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Notre Dame In MLB: Counsell Overcomes Adversity, Leads Brewers To Playoffs

Despite losing his team’s best player — reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich — Sept. 10, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell made the MLB postseason as the National League’s second wild card team with a regular-season record of 89-73.

Yelich was arguably having a better season this year than during his 2018 MVP campaign. He led the NL in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.429), slugging percentage (.671) and OPS (1.100), and slugged a career-high 44 homers.

Counsell led the Brewers to the playoffs for the second straight season.
Counsell led the Brewers to the playoffs for the second straight season. (Photo by Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports)

After Yelich suffered a fractured kneecap, Counsell made sire to meet with his players in the following days to let them know their season was not lost.

“I think Craig understands when it is appropriate to deliver a message,” Brewers general manager David Stearns told The Athletic. “He has a good feel for when his voice should be heard or when players can take care of it themselves or when other voices need to be heard. At the appropriate time, he made sure his voice was heard.”

Counsell guided Milwaukee to 13 wins in the next 15 games to secure a playoff spot. That surge helped the Brewers go 20-7 in September to erase a 5.5-game deficit to the Chicago Cubs in the National League wild-card race. Along the way, the Brewers — led by their bullpen — posted an MLB-best 3.01 ERA, and the team received key contributions from rookies Keston Hiura and Trent Grisham.

Milwaukee played at Washington in the do-or-die NL wild card game Oct. 1. The resilient Brewers built an early 3-0 lead with a pair of home runs off Nationals ace Max Scherzer, but dropped a heartbreaker when an error by Grisham in the bottom of the eighth inning allowed the winning run to score during a three-run rally in a 4-3 defeat.

“These baseball seasons are sacred,” Counsell told the assembled media after the tough defeat. “You think that you don’t get many of them, and you don’t get many chances like this. I’m so proud of the way we battled and the urgency that we played with and how together we became, better than anybody thought we could be.”

Over the last three seasons, Counsell has led the Brewers to an overage of 90 wins with a .559 winning percentage while posting one division title and two playoff berths. All told, he has posted a 405-381 record (.515 winning percentage) since taking over as Milwaukee’s manager during the 2015 season.

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Final Regular-Season Stats

• John Axford (Played at Notre Dame from 2002-05), RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Did not pitch this season due to a stress reaction in his right elbow and underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in August … He will become a free agent soon, but it’s unclear if a team will sign him until they get a chance to see him throw.

• Cavan Biggio (2014-16), 2B, Toronto Blue Jays: Made his major league debut May 24 … Hit .234 with 16 homers, 48 RBI and five steals while seeing action in 100 contests … Notched his first career MLB cycle Sept. 17 against the Orioles, 17 years after his father — Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio — achieved the same feat … It marked only the second time a father-son-duo has hit for the cycle.

• Trey Mancini (2011-13), 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles: Played in 154 of the Orioles’ contests and saw time at designated hitter, first base, right field and left field … Hit .291 with 35 home runs and 97 RBI for, perhaps, the best statistical season a former Notre Dame baseball players have had in the MLB ... The next closest might be A.J. Pollock’s 2015 season when he hit .315 with 20 home runs and finished 14th in the NL MVP vote.

• David Phelps (2006-08), RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Returned to action June 17 after completing his recovery from Tommy John surgery … Made 10 relief appearances and compiled a 3.63 ERA in 17 1/3 innings with the Blue Jays before being traded to the Cubs July 30 … In Chicago, he had a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings.

• A.J. Pollock (2007-09), OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Was sidelined in late April due to a right elbow infection and did not return until July 12 … Played in 86 contests and batted .266 with 15 homers and 47 RBI … The Dodgers went 106-66 to clinch home-field advantage in the National League playoffs, and will face the Washington Nationals in a best-of-five Division Series that starts Oct. 3.

• Jeff Samardzija (2003-06), RHP, San Francisco Giants: Made 32 starts for San Francisco … Posted an 11-12 record with a 3.52 ERA and struck out 140 batters in 181 1/3 innings.

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