MILWAUKEE — A day after almost blowing a five-run lead, the Milwaukee Brewers blew a three-run lead in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Here’s what we saw at Miller Park on Saturday afternoon as the Dodgers tied the series one:
Sticking with what got you here
Throughout the season, and especially over the last month, manager Craig Counsell has largely kept his starters outings relatively short, even when they’re rolling. It has, more often than not, played out in the Brewers favor. On Saturday, it did not.
Wade Miley had allowed all of two hits through 5 2/3 innings, but when Chris Taylor singled with two out in the bottom of the sixth and Milwaukee leading 3-0, Counsell pulled him after 74 pitches. He turned to Corbin Burnes, who came in and got Justin Turner for the third out of the inning.
“You’re either too early or too late. At some point, you gotta make a decision,” Counsell said of removing Miley. “I thought he was going through the heart of the lineup for the third time. And I thought we had a fresh Corbin Burnes, who’s been wonderful for us this year.”
Unfortunately for Counsell, Burnes was not wonderful in the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of hits and was charged with giving up two runs, including a single by Cody Bellinger that ended the reliever’s day. In came Jeremy Jeffress, who proceeded to give up a single to load the bases and later walked in a run before getting an inning-ending double play to help Milwaukee escape with a 3-2 lead.
But if taking Miley out early was one thing for fans to criticize Counsell about, he gave them another by leaving Jeffress in for the eighth inning. After Taylor reached on an infield single, Turner took Jeffress deep for at two-run homer that proved to be the difference in the game.
“My thought was Jeffress has two hitters there and then we’re looking at [Corey] Knebel,” Counsell said of his decision to leave Jeffress in the game to face Taylor and Turner. “It was just two hitters, and I liked the matchups for J.J.”
For Jeffress’ part, he wasn’t about to just tip his cap to a job well done by Turner.
“He just got lucky,” Jeffress said. “I knew what I wanted to throw him [but] just left the ball up.”
As MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy pointed out, the Brewers have given up 11 runs in five postseason games and eight of them have come while Jeffress has been on the mound. It’s been a tough stretch for a guy that had the lowest ERA of anyone in the Milwaukee bullpen during the regular season. Still, Counsell doesn’t sound like a guy ready change his game plan when it comes to the use of Jeffress.
“I think one of the things we’ve told you is that our guys are all important, and the way we’re going to use our pitching is that we got to count on all these guys,” Counsell said. “For me, J.J. made one bad pitch today, and it cost him. It was to a very good hitter.
“I think a lot of the other stuff he did today, he made some really good pitches, but certainly — look, in a one-run game, you make a mistake to that kind of hitter and it’s going to hurt you.”
Milwaukee’s position players certainly weren’t pointing a finger at Jeffress or any other member of the pitching staff.
“I wouldn’t say they gave it away, I’d say the other team earned it,” Christian Yelich said. “They’ve been big for us all year. We’ll regroup.”
MVP is struggling
Yelich is almost certainly going to be the National League MVP and he deserves it. The second half he put together was electric and he turned it up a notch as the Brewers chased down the Chicago Cubs and won the NL Central. But the right fielder is struggling a bit in the postseason.
Since going 2-for-3 with a two-run homer in Game 1 of the NLDS, Yelich is just 1-of-13 in the last four games. He’s walked five times, which has at least got him on base, but he had a couple opportunities to be the hero on Saturday and didn’t get it done. That included in the ninth inning with Milwaukee down to their last out and a runner on second. Instead of driving in the tying run and sending the game to extra innings, Yelich grounded out to third to end it.
Milwaukee is a good team, but they need their best players to step up. After a shaky NLDS, Lorenzo Cain has done exactly that in the first two game and now the Brewers need Yelich to do the same as the series shifts to Los Angeles.
Pitchers who rake
On Friday, it was Brandon Woodruff providing the fireworks for the Brewers pitching staff, hitting a solo home run off of Clayton Kershaw. It was Miley’s turn on Saturday. He doubled in the third inning — his first extra base hit since 2013 — and then singled and later scored in the fifth inning.
Milwaukee’s pitchers have now reached base in three of their four at-bats this series.
The loss snapped Milwaukee win streak at 12 games. It was their first loss since Sept. 22, but there wasn’t a whole bunch of self pity in the clubhouse.
“Nobody in here really talked about the win streak or anything. It means nothing,” Yelich said. “It’s all about today. The present and the game that you have in front of you. It’s cool we won all those in the past, but they honestly mean nothing to us.”
Instead the focus for Milwaukee is getting on the plane, heading to Los Angeles and starting a new streak.
“We’ll be alright,” Yelich said. “LA’s a tough place to play. They’re a great team. I’ve said many times, we were expecting a fight, expecting a really tough series. They did a great job. They earned it.”
Blowing a chance to go up 2-0 in the series may get to some clubs and be difficult to overcome. But Jeffress claims that’s not the case for the Brewers, who have lost back-to-back games just once since Aug. 18.
“We’re very confident,” Jeffress said. “Everybody in this clubhouse, we know how to move on from day to day. We’ve been doing it all year, man. It’s just one game that got away from us. Have to take a day off and go to LA and take those games.”