Throughout this season, there have been complaints about Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell’s decision-making, specifically when it comes to how he has utilized his bullpen. However he did a great job against the Chicago Cubs.
Regardless of whether you’ve agreed with his moves or disagreed, we can all agree that in the series finale against the Cubs, Craig Counsell managed the game perfectly.
The final game of the season against Chicago felt just like a playoff game, and for good reason. The Milwaukee Brewers entered two games behind the Cubs in the NL Central race. At this point in the season, the difference between three games back and one game back is huge. Counsell knew this and treated the game as if it were win or go home.
There were a couple of moves by Counsell that stood out, and were a big part in the Brewers victory over the Cubs.
Removing Anderson after four innings
Chase Anderson has been up and down from start-to-start for a majority of the season. Heading into the Cubs game, the Brewers weren’t sure which Anderson they would see. Throughout his four innings, he seemed uncomfortable on the mound. There were a number of times he had to take a step back and regroup as if he was lacking confidence.
Even though he made it through the four innings without allowing any runs, he wasn’t exactly mowing through the Cubs batting order. Anderson had given up two hits, three walks and a number of loud outs. Thanks to some solid defensive plays from Lorenzo Cain and Curtis Granderson, Anderson was able to escape without allowing any runs.
Making the move to the bullpen after four innings may have seemed premature, especially since Anderson was just at 71 pitches. But he was beginning to make his way through the order for the third time and that is an area he has struggled with this season. In a crucial game and with an off day upcoming, Counsell made the right move and relied on the bullpen to finish this game.
In the fifth inning after Tommy La Stella reached second base on a fielding error by Hernan Perez, and moved to third on a ground out, Counsell went to Corey Knebel out of the bullpen. Knebel had struggled since the All-Star break and was sent to Triple-A for some time to figure out his mechanics.
Since returning at the beginning of September, he has looked great. Before last night’s game, Knebel has made six appearances since being called back up and has faced 21 batters. Over that time, he’s given up just one hit and one walk. His command has vastly improved and his curve ball looks like it did during his 2017 campaign.
In the fifth, Knebel did allow La Stella to score but was able to get two quick outs and retain the Brewers lead. Knebel’s biggest moment came in the sixth inning where he retired the batters in order and struck out two of them. This was crucial as it allowed Counsell to save Joakim Soria, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings without having to rely on them for more than one inning each.
This was a great outing for Knebel in a high-leverage situation. If the Brewers plan to make the playoffs and hopefully make a run while they are there, Knebel is going to have to be apart of their success.
Sticking with Eric Thames
Eric Thames got a rare start in this game, as another left-handed hitter in the lineup to face the righty, Kyle Hendricks. Thames has been struggling as of late and is batting just .167 in the second half of the season on limited attempts.
In the sixth inning, Thames was at the plate with Perez at third and two outs. This was an opportunity for the Milwaukee Brewers to add insurance runs in a tight 2-1 ball game. On the mound was the lefty Randy Rosario, a poor match up for Thames. Counsell could have called on Ryan Braun, Jesus Aguilar, or another righty off the bench to pinch hit, but he stuck with Thames.
Although Thames ended up striking out that inning, he was able to muscle a single to right field in the eighth and moved Mike Moustakas to third. This forced Cubs manager, Joe Maddon to go to the bullpen and call on righty Steve Cishek earlier than he would have wanted.
In the ninth inning, the top of the Brewers order was able to get to Cishek with a Granderson home run that extended their lead. The right-hander Cishek facing the lefty Granderson, was a matchup that Granderson was able to take advantage of.
After having to use Cishek earlier in the eighth inning, it took away some of the flexibility that Madden had with his bullpen creating a favorable match up for the Milwaukee Brewers. It may not have come in the sixth, but Thames was able to force Madden’s hand, and make an impact on the game.
This game felt like it was a must win for the Milwaukee Brewers, and in many ways it was. Counsell did a great job of managing the bullpen, and knowing when to take guys out of the game. As the Brewers enter the final 15 games of the season and hopefully postseason play, there are going to be a number of close games like this where the manager’s decisions are going to play a big role. It’s clear that the Brewers can trust Counsell when it counts.