MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich is the reigning National League Player of the Week and an NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate. He hadn't missed a start since early July and has been the Brewers' most valuable player in the second half, if not the whole season.
But none of that spared Yelich a firestorm following his absence from the lineup for Wednesday's series finale against the Cubs. In fact, those factors helped fuel it.
Yelich sounded off on the matter Friday afternoon, calling it "frustrating" and "ridiculous" that anyone would question the team's will to win a game against a division rival.
"I think people who are questioning that are not in this building, they're not in this grind with us and they don't understand where we're at as a team," Yelich said prior to the opener of a three-game series on Friday against the Giants. "They can say whatever they want to say. It's unfortunate that they even have those beliefs that as a team we wouldn't be trying to go out there and win every possible game -- whether it's the Cubs or the Giants or whoever we're playing."
First things first: Yelich did not ask for a day off, which was one theory making the rounds. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell and his staff had noticed signs of fatigue for several days and wanted to give Yelich a game off either before or after Thursday's open date for the team. In a chat with Yelich on Monday, Counsell suggested it come as early as Wednesday, when the Cubs had left-hander Jose Quintana scheduled to start. Yelich asked to push off a final decision for a few days.
By Wednesday, the Brewers were on the brink of a three-game sweep that could have lifted them within two games of the Cubs in the NL Central. But Counsell was even more convinced that Yelich needed a break.
"He just got to a point, and he was at this point four days ago, where he was very -- fatigue had just set in," Counsell said. "We pushed it, and then it reached a point where we're not going to push this any longer, because at that point we are risking injury … and, to me, we're risking him changing the way he's doing things. You have to weigh the costs and benefits, and it reached a point, for me, that we had to give him the day. It's the right thing to do."
To those who questioned that, Counsell said, "I think we're just at the stage of the season where everybody wants to win. We've got some overreaction to some things going on, and that's fine, that's part of it. We're going to make our decisions here over the rest of the year, and there are going to be more difficult decisions. And you're not going to like them all."
That may be because there seems to be a disconnect between how Counsell, Yelich and those inside the clubhouse view what's left of the regular season -- "Every game for us is of equal importance," Yelich said -- and the priority many outsiders place on head-to-head games against the team they are chasing in the division, the Cubs.
There are three such games left on the schedule. The Brewers meet the Cubs at Wrigley Field from Monday-Wednesday.
"It ended up being that Wednesday was a day we just needed to get some stuff squared away, and we did," Yelich said. "I think our focus should be on the season, the series, where we're at as a team. I think we're in a great spot as a team."
Yelich pointed out that the player who started in his place, Hernan Perez, went 1-for-3 and scored a run, and that Curtis Granderson pinch-hit in that spot in the seventh inning and belted a two-run home run.
Yelich himself pinch-hit in the ninth inning and singled to put two runners on base with no outs. Cubs closer Pedro Strop held on to avoid a Brewers sweep.
With another win in Washington on Thursday night while Yelich and the Brewers were idle, the Cubs extended their lead in the NL Central to 4 1/2 games entering Friday. Milwaukee was in the top NL Wild Card spot, one-half game ahead of the Cardinals, who were two games ahead of the next closest team, the Dodgers.
"We've got a three-week push here to get where we want to be. That's where the focus should be," Yelich said. "It shouldn't be on all these other things. It's unfortunate that seems to have been the case. I think everybody in this locker room wants to win, and everybody out there is trying to put forth their best effort to get this team to where it needs to be. The fact that is called into question or people have to answer questions about that is frustrating, to be honest with you."