Crew tabs Suter in Gm. 1, Woodruff for Gm. 2

September 30th, 2020

New year, same script: The Brewers are beginning another postseason series with an opener.

Left-hander will start for the Brewers in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the club announced Tuesday night. Right-hander will start Game 2 of the best-of-three series, and a starter for a potential Game 3 depends on the health of veteran lefty Brett Anderson.

Suter will function as the "opener" in Game 1 as a result of Milwaukee's starting rotation being thinned by injury. The pitcher who had been the presumed starter for any Brewers playoff opener this year, Corbin Burnes, suffered a left oblique injury in his final regular-season start, and is on the 10-day injured list. Anderson is also sidelined and questionable for the series due to a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand, and Woodruff just threw eight innings on a season-high 108 pitches on Saturday. Since it takes two wins to advance, the Brewers will hold him a day so he can pitch on full rest.

“We’re on Plan B,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Suter, “but it’s a good Plan B, is what I would say.”

The Dodgers have a balanced, potent lineup that led the Majors in 2020 with 349 runs scored. But they were 15th in baseball with a .744 OPS against left-handers, compared to second with an .837 OPS against right-handers. Counsell said that’s not why Suter is getting the ball over a more traditional starter like Josh Lindblom or Adrian Houser, both right-handers.

“Brent’s not out there because he’s a lefty,” Counsell said. "He’s out there because he’s the guy we think can go through this lineup a couple of times."

Suter has delivered before. He made four spot starts for the Brewers in 2020, including three in doubleheaders in September, delivering scoreless outings each time of three, three and four innings. Suter's most recent outing was a start at St. Louis on Friday, when he worked around two Cardinals hits and one walk while striking out four and pushing to a season-high 59 pitches.

As a former 31st-round Draft pick (2012) who works fast but throws slow -- and who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 -- did Suter ever imagine starting a postseason Game 1?

“It’s a dream as a kid, for sure,” Suter said. “But realistically, no. It’s an unfortunate reason why, Corbin going down. He’s definitely been our No. 1 and earned every bit of it. I’m just kind of trying to pick him up. I told him last night, ‘I’m going to try to take your spirit out there with me and put up some zeros for the boys.'"

In 16 appearances overall this season, Suter posted a 3.13 ERA over 31 2/3 innings, with a 29.4 percent strikeout rate. The only postseason appearance of his career came last year, when he threw one scoreless inning in the NL Wild Card Game against the eventual World Series champion Nationals. Suter has only faced the Dodgers once in his career, giving up six runs (two earned) on seven hits over three innings in an 11-2 Brewers loss in July 2018, his final outing before Tommy John surgery.

“I hope I can throw off their timing and put them on the defensive,” Suter said. “That’s a great lineup over there. A really good team. We know we have our hands full, but that doesn’t mean we have to be Superman out there. … We have a real opportunity here. Best-of-three series, anything can happen. In a way, we have nothing to lose. The pressure is on them in terms of they had a very good regular season, we snuck in these playoffs a little bit.”

Essentially, the Brewers have started every Game 1 of a postseason series under Counsell and president of baseball operations David Stearns with an opener. Woodruff started Game 1 of the 2018 NL Division Series against the Rockies when he was a Brewers bullpen arm, and while Gio González was a true starting pitcher when he took the mound for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, he functioned as an opener, working two innings on 32 pitches before Woodruff came in. And while Woodruff started last year’s NL Wild Card Game, he was only two starts removed from a long stint on the injured list and wasn’t fully built-up; he threw 52 pitches in four innings before the bullpen took over.

“You’ve just got to expect anything,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “The gamesmanship, whether it’s getting a lineup late or throwing a pitcher for a hitter and changing, going to the ‘pen. I don’t know what their game plan is, but we just have to be prepared for anything. And I really like the way that offensively, with the guys that can handle both [righties and lefties] and the way we structure out lineup, we can sort of combat anything.”

In 2020, Woodruff finished the regular season with a 3.05 ERA over 13 starts (73 2/3 innings) and a 31 percent strikeout rate. Woodruff is no stranger to the postseason, nor the Dodgers on that stage -- he pitched in another bullpen effort in Game 1 of the 2018 NL Championship Series against Los Angeles. Overall, Woodruff pitched brilliantly in three relief appearances during that series, posting a 1.93 ERA with 17 strikeouts and two walks in 9 1/3 innings. Overall, he owns a 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 postseason innings.

The Dodgers have announced their Game 1 starter will be right-hander Walker Buehler, who made eight starts in an injury-shortened 2020 campaign, turning in a 3.44 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The 26-year-old already has 36 1/3 postseason innings to his name, with a 2.72 ERA and 32 percent strikeout rate.

The starting assignments represented the extent of the news Counsell was ready to share Tuesday. Considering the late hour of their Tuesday evening workout, the availability of some injured players, including Anderson, designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach (right quad) and outfielder Ben Gamel (left quad) remained to be determined. Their status might not become clear until Wednesday morning when the team submits a 28-man roster for this round of the postseason.

How the Brewers got to ‘Plan B’
The Brewers say they can beat the Dodgers in a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series, but even Counsell conceded that they would be better positioned with a healthy Burnes taking the mound in Game 1 on Wednesday.

Drawing on their playbook from the last time they met the Dodgers in the postseason, the Brewers didn’t announce their starting -pitching plans until the eve of Wednesday’s Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. But the Dodgers knew it wouldn’t be Burnes, who had been lined up for a start like this for weeks only to sustain a left oblique strain in his final regular-season start that landed him on the 10-day injured list. The Brewers haven’t ruled out Burnes pitching again this year, but it would require a deep playoff run.

“Look, we lost Corbin Burnes, that’s a big loss,” Counsell said. “You can’t understate that loss. But we have to win games by scoring more than the other team. It’s not a ‘pitching-led’ team, we’re a baseball team and we need to score more than them.

“Our pitching plans have changed. We had it set up in early September for Corbin to get to the first day … and unfortunately, we had an injury. So that’s going to change how we pitch. But we still have got guys that can do it.”

Armed with corrected eyesight, a stronger mental plan thanks to offseason sessions with a performance coach and a vastly improved cut fastball which Burnes used more often and to great effect, the 25-year-old produced a 2.11 ERA and 13.27 strikeouts per nine innings. Those marks would have put him fourth and second in the NL in those categories, respectively, had his injury occurred one out later in last Thursday’s game at St. Louis, which would have given Burnes the 60 total innings he would have needed to qualify for the ERA title. Instead, he finished at 59 2/3 frames.

Last call
• A group of additional players joined the rest of the team in St. Louis on Sunday night to travel to Los Angeles, raising to 39 the number of players available in the event of injuries or illness. It was many of those extra players who took part in a voluntary workout at Dodger Stadium on Monday, along with a handful of pitchers who wanted to throw and some others who required treatment.

• For the rest of the team, this year’s schedule allowed the Brewers to “take a deep breath,” Counsell said, compared to the past two years, when they had only one off-day before the 2018 NL Division Series against the Rockies and the ’19 NL Wild Card Game at the Nationals. It was important to give players a day away from the field before they reported for an evening workout scheduled for Tuesday.

• “It was like Twitter. You couldn’t take your eyes off it. … I’ve never been a part of that, where the out-of-town scoreboard was so distracting.” -- Counsell, on the detailed out-of-town scoreboard at Busch Stadium, which delivered out-by-out updates about the Phillies’ and Giants’ games, which ultimately figured in the Brewers’ path to the postseason.