Brewers cornered after bats stay silent in G3

October 12th, 2021

ATLANTA -- This is what happens when a team doesn’t hit.

Every pitching change has the potential to backfire. Every hesitation on the basepaths can make a difference. Every hard-luck line drive hurts a little more.

With the Crew’s lineup stuck in a slumber that dates back a month now, Craig Counsell pulled every managerial lever available in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series and saw none of the desired outcomes. The result was a 3-0 loss to the Braves on Monday afternoon at Truist Park, a defeat which left the Brewers facing a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five series and a must-win Game 4 on Tuesday to force a Game 5 back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

“No one got complacent. We know what we need to do,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Everybody's frustrated. Everybody's upset. We just have to show up [in Game 4] and score as many runs as possible. We’ve got to find a way to win.”

In postseason history, the Game 3 winner in any best-of-five series that was tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 39 of 54 times (72 percent).

For Milwaukee to buck the percentages, it will require some offense. The Brewers have sent 99 batters to home plate in the first three games of the series, and only one of those plate appearances has produced a run. They are 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the series after an 0-for-8 in Game 3, and the Crew is hitting just .176 (16-for-91).

“We're in it, you know?” Counsell said. “Some good starting pitching is making it tough on us. And we’ve got to catch a break, frankly.”

Milwaukee has been shut out in consecutive postseason games for the first time in its history and became the 24th team since 1903 to lose consecutive postseason shutouts (including the 1966 Dodgers and 1905 Athletics, the only teams to absorb three straight shutouts in the postseason). As a result, this is the lowest-scoring Division Series through the first three games. The Braves and Brewers have combined for nine runs, one fewer than the Yankees and Rangers in the first three games of the 1998 ALDS.

This Game 3 hinged on Counsell’s decision to lift after four effective innings in an effort to capitalize on a pair of runners in scoring position with one out in the top of the fifth. Whether that was the right call in terms of process, in practice, it backfired. The Brewers went scoreless in that inning despite 100-mph-plus balls in play off the bats of Cain and Kolten Wong before Peralta’s replacement, Adrian Houser, surrendered a hit to each of the first three Braves batters in the bottom of the inning -- a flurry capped by Joc Pederson’s pinch-hit three-run home run.

Long a thorn in the Brewers’ side, Pederson is 3-for-3 as a pinch-hitter in the series -- including a pair of home runs off Houser.

“It's a tough decision,” Counsell said of pulling Peralta. “I think Freddy was throwing the ball great. No question about it. I think he could have got two more innings in an ideal scenario. But there was a path to the end of the game, I thought, for us, with our bullpen. And we needed to score. There was a good opportunity to score.”

Luis Urías was hit by an Ian Anderson pitch leading off the inning and opted not to try to advance when another pitch squirted away from Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud, so Urías only made it to third on Omar Narváez’s double. Then, Urías froze at third when Cain hit a hard grounder to the left side and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson made a diving stop and threw to first base for the first out.

“It's an immediate reaction, yes or no, on the wild pitch,” Counsell said. “And the Swanson play, it's just a great play. I don't know what to say. It's just a heck of a play. I'm not sure that Luis would have been safe. Lorenzo scorched it.”

Had they scored even one run before Peralta’s spot in the order arrived, the Brewers would have considered letting him bat, Counsell said. In a scoreless game, Counsell was presented with game’s most fateful decision. On one hand, Peralta had only thrown 57 pitches and had shown mettle in escaping a couple of Braves threats. On the other, the Brewers were going on a 15th consecutive inning without a run and had a stable of pinch-hitters at the ready.

“I want to keep pitching in the game,” Peralta said. “But in that situation, I have to understand that we have the opportunity to score some runs in that moment.”

Counsell opted for pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who is “on the team for that situation in that spot.” Vogelbach rarely chases, but he did this time, punching a bouncer down the third-base line to Austin Riley. Urías had broken from third on contact and was an easy out in a rundown.

When Wong lined out to first base, the Brewers’ threat was extinguished.

“Unfortunately,” Counsell said of his maneuvering, “it didn't play.”

Neither did the call for Houser, who surrendered singles to right-handed hitters d’Arnaud and Swanson before Pederson, a lefty, hammered a high fastball into the right-field seats for the game’s only runs.

Houser said he would have liked to go a bit more in on Pederson’s hands, but generally, it was the pitch he wanted to make.

“I guess I'm just a pretty good player, I don't know,” Pederson said. “Just knocked it out of the yard.”

The Brewers need a swing like that. Their only runs in the series came via Rowdy Tellez’s two-run home run in the seventh inning of Game 1.

“Sometimes, you just have to get the job done,” Cain said. “We definitely have to go out there and score runs. No way around it and nothing else to say. … I haven't been on base enough, so I have to get on base and let somebody else drive me in.”