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The Milwaukee Brewers have fought their way back into postseason contention through shrewd moves to reinforce a once-shaky bullpen and rediscovering the art of not swinging at everything in sight.
The team has matured, and manager Craig Counsell has matured in turn. No one denies that this club is clearly ahead of schedule. Playing relevant, winning September baseball is no mere novelty.
Counsell, in many respects, has earned the benefit of the doubt. But in the wake of Wednesday night’s crushing 6-4 loss to cap an otherwise winning series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, many were pointing fingers. Some blame Corey Knebel, whose throwing error allowed the thing run to score. Others blame Ryan Braun, whose ability to hit in the clutch seems to have disappeared.
I think responsibility for this one can and should be hung on Counsell for being overly aggressive down 3-2, sending pinch runner Quintin Berry in the seventh inning.
Berry, a late-season defense-and-baserunning acquisition, was sent out to first to pinch run for the not-exactly-fleet-of-foot Jesus Aguilar, who walked to lead off the fateful seventh. The Pirates had righty Tyler Glasnow working out of the bullpen and Elias Diaz behind the plate.
— Pirates (@Pirates) September 21, 2017
Berry had only been thrown out once in his career, limited sample size notwithstanding. Diaz had earned a 29% throw-out rate in limited action this season. The rate seems low, until one also considers that the league average is 27%.
Runs have been hard to come by for the Brewers in Pittsburgh, hearkening back to the early Ned Yost era when PNC was their personal house of horrors. Swapping Berry for Aguilar made sense, particularly for a team with a penchant for hitting into rally-killing double plays. The desperation showed; Counsell has been betting big in recent weeks, knowing that the Crew needs a big late-season charge to break back into the postseason in-crowd.
Glasnow has vast potential but has yet to translate that into real big-league success. Entering action Wednesday, he owned a 7.89 ERA and came off a poor start a week prior with a WHIP approaching 2.
Aguilar had just walked on four straight pitches. Manny Pina was at bat and had slashed .400/.438/.467 in his last six games. Let Glasnow try to figure out his problems at his own expense; the decision to risk giving an out to a team with the lead and nothing to lose is puzzling at best. Let Piña do his job.
Sending Berry out to run was the right decision; sending Berry to steal was not. Anyone and every one in attendance and paying attention to the game could see what Counsell and the Brewers were telegraphing. Diaz, an above-league-average defensive catcher (default or otherwise) nailed Berry with an adequate, strong throw.
After the CS, Piña walked, Neil Walker walked and Eric Thames tied the game with an opposite-field double. Tied rather than giving the Brewers the lead. Eric Sogard was then intentionally walked and Stephen Vogt earned an RBI the easy way.
Could be Berry at third with no out. Now it’s Piña at second with one out. Too aggressive. #Brewers
— Brent Sirvio (@BSirvioBtB) September 21, 2017
A two-run lead would have come in handy when Knebel threw wide in the eighth.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.