If not Burnes, who will Brewers turn to in G4?

October 12th, 2021

ATLANTA -- The message is simple.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Brewers right-hander .

The goal is even clearer.

“We’ve got to find a way to win,” said outfielder Lorenzo Cain.

But the plan is a little hazier.

“It's not going to be Corbin [Burnes],” said manager Craig Counsell.

The Brewers’ brass planned to meet after Game 3’s 3-0 loss on Monday afternoon, and they will continue talks into Tuesday morning, when they are set to formulate a plan for a win-or-go-home Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Braves at Truist Park. Burnes will not be part of the equation as Milwaukee -- down 2-1 in the best-of-five set -- opts against pitching its ace on short rest.

“We'll just look at it and map out the scenarios for tomorrow,” Counsell said. “I think we're in decent shape.”

One option, should the club hold firm and not turn to , is . The left-hander is one of just two Brewers not to have appeared this postseason, and he is the only starter who would be available on full rest -- having last pitched in Los Angeles on Oct. 1.

Lauer would provide the Brewers with their first lefty starter against a Braves team that has not yet changed its lineup through three games. And Lauer, to his credit, had a stellar yet unheralded season with a 3.19 ERA in 24 games (20 starts). He managed remarkably even numbers against both righties (.641 OPS) and lefties (.635) in 2021.

Should Lauer get the Game 4 nod, Counsell’s recent tendencies would suggest an aggressive approach after him. In Game 3, with Milwaukee’s best run-scoring threat at hand, All-Star right-hander was pulled for a pinch-hitter after four scoreless innings and just 57 pitches.

Such aggression could put the Brewers’ pitchers into unconventional positions. Thus has been the case for Houser, who has appeared out of the bullpen twice this postseason after serving as a bona-fide starter for the majority of the year. He allowed a pinch-hit solo homer to Joc Pederson over two innings in Friday's Game 1, but then he surrendered the decisive three-run homer to Pederson in the fifth inning in Game 3.

“If their name gets called, everyone is going to be ready to take that opportunity to go out there and pitch the ball,” said Houser, who’s likely not a candidate to pitch on Tuesday after already appearing twice in relief. “Everybody is locked in, ready to go. We’re just waiting for the name to be called.”

To that end, starting Burnes would be a departure from the norms instilled by the Brewers this season, as he has been kept not only on a routine starter’s track but one of extra tepidness.

There were six occasions this season (notwithstanding the All-Star break, a COVID-19 diagnosis in April and his first start of the year) when Burnes pitched on at least six days’ rest, including each of his last three starts. Only twice did he appear after a four-day layoff; he has not pitched on less than four days’ rest since 2019, and he did so as a reliever.

Burnes would be on three days’ rest if he pitched on Tuesday, and the risk does not appear worth trotting out an NL Cy Young Award hopeful with the season on the line. Counsell did not elaborate if Burnes would be available out of the bullpen. But if not, both he and would be on regular rest for a potential Game 5 on Thursday in Milwaukee.

Truthfully, the Brewers’ season does not hinge on who they pitch on Tuesday. They are not hitting, with only one run-scoring knock so far in the series (Rowdy Tellez’s triumphant seventh-inning home run in Game 1). They have gone 19 consecutive innings without a run, and in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they have zero hits.

“Every pitcher is locked in and doing a very good job,” said catcher Omar Narváez. “We've just got to do better [with] offense.”