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Brewers go unconventional for their NLDS pitching plans

Craig Counsell won’t have a starting pitcher in Game 1, and his starter for Game 2 won’t pitch for long

Detroit Tigers v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

The Brewers were written off as contenders before the season because they lacked the starting pitching you typically see from playoff teams, and were expected to trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline for the same reason.

Even heading into the postseason, not many experts were picking the Brewers to go far because of the perceived lack of depth in the rotation.

With the Brewers holding their pre-series press availability today, Craig Counsell announced his plans to get around that — by not really using starting pitchers at all (at least in the first two games).

Milwaukee will go with a bullpen day in Game 1, and have not yet decided who will be their first out-getter. Jhoulys Chacin will “start” Game 2, but we use the quotes here because he’ll be doing so on short rest, and Counsell acknowledged they won’t push Chacin as far as they normally would push a starting pitcher in the regular season. If you want to read between the lines a bit and consider how early Counsell has pulled starters during the season, you’d maybe infer that means 3 to 4 innings before turning it over to someone else.

The Brewers have been largely successful in “bullpenning” before, but the stakes are higher in the postseason, and with set rosters for an entire series and playing back-to-back days, the durability of a few relievers may be tested.

During the press conference, Counsell hinted that the “bullpen day” may not be what we normally think when the term is used, with a couple of guys who normally pitch in the rotation handling 2-3 innings at a time, instead of everyone taking a single inning. That might allow for some of the middle relievers to stay fresh for Game 2 on Friday before the team gets an off day on Saturday.

There’s another good reason why the Brewers aren’t just turning to Wade Miley on normal rest or considering Gio Gonzalez for the second game of the series — the Rockies have absolutely demolished left-handed pitching this year.

They’ve hit .272/.336/.462 against southpaws over the course of the 2018 season, as opposed to .248/.315/.422 against righties, with Charlie Blackmon being the only real threat in the lineup that hits left-handed — and even he hit .293/.352/.464 against them.

The Brewers may take heat from some for what could be perceived as getting too cute in the postseason, but once you’re in the playoffs, you ultimately stick with what brought you to the dance. For Counsell and the Brewers, that’s unconventional ways of piecing together 27 outs.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference