Bullpen issues provide one more test for Brewers’ Counsell

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell faces the obstacle of adapting his postseason bullpen to account for the absence of injured setup man Devin Williams.

That’s only the latest of numerous challenges Counsell has encountered this season, even though the NL Central standings might suggest otherwise.

Counsell had to navigate the Brewers through a season in which they used a franchise-record 61 players due primarily to injuries. They still won the division with relative ease and will play the Atlanta Braves in a best-of-five NL Division Series beginning Friday in Milwaukee.

“We did handle some tough times well,” Counsell said Wednesday. “And that’s a credit to the whole organization.”

The Brewers say Counsell deserves much of the praise for guiding a team that maintained a healthy division lead even after putting nine players on the COVID-19 injured list this summer.

“He’s very capable and very skilled at using the players on his roster to the best of their ability to put together wins,” president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “So that’s certainly been no different this year. We’ve had a few more guys filter through that clubhouse than we do in a normal year, but the skills that Craig is using to help these guys and to put our team in the best position are the same skills he’s used since he got the job here.”

Counsell, who played on World Series-winning teams with the Marlins in 1997 and Diamondbacks in 2001, has led the Brewers to four straight playoff appearances. This one was a little different from the rest.

The Brewers needed huge stretch runs to make the postseason in 2018 and 2019. They never were above .500 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but still sneaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season after Major League Baseball expanded the postseason to 16 teams that year.

This time, the Brewers took care of business early. They clinched a playoff berth on Sept. 18 and wrapped up the division title eight days later. They won the division by five games after leading by as many as 14.

Counsell kept things steady no matter how much the Brewers had to alter their roster over the course of the season.

“Just how he communicates with everybody, how he used his coaches, how he uses his players, he keeps us all engaged the whole game,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “That’s a hard thing to do when you have all these guys and everybody has their own mentalities in how they go about it.”

Counsell notes the Brewers got plenty of help from the fact that their rotation – featuring All-Stars Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta – stayed relatively healthy.

“We’ve been pretty consistent with our starting pitching and who’s been going out there,” Counsell said. “For the most part, six guys have taken the bulk of our starts this year and that’s been a consistent group.”

The Brewers also got quality seasons from starting pitchers Adrian Houser (10-6, 3.22 ERA) and Eric Lauer (7-5, 3.19). They may count on that rotation depth to assist their bullpen in the postseason as they try to cope without Williams, who went 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA.

Williams fractured his pitching hand punching a wall the night the Brewers clinched the division title.

“I think some of the starters will play a factor in the bullpen,” Counsell said. “I don’t think innings will be as defined as they were during the season, that’s probably the best way to say it.”

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