Three quick thoughts off the Brewers’ 12th—yes, 12th!—win in a row, a 6-5 marathon contest that got very, very interesting late but nevertheless got Milwaukee off to a 1-0 lead in the NLCS:
That’s how you Dodge a Game 1 win
L.A. made a game of it late. But as for how they played early? Yuck. Clayton Kershaw didn’t miss bats, and Yasmani Grandal didn’t miss one particular bat, either, though he did miss two passed balls and one catch. Offensively, they were predictably silenced by Josh Hader in three innings, after being considerably less predictably silenced by Brandon Woodruff (more on him below). Had the Dodgers not dug themselves such a big hole early by way of sloppy play, they would likely have been up in the NLCS 1-0 after this one.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell entered this series in a bind. With his club starved for starting pitching but stocked with dominant relievers, he needed to be aggressive in going to the ’pen. But in terms of his relievers’ workloads, he also needed to be conservative. Underuse Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress, and Milwaukee probably loses the series. Overuse them and Milwaukee reaches Game 7, or even the World Series, with its best resource spent. The 2016 Indians are the relevant cautionary tale here. So Counsell’s Game 1 use of Hader was a success—he won’t work Saturday, but he threw one-third of the game, maximizing the value of his appearance. (He got as many outs as Kershaw did.)
Milwaukee’s late-game relievers, though, may have cost them on Saturday. Counsell started with lefty Xavier Cedeño, then after a single and a fielder’s choice, he turned to Joakim Soria. Soria yielded a single, a strikeout, and a walk, loading the bases, prompting Counsell to summon Jeffress. The Milwaukee closer then allowed two singles before striking out Yasiel Puig to end the inning. Counsell gave the ninth to Corey Knebel, who allowed a run but whiffed Justin Turner with the tying run on third. If you’re scoring at home, that’s four relievers used for two innings. In retrospect—yes, hindsight makes this all so easy—Counsell should have given the eighth to Knebel or Jeffress and then reassessed his ninth-inning options afterward. Even when you’re trying to preserve your top guys, five-run playoff leads in Miller Park are too fragile and too important to hand to second-rate relievers.
That’s Good Woodruff
We had figured, as noted above, that Counsell’s bullpen management would play a huge role in determining who would win these games. But perhaps we had not considered all the dimensions in which it would. Counsell’s first reliever out of the pen, Brandon Woodruff, led off the third inning in a lefty-lefty matchup against Kershaw. He slugged the sixth pitch he saw deep over the fence in right-center. Now, Dae-Sung Koo he isn’t—Woodruff had already homered this year, and he had homered in Double-A in 2016. Still, if his right arm were to detach from his body tomorrow, Woodruff would be able to tell his kids and grandkids one day that he homered off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs. Not bad at all. (Though maybe, knowing Kershaw’s track record, he’ll want to leave the playoffs part out.)