Brewers should benefit with NLCS not starting until Friday

October 9, 2018

DENVER — Before his team took the field for Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Coors Field, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked who’d get the ball first on Monday should the Colorado Rockies stave off elimination and force a fourth game in the best-of-five series.

“We’re just going to wait,” Counsell said. “We’ve got a couple different plans in place, and we’ve got a couple different ways to go, depending on how today’s game kind of unfolds. And then that’ll predicate what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

The question became a moot point after Milwaukee closed out Colorado 6-0 in Sunday. The Brewers can relax at home before opening the NLCS against either Atlanta or Los Angeles on Friday night at Miller Park.

For some teams, such a long layoff can be a momentum-killer; especially for a team that has won 26 of its last 33 games including its last 11 in a row. But Milwaukee, a team built on the back of a pitching staff that leads the league in relief innings this season, will embrace the respite with open arms.

“Counsell has been good about giving us days all year but to get them in between each series is great,” said reliever Jeremy Jeffress, the only Brewers pitcher to have an ERA above 0.00 in the series. “They’re big.”

Counsell used his high-leverage relievers — Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeffress — in all three games, a feat made easier thanks to a surplus of off-days for travel and the structure of a best-of-five set.

He also wasn’t worried about those pitchers being overexposed with multiple appearances against the same team over a short stretch.

“Those are your guys,” Counsell said. “Those are the guys you’re going with if the opportunity is right. I think it’s an easy scenario. They’re going to be in the game. The big league game is about that cat-and-mouse game between a hitter and a pitcher. And both sides are aware of the recent, especially the recent history. And so it’s on both sides, and that’s the beauty of the game.

“The adjustments that the hitter makes, that the pitcher makes, or the non-adjustment and just go to the strength, that’s the beauty of the game. You know, those are our important guys, and they’re going to pitch.”

Arcia’s turnaround

Orlando Arcia’s solo home run in the ninth inning marked the latest milestone in a rather unlikely story for the young shortstop.

A .277 hitter a year ago, Arcia was batting .197 through 66 games when the Brewers demoted him to Class AAA Colorado Springs in early July to get back on track.

“I’ve been trying to keep my head strong, staying positive at all times and just working on everything day-to-day,” Arcia said through team interpreter Carlos Brizuela. “Even if things didn’t go right, you’ve still got to keep working on it and get better every day, and then take whatever all the other guys are telling you, take all their advice that you gain from the guys and be very thankful that all the guys have been on my back and been supporting me from the beginning. It’s been awesome.”

Arcia returned for the stretch run and closed the season on a high note, recording a hit in the season’s final seven games (going 11-for-26 during that stretch) and hit .311 (37-for-119) over his final 44 appearances.

When he returned, the Brewers infield looked considerably different. While Arcia was at Colorado Springs, Milwaukee obtained third baseman Mike Moustakas and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Travis Shaw would bounce between third and second with Hernan Perez still in the mix at all four outfield spots.

All those options led to some tough decisions for Counsell, but also allowed him to play each of them to their own and the team’s strengths.

“There’s a number of factors that kind of went into it,” Counsell said of his lineup construction. “It was the other team’s pitcher, but probably most importantly, who was our pitcher is probably the most important factor in this. So for a guy like Wade (Miley), where there’s a lot of contact, there’s a lot of contact on the ground, I think it makes sense that Orlando is generally in there when he’s been pitching, a lot of right-handed hitters.”

Arcia was in the lineup Sunday and in position for the late-game heroics.

“You’re just trying to play the percentages, and if there’s going to be a lot of ground balls hit to the short-stop area, he’s the guy you want in there,” Counsell said.

Burnes impresses

When the Brewers resume work this week, they’ll also get a chance to re-evaluate and adjust but it’s a pretty good bet that rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes will be on the list for the NLCS.

Burnes made two appearances against the Rockies, striking out five while allowing just one hit over four scoreless innings.

“You dream about this kind of stuff,” he said. “This is why you play baseball.”

The 23-year-old Burnes was named Milwaukee’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2017. He went 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 30 big league appearances this season.

Milwaukee’s bullpen has a 1.67 ERA over the last 29 games with 177 strikeouts in 129⅔ innings during that stretch, including 33 strikeout in 16⅔ innings from Corey Knebel.

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