Managing The Red Line Series

The next two games at Wrigley Field between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs are more than just a crosstown rivalry. It’s an opportunity to witness a clash of managerial philosophies, strategies, and records. On one side, we have the Cubs led by Craig Counsell, a manager known for his strategic acumen and success with the Milwaukee Brewers. On the other side, we have Pedro Grifol, the skipper of the White Sox, who has brought a fresh perspective and a wealth of experience from his years as a coach to the South Side. All four games between these two clubs this season are set to be a fascinating study in contrasts between these two managers.

Craig Counsell took over as the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015, bringing with him a reputation for being a thinking player who understood the game deeply. His managerial career has been marked by a series of strategic decisions that have consistently placed the Brewers in contention.

Counsell’s tenure with the Brewers was been nothing short of impressive. Under his leadership, the Brewers made several postseason appearances, including an NL Central division title in 2018. Counsell’s ability to maximize the potential of his roster, often without the benefit of a large payroll, has earned him widespread respect. His strategic use of the bullpen, in particular, was been a hallmark of his success in Milwaukee. The 2018 season saw the Brewers reach the National League Championship Series, only to fall to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Going into his first Cross Town Classic since being named manager last winter Counsell is 80 games over .500 and it is Cubs President of Baseball Operations belief that Craig will be able to continue his success in Wrigleyville.

Counsell is known for his analytical approach to the game. He embraces sabermetrics and uses data to inform his decisions, from lineup construction to bullpen management. This approach has helped him get the most out of his players, often turning unheralded talents into key contributors. Counsell’s willingness to adapt and innovate has been a key factor in his success.

One notable aspect of Counsell’s strategy is his use of the bullpen. He pioneered the concept of the “bullpen game,” where a team does not use a traditional starting pitcher but instead relies on multiple relievers to get through the game. This strategy has allowed the Brewers to compensate for a lack of depth in their starting rotation and keep their opponents off balance.

Pedro Grifol took the reins of the Chicago White Sox in 2023, after a long tenure as a coach with the Kansas City Royals. Grifol’s appointment was seen as a move to bring new energy and ideas to a White Sox team that has struggled to meet expectations despite a talented roster. Going into the two game set at Wrigley Grifol is 69 games below .500 in his managerial career and he is definitely on the hot seat with in the basement of the AL Central Division holding the worst record in all of baseball at 15-45.

Grifol’s experience in baseball is extensive. Before becoming the manager of the White Sox, he served in various coaching roles with the Kansas City Royals, including as a catching instructor and quality control coach. His work with the Royals was instrumental in their 2015 World Series championship, where he helped develop a young core of players and foster a winning culture.

Grifol’s philosophy centers on communication and player development. He is known for his ability to connect with players and help them maximize their potential. This approach has been particularly important for a White Sox team filled with young, talented players who are still finding their way in the major leagues.

Grifol emphasizes fundamentals and accountability. His focus on defense and base running reflects his belief that these aspects of the game are often overlooked but are crucial to winning. Grifol also values versatility, encouraging players to be able to contribute in multiple ways, whether it’s through different positions or roles within the team.

The contrast between Counsell and Grifol is evident in their backgrounds, managerial styles, and records. Counsell, with his analytical approach and innovative strategies, represents the modern era of baseball management. Grifol, with his emphasis on fundamentals and player development, brings a more traditional but equally valuable perspective.

Craig Counsell’s managerial record speaks for itself. His ability to guide the Brewers to multiple postseason appearances in a competitive NL Central is a testament to his skill as a manager. His career record with the Brewers includes over 600 wins, and his teams have consistently been competitive despite often being considered underdogs.

Pedro Grifol, on the other hand, is still in the early stages of his managerial career. While his record with the White Sox is still being established, his impact on the team’s culture and development is already being felt. The 2023 season showed signs of promise, with the White Sox playing a more disciplined and fundamentally sound brand of baseball under his guidance.

Counsell’s reliance on data and innovative strategies contrasts with Grifol’s more traditional approach. Counsell’s use of the bullpen and platoon advantages is a hallmark of his strategy, while Grifol focuses on the basics of the game, ensuring his players are well-prepared and fundamentally sound.

Grifol’s emphasis on communication and development also sets him apart. He places a high value on building relationships with his players and creating an environment where they can thrive. This approach has been particularly beneficial for a White Sox team that has seen many young players come up through their system.

As the White Sox and Cubs prepare to face off at Wrigley Field these next two nights, the managerial styles of Counsell and Grifol will be on full display. The decisions made by each manager could very well determine the outcome of the 2024 Red Line Series (aka Cross Town Classic).

  1. Bullpen Management: Counsell’s expertise in handling the bullpen will be crucial. Watch for how he uses his relievers, particularly in high-leverage situations. Grifol’s approach will also be important, especially if the score is close in the later innings.
  2. Lineup Construction: Counsell often tweaks his lineup based on matchups and statistical data. It will be interesting to see how he sets up his batting order against the White Sox pitchers. Grifol, meanwhile, may prioritize a consistent lineup to help his players find their rhythm.
  3. In-Game Adjustments: Both managers are adept at making adjustments during the game. Counsell’s willingness to deploy unconventional strategies versus Grifol’s focus on playing fundamentally sound baseball will be a fascinating dynamic to watch.
  4. Player Development: Grifol’s influence on young players like Luis Robert Jr. and Andrew Vaughn will be a key storyline. Their performance under his guidance could make a significant difference in the game.
  5. Defensive Alignments: Counsell is known for his use of defensive shifts and alignments based on advanced metrics. How Grifol counters this with his emphasis on traditional defensive fundamentals will be another critical aspect of the game.

Tonight and tomorrow nights games at Wrigley Field will be more than just a battle for city bragging rights. They’ll be a showcase of two distinct managerial philosophies and the impact they have on their teams. Craig Counsell’s proven track record and innovative strategies contrast with Pedro Grifol’s focus on fundamentals and player development.

As fans and analysts watch the Cross Town Classic unfold, the decisions made by these two managers will provide a compelling narrative. Will Counsell’s analytical approach and bullpen mastery give the Cubs bragging rights? Or will Grifol’s emphasis on discipline and fundamentals lead the White Sox to have bragging rights?

Regardless of who gets bragging rights the games between the Cubs and White Sox this season will be a testament to the rich strategic shades of baseball, where every decision can tip the balance and every managerial move is a step in the ongoing chess match that defines this beloved sport.

With that… it will be interesting to see how this years Cross Town Classic plays out under the watch of the third  manager the Cubs have had in the last ten seasons.

If you cannot play with them, then root for them!

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