The Brewers concluded their grueling nine game West Coast road trip by earning perhaps their most significant win of the season, a 3-2 series winner against the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are a mind-numbing 51 games above .500 at 91-38. It was a huge win for the Crew for many reasons- it kept the Brewers within 3.5 games of the NL Wild Card, and it dropped the Cub’s lead in the NL Central down to just two games. The Brewers will return home to Miller Park winners of 5 of 9 on the road after handing the Dodgers their first series loss since June 7th.
This was a good weekend, and it should be celebrated as such. In July, I wrote that the Brewers would have to survive the dog days of August as they faced some of baseball’s best: sure enough, they’re still right in the mix.
Right now, on August 27th, I’m a very happy Brewer’s fan. However, I’ve got a serious bone to pick with a member of this team, and his name is Craig “The Chicken” Counsell.
Let me preface the rest of this article by saying this: I am a HUGE fan of Counsell. I believe that he is directly responsible for the Brewers success this year. I think he had a huge influence on who the Brewers shipped out of Milwaukee when they started the rebuilding process, and I think he brings a winning mentality to this clubhouse. And while he hasn’t been perfect, because no manager is, Counsell’s management of his bullpen during the second half of this season has been nothing short of outstanding. If the Dodgers weren’t in line to possibly be the winningest team in baseball history, Counsell would definitely be in the conversation for Manager of the Year if the Brewers made it to the postseason.
Despite the above, he really irked me this week, particularly during the Giants series. And because it’s important to remain objective and professional when you write about baseball, I boldly present to you this weeks’ topic: Four reasons why Craig Counsell pisses me off!
1. He tinkers with the lineup.
Counsell has a reputation for almost never putting together the same lineup in consecutive games, but his tinkering is getting a bit out of hand for my taste. The Brewers had four different players in the lead-off spot this week, and only Travis Shaw and Domingo Santana started in all six of the Brewer’s games. The benefit of this approach is that it keeps players on their toes, and keeps players competing for playing time and spots in the lineup. The major con to this approach, however, reared its ugly horns in the Giants series: players can’t get comfortable! With so much shuffling and tinkering, it feels like it’s been difficult for this team to get hitters to consistently stay in a zone for weeks at a time, instead of just games at a time. If the Brewers are going to make a series run at the postseason over the next five weeks, it would be really nice to see 10-11 players emerge as the every day starters, while the rest of the team settles into their roles coming off the bench.
2. He sits hot players in favor of match-ups.
Counsell does this all the time and it’s maddening. Jesus Aguilar had a massive series against the Rockies, including a game winning home run Saturday night followed by a two HR game in Sunday’s victory. Counsell sat him for the first two games of the Giant series, and didn’t start him once in the series against the Dodgers. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? Eric Sogard has seen a similar fate these past couple of weeks; whenever he gets hot, he ends up sitting the next day. Sogard had a big day today, and had a couple of stunning defense plays that ended big threats by the Dodgers. I can almost promise you Sogard will sit on Tuesday against the Cardinals.
Counsell religiously plays match-up ball, which has worked in the Brewer’s favor on a number of occasions this year. But the Brewers so desperately need hot hitters, and Aguilar’s absence for the lineup this week is inexplicable in my opinion. Momentum is real, and as the Brewers head into September, they are going to need some of their power hitters to stay hot night after night. Match-ups need to take a back seat to players who are riding high; wins are too important to keep our hottest bats on the bench.
3. He almost never bunts.
Counsell has been pretty vocal about not being the type of manager who wants to give up outs via the bunt for the sole purpose of advancing runners. That makes sense when you look at the Brewers lineup, which is made up almost entirely of players who are capable of hitting the ball out of the park. And while hindsight is always 20/20, and every manager makes bad calls, Counsell’s unwillingness to play small ball this week frustrated me to no end.
The Brewers went from a home run hitters paradise in Colorado to AT&T Park in San Francisco: where home runs go to die. Don’t believe me? Just ask Eric Thames, who hit a ball 433 feet that still didn’t leave the ball park.
There were situations in both of the Brewer’s losses to the Giants this week where the Crew had a runner on first with no outs in a tie game, and on both occasions Counsell chose not to bunt. That drove me nuts even before both Brewers struck out and those runners were left stranded on the base pads. If Counsell is unwilling to adjust his approach in one of the least friendly ball parks for home run hitters, does that mean he’s going to remain equally as stubborn as the air gets colder and the ball stops flying in October? Nearly every good team is capable of playing small ball, but Counsell doesn’t even seem interested in trying. So even though this approach has yielded a couple of huge go ahead home runs this year, it has also set the stage for some brutal and rally-killing strikeouts with RISP.
4. Despite all of this, I can’t help but love him.
Counsell drives me mad sometimes. But I’ll be damned if he’s not my favorite Brewers manager of all time, and I mean that. I’m an absolute sucker for “hometown heroes”, and the fact that Counsell grew up cheering for the Brewers in Whitefish Bay tugs on my heart strings. I love how positively annoyed he looks at nearly all times in the dugout, and his ejection for arguing against an instant replay decision this past May will stay forever etched in my memory.
Counsell is a winner. He has two World Series championships under his belt with two different organizations. He knows what it takes to make a run, and he’s been a part of two completely different clubhouses who have found a way win it all. That experience is invaluable, and I believe Counsell’s youth has benefited the Brewer’s tremendously as they work through this rebuild and try to build a championship caliber ball club in Milwaukee.
Make no mistake- the Brewers are two games out of a playoff spot on August 27th because of the work that Craig Counsell has done in that clubhouse day in and day out. And despite some of his annoying tendencies and his (perceived) unwillingness to adapt to different game situations, I’m happy he’s our skipper.
Every game over the next five weeks is important. Which means every inning, every at bat, and every pitch is going to become more and more important as the days get shorter. It’s Craig Counsell’s job to continue to keep this clubhouse loose and keep them believing. Buckle up, everyone… it’s about to be a very interesting September.