Wait until Thursday for NLDS gives Brewers chance to ‘reset’
MILWAUKEE — As if winning bragging rights over a heated rival and home-field advantage wasn’t enough, there was an added benefit to the Milwaukee Brewers winning the NL Central Division title Monday afternoon:
The right to a relaxing day off Tuesday.
The Brewers left the Chicago Cubs behind to host the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night in the NL wild card game at Wrigley Field. While those two teams battled into the late hours before Colorado won 2-1 in 13 innings, Brewers players spent time with their families and turned their focus to Thursday, when they’ll open the NL Division Series at Miller Park.
Nobody appreciated the extra rest more than Milwaukee’s bullpen. Brewers relievers worked more innings (614) than all but one National League team this season, including a league-leading 118⅓ innings in the final month of the regular season.
“We’re a team that relies on our bullpen,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We have a lot of confidence in those guys. They’ve done the job for us all season.”
That increased workload didn’t appear to have much of an adverse impact on the group, which also led the league with a 1.98 ERA in September, including a 1.72 mark over the final 26 games.
Corey Knebel was especially good. Sent to Class AAA Colorado Springs for a mental break at the end of August, he’s returned to the dominant form that made him an All-Star a year ago. Knebel has appeared in 16 games without allowing a run and has struck out 33 batters in just 16⅓ innings.
His re-emergence has given Counsell a three-headed monster at the back end of the bullpen in Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress. But the number of close, meaningful games down the stretch forced Counsell to lean on that group more frequently than he’d like. Knebel appeared in five of six games down the stretch while Hader, who’s most effective with at least two days rest, was deployed with just a day between appearances twice over the final two series.
“We’ve been scrambling having to win every night,” Counsell said. “(The break) gives us a chance to reset everybody a little bit.”
After spending much of the past month frantically chasing, catching and surpassing the Cubs, an extra day off also provided the Brewers a chance to clear their heads for what they hope is a deep playoff run.
They’ll return to Miller Park on Wednesday day for a light workout, then get right back to business Thursday afternoon.
“Rest is nice,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain admitted. “We’re all banged up in some way. Every team is banged up right now. Getting a few days to let the body recover is huge. But we have to continue to stay focused. We understand what our main goal is. That’s to get to the World Series. When we do play again, we’ll bring our ‘A’ game and be ready to go.”