MILWAUKEE, WI – OCTOBER 12: Brandon Woodruff #53 of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates after hitting a solo home run against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning in Game One of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 12, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Craig Counsell paces back and forth in the dugout. He watches the game with a consistently inquisitive facial expression. In the postseason, every managerial decision is magnified. Every pitching change, or addition of a pinch hitter, can be the difference in the outcome of a game and more importantly, the series.

For Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell, his decisions in Game 1 of the NLCS paid off for his team. He relied on his bullpen and clutch hitting to take the Brewers past Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Winning a thrilling Game 1, the Brewers gain a 1-0 NLCS lead, securing an early advantage in the series.

“To have Woodruff be the first run your team scores in the NLCS and a homer off Clayton Kershaw, that’s how you should run around the bases,” said Counsell. “The thing is is it just fired everybody up. The crowd went crazy. And our dugout, it certainly changed the energy in our dugout from what you think is going to be kind of a grinded-out game against Clayton. And then when that happens, it gives everybody life.”

Brewers Bullpen Shines and Survives

Counsell decided to give Gio Gonzalez the starting pitcher role in Game 1. For the season, Gonzalez was 10-11, with a 4.21 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. His struggles with giving up runs continued against the Dodgers as Manny Machado started the scoring with a home run to left-center field. After two innings, Counsell would yank Gonzalez out of the game. It wasn’t much but when a team has a bullpen like the Brewers, it’s all the innings that need to be pitched.

The practice of going with the bullpen so early is perceived to be unconventional. The Dodgers are the antithesis of the Brewers, who lean on their starting pitching to go over five innings and then bring in the bullpen in their normal seventh, eighth and ninth inning spots. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts certainly agrees with this philosophy.

“You are seeing it more. I think it’s good until it’s not,” said Roberts. “So with the Brewers, it’s worked out. But it’s still hard to bet against good quality starting pitching for me, and every staff is kind of composed differently.”

Despite Roberts’ comments, the Brewers bullpen continues to deliver. Despite giving up four runs, they were able to come up with critical pitches and strikeouts at the most opportune times. Brandon Woodruff pitched two innings, generating four strikeouts, zero hits and recorded a home run off Kershaw. Josh Hader continues to dominate in relief, pitching three innings, giving up two hits and recording four strikeouts. When Hader was in the game, he induced 15 swings and misses, the most out of any reliever in postseason history. It all went according to plan for Counsell and it was clear that the Brewers wanted to lock Game 1 down to gain an edge in the series.

Brewers Clutch Hitting Exposes Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw came into Game 1 of the NLCS with momentum. He had pitched eight innings, not giving up any runs and only two hits in a 3-0 Game 2 win of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. In his last nine starts in the postseason, Kershaw was 7-2 with a 3.42 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. It had appeared that the greatest pitcher in this generation had flipped the script in terms of pitching performance in the playoffs.

But the disappointing playoff performances that have haunted Kershaw’s career continued tonight. It would be the Dodgers ace’s shortest pitching appearance, only going three innings and giving up four earned runs on six hits. It also didn’t help that there were some critical defensive errors by Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, who gave up two passed balls and a costly catcher’s interference.

Counsell utilized his clutch batters to take advantage of the Dodgers pitching.  Woodruff, who hit .250/.333./625 in eight at-bats, got the first home run of his career off Kershaw. Brewers second baseman Hernan Perez, who hit .333 in the NLDS, got the sacrifice fly that brought in the second run. Kershaw’s dismal night would end when pinch hitter Domingo Santana got the RBI single that brought in two runs to give Milwaukee a 4-1 lead. Yet another Counsell decision that would prove to be correct.

“That’s how good offenses roll. You gotta get production,” states Counsell. “On some nights, you have to have production from different people. Tonight Manny and O and the pinch hitters, if you count Woody as a pinch hitter, did a heck of a job.”

In the end, the Brewers would tally 11 hits. It would be the Brewers 12th straight win as they have not lost a game since September 22nd. The silver lining for the Dodgers is that the Brewers full bullpen was used tonight, meaning some of them would come back tomorrow on short rest. With the quality of players on both teams and their ability to generate runs, it is going to be a fantastic series.

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