Just a year ago, the Braves were one game away from the World Series, dropping Game 7 of the NLCS to the eventual World Champion Dodgers. The Brewers were bounced a series before that by the same Dodgers team after finishing 4th in the NL Central with a 29-31 record. One full lap around the sun and all of the sudden the Brewers are the favorites in what is set up to be a fun series between two exciting National League teams.
Last year’s shortened season made things a bit difficult to gauge when heading into the 2021 season. Still, few were expecting the Brewers to post the fourth-best win total in franchise history with 95 victories, while cruising to the NL Central title.
The Braves entered this year with understandably high expectations, but when Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL on July 10th, the Braves sat 4.5 games back of the Mets at 44-44; it is fair to say that many of us were guilty of counting Atlanta out at that point. However, the Braves went 44-28 the rest of the way to overtake first place in the NL East and secure a date with the Brew Crew in the NLDS. Let’s take a look at how these two teams stack up.
This department is an obvious advantage to the Brewers, who sport one of the most impressive rotations in baseball, and the game’s best closer. Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes has had arguably the best pitching season in baseball, leading all starters in ERA (2.43), FIP (1.63), K/9 (12.69), and WAR (7.5). There is no breather for the Braves after Burnes, with Brandon Woodruff presumably waiting for the ball in Game 2.
Woodruff ranks in MLB’s top 10 for virtually every pitching category as well. Breakout arm Freddy Peralta offers as good of a third option as a team could ask for, sporting an impressive 2.81 ERA and 3.12 FIP along with a gaudy 12.16 K/9.
The key for the Brewers will be bridging the gap to their elite closer Josh Hader. That gap became a bit more daunting after Devin Williams tried to fight a wall and lost. Losing last season’s Rookie of the Year was a huge blow to the Brewers bullpen, as Williams had been on fire in the second half with a 1.74 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Instead, more responsibility will ride on the shoulders of Hunter Strickland, Brad Boxberger, and Brent Suter.
The Braves pitching staff has been sneaky good as well and a large reason for the team’s second-half success. Charlie Morton has ignored Father Time, putting together the second-best season of his career at 37 years old. Statistically speaking, Morton has met every marker for what we should consider an ace, ranking in the top 15 in baseball for most every relevant pitching category; not to mention, Morton is the all-time leader with four wins in winner-take-all playoff games.
Max Fried has been dominant since the All-Star Break, ranking second in all of baseball in ERA at 1.74, while pitching to an 8-2 record in 14 second-half starts. Fried is the hottest pitcher in the postseason right now, making it pretty clear who is throwing the first two games of the series for the Braves.
The third game will likely go to Ian Anderson, who has quietly pitched well after a strong debut in 2020. Anderson has missed some time with small ailments, but owns a 3.58 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 124 innings. Another option could be 23-year-old Huascar Ynoa, however given Anderson’s dominance in the 2020 postseason, it may be safe to assume he will get the nod.
Ynoa has been hot and cold since returning from his own lost boxing match with an inanimate object, missing a large portion of the year with a broken hand at the expense of the dugout bench. Ynoa is capable of racking up strikeouts in bunches with an electric fastball and wipeout slider. The righty could be deployed in long relief or short starter role.
After a disastrous start to the season, the Braves bullpen has come into its own. Will Smith was looking like he could no longer close games for Atlanta, but since the start of September the southpaw has posted a 1.38 ERA and eight saves. Despite deadline acquisition Richard Rodriguez largely being a bust with the Braves, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter and Chris Martin have all been pitching their best down the stretch.
|Brewers||3.57 ERA (4th)||3.67 FIP (3rd)||10.3 WAR (4th)||Bullpen ERA: 4.35 (18th)|
|Braves||3.44 ERA (3rd)||3.97 FIP (7th)||7.8 WAR (11th)||Bullpen ERA: 3.24 (4th)|
Both the Brewers and Braves are not necessarily juggernaut offenses, but they are more than capable of putting runs on the board. The two teams made additions to their lineup throughout the season to bolster their playoff runs. The Braves added Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall in an effort to compensate for the loss of Acuña’s production, while the Brewers made one of baseball’s most impactful moves by trading for Willy Adames and later bringing in Rowdy Tellez and Eduardo Escobar.
In the middle of the pack for most offensive categories, the Brewers have been able to piece together hits when they need them and ride one of baseball’s best pitching staffs. The Brewers grind out at-bats, ranking fourth in walks per game and fifth in pitches per plate appearance. While the Brewers did not really have any hitters light the world on fire this year, the team’s offense lacks any holes. Eight different players boast a wRC+ over 100 (min. 150 PA) with Omar Narvaez (99 wRC+) and Lorenzo Cain (97 wRC+) more than respectable as well.
The Braves score their runs a little differently. Even without Ronald Acuña and Marcell Ozuna, the Braves finished the regular season third in all of baseball in homers behind the Blue Jays and Giants. The Braves set a Major League record this season as the only team to have every member of its infield launch 30 homers.
Jorge Soler has been a different player since coming over from the Royals, dwarfing his K-rate to 18% with a Tomahawk on his chest. Eddie Rosario has recaptured his 2020 form, hitting for the cycle last week on his way to a 133 wRC+ in 33 games with Atlanta. The aforementioned players have been wonderful complementary pieces to the Braves stars. Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies have led the charge for the offense and now have some of the weight off of their shoulders thanks to savvy moves by GM Alex Anthopoulos.
The season series between the Braves and Brewers doesn’t clue us into much as they split their six games down the middle with the road team winning each series. As for individual performances, Charlie Morton was impressive in his lone start against the Brew Crew on August 1: 6 IP, 2 ER, 6 K’s. Morton’s Game 1 counterpart Corbin Burnes surrendered a season-high 9 hits and 5 ER in a July 30th loss to the Braves in his only start against them.
For the Game 2 duel, Max Fried did not toe the rubber against the Brewers this season, but Brandon Woodruff recorded one start of three-run ball in five innings with six strikeouts against Atlanta.
The sample size is microscopic and both teams look different from the last time they squared off around the trade deadline, so in the true spirit of the MLB Playoffs it is safe to say that anything can happen. That said, I will go on record with my prediction being the Braves take this series in five games.
I am worried the Brewers bats may stall out a bit against an underrated Braves rotation and while Atlanta does not string together hits, they have no problem leaving the yard. If Milwaukee’s offense struggles, one swing of the bat could be enough for the Braves against Corbin Burnes or Brandon Woodruff. The loss of Devin Williams hurts a lot for a bullpen that relies heavily on the duo in the back-end.
The Braves were so close last year that they could taste it, and I don’t think they have forgotten that feeling.