MILWAUKEE | The bullpen day has come to October.
The Milwaukee Brewers plan to open their first postseason series in seven years with a reliever. Manager Craig Counsell hadn’t decided who would go first when the Brewers host the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Thursday.
Milwaukee led the majors with a 1.98 bullpen ERA in September, so why not go straight to a great strength?
“We’re going to share the outs a little bit more, but we really are confident with the days off in the series, the way we’re coming into the series, that we’ll certainly be able to do it,” Counsell said.
Those relievers will face a Rockies lineup that finally got a day off Wednesday after three games in three days in three different time zones.
Colorado faced the Cubs’ tough left-handed starter Jon Lester in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, a 2-1 win in 13 innings. The Rockies managed just one hit in 6 2/3 innings off Dodgers righty Walker Buehler in a 5-2 loss in Los Angeles in the tiebreaking game for the NL West crown.
Now for something completely different.
“Well, I’ve never experienced that in the postseason, facing a bullpen, facing so many different guys,” Rockies veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said.
The Oakland Athletics started reliever Liam Hendriks against the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card game Wednesday night. The trend of using a relief “opener” started with the Tampa Bay Rays this year.
Facing a traditional starter, hitters hope to get a better read on pitches the second and third times through the lineups. Hitters may not have that luxury in a bullpen day.
Colorado manager Bud Black is adhering to a simple approach.
“Again, I think the ultimate challenge is just have good at-bats, play baseball, have a good approach against any pitcher that the Brewers throw out there,” he said.
Milwaukee’s best starter, Jhoulys Chacin, started the tiebreaking game for the NL Central title Monday, a win over the Cubs at Wrigley. He’s going in Game 2 on Friday on three days’ rest.
Otherwise, the Brewers have been going with a rotation the last few weeks that includes left-handers Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez, along with right-hander Zach Davies. Miley and Davies would have been available on regular rest for Game 1.
The Rockies are sticking with a traditional starter for the opener. Right-hander Antonio Senzatela is 6-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 23 games, including 13 starts.
Senzatela made his big-league debut at Miller Park last year. He allowed two hits and struck out six over five shutout innings in a 2-1 win.
His biggest challenge in a formidable Brewers lineup will be to contain Christian Yelich, the MVP candidate who hit an NL-high .326 this season and nearly won the Triple Crown.
“Just got to throw quality pitches and compete,” Senzatela said.
Other notes and things to watch ahead of the series:
Not only are the Brewers in the playoffs just three years after being sellers at the trade deadline, they’ve got home-field advantage in the National League.
“We earned the right to sit and wait,” Brewers infielder Travis Shaw said Wednesday.
Sure did, capping an eight-game winning streak to finish the regular season with a victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in an NL Central tiebreaker game.
It’s Milwaukee’s first postseason appearance since 2011, when they also last won the Central.
The road-weary Rockies celebrated at Wrigley in the visiting clubhouse Tuesday, just like the Brewers did Monday.
“We’re a little tired, there was a lot of jumping last night,” Gonzalez said.
But they’re used to winning away from Coors Field — no small feat considering the adjustment from Denver’s high altitude. The Rockies were 44-38 on the road this season, which marked their most road victories in franchise history. The previous mark was 41 in 2009 and matched in ’17.
Yelich hit .367 with 25 homers and 67 RBIs after the All-Star break to lead the Brewers’ second-half surge. The offseason deal that general manager David Stearns made to acquire Yelich from the Miami Marlins has paid off.
“I think that’s the goal every year, is to get better as a player and learn something about yourself every single season and try and make adjustments,” Yelich said. “I think that’s what happened this year.”
Slick fielding third baseman Nolan Arenado enters the series on a 10-game hitting streak, which is his longest of the season. Over the stretch, he’s hitting .341 with four homers. He drove in the game’s first run against the Cubs in the wild-card game with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. Arenado is coming off a regular season in which he led the NL with 38 homers.
— AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.