MILWAUKEE -- Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich is a finalist to become the fifth league MVP in Brewers history, and manager Craig Counsell has a chance to be the franchise's first manager of the year when the Baseball Writers' Association of American hands out its hardware next week.Yelich is a finalist
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich is a finalist to become the fifth league MVP in Brewers history, and manager Craig Counsell has a chance to be the franchise's first manager of the year when the Baseball Writers' Association of American hands out its hardware next week.
Yelich is a finalist with the Cubs' Javier Baez and the Rockies' Nolan Arenado for the National League MVP Award. Counsell is up for the BBWAA's NL Manager of the Year Award with Bud Black of the Rockies and Brian Snitker of the Braves.
The BBWAA, which collected ballots before the start of postseason play, will announce the managerial honor on Tuesday on MLB Network. The league MVPs will be named Thursday.
• Complete 2018 awards coverage
Yelich, 26, is considered by many the front-runner to join Rollie Fingers (1981), Robin Yount ('82 and '89) and Ryan Braun (2011) as the only league MVPs in Brewers history after a torrid finish to the regular season gave Yelich a shot at the Triple Crown. He led the NL with a .326 batting average to become the Brewers' first-ever batting champion, tied for third with 36 home runs (two shy of Arenado's league lead) and tied Arenado for second with 110 RBIs behind Baez's 111.
Yelich also led the NL with a .770 slugging percentage, a 1.000 OPS, 343 total bases, a 164 adjusted OPS and 166 weighted runs created plus.
But it was his work after the All-Star break that may have distanced Yelich from the rest of the field. He slugged .770 after the break, a remarkable 145 points better than MLB's runner-up in the second half, NL Rookie of the Year finalist Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves. It was the seventh-highest slugging percentage for an NL player after the break since 1933, and the highest since Barry Bonds' .832 in 2004.
Yelich's 25 home runs after the break were four more than his previous career high with Miami, where he played in cavernous Marlins Park. Twice along the way, he hit for the cycle in Brewers wins over the Reds.
"For Christian, what's cool this year is that he has taken his game to a new level," Counsell said. "He's been a player, a really good player, and he's taken it to the next level. As much as anything, it's a product of the sweet spot of some experience in the league lining up in the good spot. I think if you ask him, he'll say, 'I didn't have a good first half.'"
But Yelich was an NL All-Star.
"These guys compete against themselves, too," Counsell said.
Yelich shrugged off his accomplishments when asked about them along the way.
"It's hard to explain. It's one of those things where I haven't paid much attention to it, just because you're so focused on the day-to-day [process] of competing, focused on what you have to do to help the team win," he said during the final week of the regular season. "We've been in a close race for the whole season, and every game has been big for us."
Counsell, 48, was similarly focused down the stretch. He grew up in Milwaukee and was part of the team's postseason qualifiers in 2008 and '11, then worked three years in the front office as a special assistant to then-GM Doug Melvin before being installed as manager in May '15. The Brewers were at the front end of a rebuild that would include a handoff from Melvin to new GM David Stearns, who retained Counsell and continued a process that bore fruit much more rapidly than expected.
"We interviewed seven or eight candidates [for the GM job], and I told all of them that Craig was going to be the manager. That would have disqualified a candidate if they had a problem with that," said Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. "Craig was the perfect manager for a lot of reasons."
The Brewers went 68-94 in 2015 and 73-89 in '16 before improving to 86-76 in '17 and missing the postseason by one game, earning Counsell a fourth-place finish in NL Manager of the Year balloting. They took another big leap on Counsell's watch in '18, blurring the lines between starting pitchers and relievers on the way to going 96-67 for the third division title in franchise history. The Brewers took the NL Central with a 3-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in a regular-season Game 163.
Thanks to that extra game, the Brewers matched their franchise record for victories.
"It's a thrill," said Counsell. "Look, I think my idea after I retired was to be a part of this organization in any way I could, to help baseball in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin. I didn't set out with a plan to become the manager or do anything else. I wanted to help. … But I do feel like baseball in Wisconsin and Milwaukee is part of my responsibility, and the best reason to celebrate this for me is how you see it makes everybody feel and how we've been able to take our fans on a journey."
The journey continues next week when the BBWAA hands out its hardware.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.