ORIGINAL MILWAUKEE BREWERS STORY PUBLISHED BY TIM MUMA ON BREWER FANATIC.
MILWAUKEE — Craig Counsell has been one of the best skippers in MLB since he took over the Milwaukee Brewers in May 2015. He enjoys a glowing reputation throughout the league and has won more regular-season games than any other manager in team history. In the playoffs, however, that story changes.
Counsell has a 1-5 series record in the playoffs (counting the one-game Wild Card contest in 2019), with his clubs losing nine of their last 10 games overall. For all the regular-season success since 2018 — five postseason appearances and three NL Central titles — the playoff failures have become just as big a story.
Many will say that playoff baseball is highly random, so blame shouldn’t fall on the manager. Yet, it seems like it should at least be discussed whether Counsell is a bad (or at least below-average) postseason manager.
In a tournament like the playoffs, you need to think about today and be ready to make immediate adjustments. The next game almost doesn’t exist — particularly when a loss knocks you out. There must be less tolerance for struggles, more willingness to try something new, and a major focus on winning individual at-bats and innings.
There’s no time for worrying about feelings or letting things play out. As long as the players and coaching staff are on the same page, the change to “win-now” mode is less jarring and more understandable. This might be an area where Craig Counsell has struggled to be as aggressive as he needs to be. At times, it could also be the opposite, where he is overthinking so much that it has a countereffect.
The best managers and coaches determine the best path in each situation. Either way, the record is the record.
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Going back to the 2021 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Avisail Garcia was ice-cold heading into the playoffs, going 2-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last seven games of the regular season. Leadoff hitter Kolten Wong had a .294 OBP in the two weeks leading up to the postseason. Still, Wong was leading off (with Garcia in the cleanup spot) for Game 1.
The pair went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts, though Milwaukee won 2-1, thanks to a Rowdy Tellez two-run homer. Even after that, those two were in the same spots for Game 2 (a 3-0 Atlanta victory), wherein they went 2-for-8 with four punchouts. Game 3 remained the same, with the Brewers getting shut out again as Wong and Garcia went 0-for-8. In the four series games, those two hitters combined to go 3-for-30 with 13 strikeouts, yet they were never moved in the order.
On a smaller scale, this season, after the Brewers scored only three runs in Game 1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the same lineup appeared for Game 2. What happened? The Brewers scored two runs. Certainly, a switch in the batting order or a fresh bat in Game 2 (e.g., Andruw Monasterio for Brice Turang) would have made sense.
In the second game, not having a relief pitcher already up in the bullpen to start the sixth inning hurt the Brewers. Some thought Freddy Peralta should never have even started the sixth frame after a dip in velocity and command led to harder contact (including a home run) in the fifth. With a 2-1 lead, Peralta walked the leadoff man in the sixth, and still, Craig Counsell let him face two more batters. A double and single later, and the Brewers would trail 3-2. The move to a bullpen arm came too slow and too late.
Two innings later, with the Brewers down by three, they loaded the bases with one out. The crowd was electric, the Arizona Diamondbacks were on the ropes, and manager Torey Lovullo called for a lefty from his pen to face left-handed hitting Sal Frelick. Instead of going to any of his right-handed options (Joey Wiemer, Owen Miller, Blake Perkins, Victor Caratini), Counsell stuck with Frelick. Four pitches later, Frelick tapped into a 1-2 fielder’s choice, with the inning ending without a run one batter later.
Interestingly, the best option to pinch-hit against a southpaw wasn’t available at the time because of another choice by Brewers’ management: including Jesse Winker on the Wild Card roster. To the dismay of nearly everyone, Winker saw two plate appearances in the two contests, despite poor production; no MLB at-bats since July 24; and an obviously slow bat that had no business getting postseason swings.
Because Winker pinch-hit for Turang, Monasterio had to go in to play defense the following inning. That meant that Monasterio’s .780 OPS versus lefties couldn’t be utilized in that spot. So, for Counsell, if he wasn’t going to use Miller to bat against a left-hander in a critical moment, he should have put Miller in at second base defensively to keep Monasterio free to hit later.
Were the Winker and Frelick decisions a couple of cases of Counsell trying to be the “smartest person in the room”? Sometimes, that is the downfall of man: a touch of arrogance. It’s difficult to say those calls were based on relevant stats or trends. Regardless, they were additional black marks on the Brewers’–and Counsell’s–postseason resumes.
Many will continue to argue that randomness and variance are the real reasons the Brewers have struggled in the postseason. No one is saying those don’t exist. Still, it should also be fair to acknowledge and question whether Craig Counsell deserves the “top regular-season manager” label, while also being tabbed with the “below-average postseason skipper” title.
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