."
Yasmani Grandal, replaced by Barnes after committing two errors and three passed balls in his first two starts of this series, might return to the lineup in Game 7 because of his season-long chemistry with Buehler.
Buehler will become the fourth rookie in the past 30 years to start a Game 7, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. He is only 24 and in his second full season removed from Tommy John surgery, but he emerged as another ace in this deep Dodgers staff throughout the second half, sporting a 1.55 ERA in his last 75⅓ innings of the regular season (including 6⅔ scoreless frames in Game 163).
"I think Walker is prepared for this moment," Roberts said. "As far as his rest, he's ready to go. And as far as his heartbeat, the weapons, all that stuff, we're in really good shape with him. He understands the magnitude of this moment, this game, and he's a good person for us to take the baseball."
This series has in many ways encapsulated the Dodgers' season.
They put together one of the poorest postseason performances ever in Game 1 -- committing four errors and two passed balls -- but rode Justin Turner's heroic home run in Game 2. They lulled their way to a deflating loss in Game 3 but outlasted the Brewers in a thrilling, 13-inning Game 4 and rode Kershaw's dominance to a crucial Game 5 victory.
Now the Dodgers' season comes down to one question: Do they have another resurgence in them?
"That's a good thing for us -- we understand nothing came easy for us this year," Jansen said. "We just have to keep fighting. Here we are again. It's the same situation; I feel good about it."