Craig Counsell may not have intended to become the manager of the Brewers after he retired, but the Wisconsin native has Milwaukee just four wins away from the Wold Series.
“It’s a thrill. Look, I think my idea after I retired was to be a part of this organization in any way I could, to help baseball in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. I didn’t set out with a plan to become the manager or do anything else. I wanted to help. We’ve gotten to this day or this point, and so it’s pretty cool, for sure,” said Craig Counsell.
On Friday Counsell’s Brewers begin a seven game series against the reigning National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers. A difficult task considering the stars that make up the Dodgers roster. Every day players like Manny Machado, Matt Kemp, Brian Dozier and Friday’s starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. Tough at-bat every time you face him. It’s a battle. You enjoy that as a player, though, going up against the best. Just try and see how you stack up. You enjoy competing and it seems like he really enjoys competing, and it’s what it’s all about,” said Christian Yelich.
“It’s what makes this time of the year really fun. It’s what you play for as a player, and like I said, he’s a great player, great pitcher. He’s had an unbelievable career and we know it’s going to be a battle, and when you face a guy like that it’s about execution. You’re not going to get a whole lot of opportunities, but when you do, you gotta capitalize on them and really do all the little things right.”
This year Kershaw took the mound twice against the Brewers. Milwaukee split those meetings with Kershaw, knocking off the three time Cy Young Award winner, despite Kershaw only allowing three earned runs in 13 innings.
One of those runs was a solo homer by MVP candidate Christian Yelich.
“I don’t think you ever figure out a guy like that. You’re just trying to compete, you’re trying to battle. He doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes when you’re facing him in an at-bat, you may only get a pitch to hit, or two at the most. And you can’t miss them,” said Yelich.
“You know they’re going to make pitches. And so, look, it’s two great players going up against each other. It’s the cat-and-mouse game. Is the success I had in the past, is he going to do the same thing, is he going to do something different? You know, every player is very well aware of the history against the pitcher on the mound or the hitter in the box. They’re aware of it. They’ve scouted it. They’ve looked at it,” said Counsell.
As opposed to the start of the NLDS with a bullpen day. The Brewers skipper will turn to a conventual starter as his “initial outgetter” against the Dodgers in game one. Enter Gio Gonzalez, who has a 3-0 record in five starts with a 2.13 ERA since being dealt to the Brewers on August 31st.
“I just wanted to pitch, and I think this team helped me out. Guys were making great plays. Guys were helping me out. Bullpen was unbelievable, so you knew that it was immediately just you can go as long as you want and then you have the bullpen to kind of pick it up from there. That was a safe haven over there,” said Gio Gonzalez.
How short the hook will be against the Dodgers is the big question. Counsell has shown in the playoffs he’s not afraid to go to his bullpen early. The Brewers best asset in terms of pitching has for the most part been their relievers. Riding a group that helped keep Colorado off the board for 26 out of 27 innings may be the key to success for Counsell and the Crew.
Back when he was a player Counsell was part of a Diamondbacks team that won the World Series in 2001 doing something similar. Back then it was starting pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Not much has changed. Counsell wants to put his best players in the spots to help the team win.
“That’s what it is. You’re using your team’s talents the best way you can to win games. And so for that team, that was the best way to do it. For this team, we have to think about things differently because of the talents of some of the players on our team. And so that’s all we’re trying to do,” said Counsell.