Under the leadership of manager Craig Counsell, the Milwaukee Brewers won 96 games and reached the postseason for the first time since 2011. Counsell did an exceptional job of handling his pitching staff throughout the regular season. He made his decisions based on strategy and matchups. He rarely let his starting pitchers face the opposing batting order a third time to maximize their effectiveness. All season long, he’s put pitchers in the best position to succeed. Counsell is clearly a new-school manager, and he’s not afraid to do something unconventional to put his team in a better position to win.
Craig Counsell Is Not Afraid to be Unconventional
Counsell has been unconventional throughout this season. He’s used his stud reliever, Josh Hader, as early as the fourth inning. He has pulled starters who have a shutout going with a low pitch count. He even used reliever Dan Jennings as the “opener” against the Cardinals in September just to retire Matt Carpenter to start the game. Counsell has shown that he’s not afraid to do something out of the ordinary if it gives the Brewers a better chance to win.
Now that his team is in the postseason, Counsell has taken things to the next level. He has gone as far as to completely scrap the concept of “starters” and “relievers”, instead referring to them as “out-getters”. The focus is on the best way to get 27 outs.
“For our team, we’re trying to get away from what the terms starter and reliever means.”—@Brewers manager Craig Counsell in announcing bullpen game in NLDS Game 1.
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) October 3, 2018
Counsell did something unheard of to start the NLDS, using a bullpen game in Game 1. He then started Jhoulys Chacin on short rest in Game 2. Some scratched their heads as to why Counsell would use a bullpen game to open the series instead of turning to Wade Miley (2.57 ERA). The answer is that the Colorado Rockies, the Brewers’ opponent in the NLDS, were significantly better against left-handed pitching during the regular season. As a team, the Rockies posted a 98 wRC+ against lefties. It plummetted to 82 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. Counsell was playing the matchups by throwing right-handers at the Rockies, giving the Brewers a better chance to jump ahead in the series before starting the southpaw Miley.
It worked. The bullpen surrendered just two runs as the Brewers took Game 1. Chacin fired five scoreless innings in Game 2, and the Brewers now led the series 2-0. Miley started Game 3, and the Brewers won to advance to the NLCS.
The Brewers will now face a more formidable opponent in the Los Angeles Dodgers. The NLCS kicks off on Friday night at Miller Park. The Dodgers were tied for first in all of baseball with a team 111 wRC+ this year. This offense is dangerous, making Counsell’s pitching decisions even more critical.
How has the skipper lined it up? He’ll send Gio Gonzalez to the mound in Game 1, Miley in Game 2, and Chacin in Game 3. Some might be confused as to why Chacin, the team’s best starter, isn’t starting Game 1.
The reasoning is actually pretty similar to that of Counsell’s strategy in the NLDS. The Dodgers are baseball’s best offensive team against right-handed pitching. They had a 117 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this year, good for best in baseball. This is an elite mark considering it accounts for the entire team’s production. Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and Cody Bellinger all have OPS’s north of .880 against righties. On the flip side, the Dodgers had a 101 wRC+ against lefties. That’s still very good, but it’s a significant dropoff from their production against righties.
Once again, Counsell is using matchups to put the Brewers in as favorable of a position as possible. By starting lefties in each of the first two games, he’s doing his best to neutralize the Dodgers potent lineup and give the Brewers a chance to jump out to a lead in the series.
Craig Counsell said the Brewers are going with Gio Gonzalez in Game 1 of the NLCS because “we like the matchup. We think Gio’s the perfect option to start us out.”
— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) October 11, 2018
Furthermore, the Brewers’ bullpen is fully armed with multiple hard-throwing righties who can work multiple innings. Gonzalez could only face the order once, then one of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, or Junior Guerra could get the next two innings before handing things off to the back end of the bullpen.
If all goes according to plan, the Brewers will have a little wiggle room when they send Chacin out against a team that destroys right-handed pitching. However, it’s not even a guarantee that Chacin starts Game 3. Once again, Counsell’s not afraid to be unconventional. Chacin will be available in relief if needed during Game 1.
Counsell: I will tell you Jhoulys is available in Game 1.”
— Tom (@Haudricourt) October 11, 2018
Getting 27 Outs
The strategy for Counsell is clear. Use matchups to gain any advantage you can and find the best way to get 27 outs. Obviously, being this aggressive and spontaneous wouldn’t work throughout the regular season. However, Counsell showed throughout the regular season that he’s not afraid to do things differently. Now the stakes are higher in the postseason. This has given Counsell the opportunity to throw tradition and convention out the window. It’s different, and it’s unheard of—and it just might win the Brewers an NL Pennant, or better yet, a World Series.
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