During the Brewers' last postseason appearance, the National League did not have the DH. For a team that relied on its elite pitching, one would have thought that gave Milwaukee an additional advantage when facing better lineups. On the contrary, though, the lack of a DH came back to haunt the Brewers in their 3-1 NLDS loss to the Atlanta Braves by influencing their in-game pitching decisions.
In Game Three of the 2021 NLDS, the Brewers had runners at second and third with no outs in the top of the fifth inning of a scoreless game. After a groundout failed to bring in a run, manager Craig Counsell pinch-hit Daniel Vogelbach for stellar starter Freddy Peralta in search of the lead. Milwaukee did not score, and Peralta, who had five strikeouts in four scoreless frames, watched as reliever Adrian Houser gave up two singles and a home run to the first three batters he faced. Atlanta went up 3-0, and won by that same tally.
Then, in Game Four (a win-or-go-home contest for the Brewers), Counsell made the opposite choice. Starting pitcher Eric Lauer came to bat with runners on the corners and one out. Already leading 2-0, Counsell let Lauer hit for himself and drop down a sacrifice bunt, instead of using a position player to try to drive in the runner from third with one out. The sac bunt moved a runner to second base, but it didn't bring home the man from third. After a walk to Kolten Wong, Willy Adames struck out, and the Brewers couldn't tack on another run.
What made the decision to stick with Lauer worse was that he then allowed a single, walk and hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the same inning. He gave way to Hunter Strickland with the bases loaded and two outs, and the Braves promptly tied the game at 2-2. It was a three-run (non-)swing, with the Brewers failing to score the extra run in the top of the frame and Lauer giving up two runs in the bottom half. Was either decision wrong? It's tough to say, because we focus on the outcomes, which resulted in an 0-for-2 from Milwaukee's perspective as the underdog Braves eliminated them.
How might things have turned out differently for the Brewers if the DH was in play that postseason?
Now, the NL has the DH, and the NL Central champions are again built around pitching. Instinctively, the thought is that the DH will help Milwaukee's offense, which was a significant issue in the 2021 NLDS. While it certainly helps to add another bat like Mark Canha or Josh Donaldson in that spot, the DH is much more important for the Brewers' stellar pitching.
Milwaukee's most significant edge over the playoff field rests in the top of their starting rotation (Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Peralta) and the best of their bullpen. Without having to worry about their pitchers batting, Counsell and his staff can make every decision based solely on their talented arms. There's no more need to think of pinch-hitting for a pitcher cruising in the fourth or fifth because you desperately need a run. On the other hand, there's no longer a scenario where a manager has to give up an out to keep his pitcher on the mound. This applies to starters and relievers, especially when you get into the matchup games in the middle-to-late frames.
Removing the decision to pull or keep a pitcher in the game favors the Brewers more than any other club in the postseason. Counsell will be more willing to let one of his big three starters begin (or finish) an extra inning, which could be valuable within that single game and across a series. He also often does a masterful job mixing and matching his bullpen arms to maximize impact and efficiency. It allows the Brewers to keep guys in across frames, setting up favorable confrontations and finding ways to steal outs without overworking the top bullpen arms.
While there's some risk to having relievers pitch more than one inning, there are benefits, too. For one, every time the bullpen door swings open, there's a chance the new reliever will have a bad day. If the current pitcher is dealing (nasty stuff, pinpoint control, etc.), it might be the better or safer play to ride the "hot hand" for another inning. The Brewers can, at least, start the new frame with the arm already doing the job. The other positive is rest for one of the other elite guys in the pen.
Particularly in a more extended series, letting one pitcher (say, Trevor Megill) handle multiple frames might allow Counsell to stay away from one of the top relievers like Abner Uribe and Devin Williams. That extra day off could be the difference between a lights-out appearance tomorrow and a tired arm that leads to an ugly outing, costing the club a game or the series.
In both those situations, navigating around a pitcher in the batting order would make things more challenging. Sure, managers could utilize a double-switch to ensure you have a position player hitting in future innings, but that often means a less productive bat or a worse matchup at some other point in the game. With the DH, Counsell can focus solely on the best possible pitching option from first pitch to Out No. 27, and not have to think about much else.
The ability to play 100 percent to your team's strength is an enormous positive. When you have a team like the Brewers, where everything is predicated on elite pitching and defense, removing those extra decisions becomes especially valuable. Thus, while the DH might help Milwaukee score an extra run here or there, the offense-friendly rule boosts the Brewers' run prevention to even greater heights. If they are to make a postseason run, the DH will be a major contributor, in a backward sort of way.