Counsell 2nd to Snitker for NL Manager of Year

November 13th, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Twelve-year-old Craig Counsell tried to will the Brewers to the World Series from a lucky spot on a County Stadium catwalk. He was up there in 1982, high above the right-field seats, when Cecil Cooper delivered the go-ahead single in Game 5 of the 1982 American League Championship Series that sent the Brewers to their only World Series to date.

"I thought I was very lucky at that time," Counsell said last month. "That was the spot. I'd found the spot."

:: NL Manager of the Year voting totals ::

Now he has a new spot at the end of the Milwaukee dugout, and while the Brewers fell a game short of the World Series this time, Counsell's work managing his boyhood team brought him within a whisker of winning the Baseball Writers' Association of America's National League Manager of the Year Award. Counsell finished second behind Atlanta's Brian Snitker, the BBWAA announced Tuesday.

The Brewers have never had a BBWAA Manager of the Year, which has been awarded since 1983. Ron Roenicke was runner-up in 2011, Phil Garner was runner-up in the American League in 1992 and Tom Trebelhorn was runner-up in the AL in 1987. Counsell received 11 first-place votes and 99 total points compared to Snitker's 17 first-place votes and 116 points. Colorado's Bud Black finished third.

Counsell finished fourth in balloting a year ago but was a finalist this time, after the Brewers surged to a 96-67 finish in the regular season, matching the franchise record for victories in a season with a win over the Cubs in an NL Central tiebreaker that gave Milwaukee its third division crown in franchise history. That win came as part of a late-season winning streak that spanned 12 games, including an NL Division Series sweep of the Rockies and a victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

"He's just consistent," said left-hander . "First off, he's a good human being. You can communicate with him. You can talk to him. He's going to shoot you straight. As players we respect that. And he's just consistent in what he does. It becomes a pattern and routine, and you kind of know what you're going to get every day when you come in, and that's good."

Manager of the Year can be a tricky ballot to cast, since most of the job is done out of the public eye. But Counsell's imprint on the Brewers was evident, especially down the stretch as he juggled a position-player group with many movable pieces and squeezed the most out of a pitching staff that lacked an ace.

In both areas, it worked. The Brewers went from "too many outfielders" in Spring Training to "too many infielders" after general manager David Stearns acquired Mike Moustakas and in July, but successfully shifted to second base and the Brewers, led by NL MVP finalist , ranked fourth in MLB and third among NL teams with a .781 OPS after the All-Star break. On the pitching front, the Brewers ranked fifth in MLB and fourth in the NL with a 3.73 ERA despite missing 2017 ace Jimmy Nelson for the entire season while he recovered from shoulder surgery, and steps back for Chase Anderson and .

The Brewers' strength was one of baseball's best bullpens, and Counsell & Co. got creative to maximize that strength as the season wore on. led MLB relievers with 81 1/3 relief innings and 143 strikeouts in the regular season but was fresh and effective by the time the postseason arrived thanks to an unconventional usage pattern that often meant multiple innings in a game followed by multiple days off. Counsell received criticism along the way for that usage, but the result was that Hader, along with and a resurgent , anchored a relief corps that led MLB with a 1.98 ERA from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season.

The final two weeks of the regular season were a precursor to more unconventional moves in the postseason. Take Sept. 24 in St. Louis, when Counsell removed home run-prone Anderson from the rotation and announced a spot start for left-hander Dan Jennings, then removed Jennings after only one batter (left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter) and replaced him with to face the rest of a right-handed-heavy Cards lineup.

It was all about chasing favorable matchups for a man who felt fortunate simply to be at the helm.

"It's quite literally the stuff that movies are made of, right?" Stearns said. "A kid grows up rooting like crazy for his hometown team, gets to play for that hometown team, and then he retires from playing and gets to manage that hometown team. It's almost too good to script."