- Written by Skye Paul (@BravesFromLA on Twitter), October 7th 2021
The NL East Champion Braves to face the NL Central Champion Brewers in NDLS
Following a series sweep to clinch the NL East Division Title against the rival Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves are rolling into the postseason with momentum, winning eight of their last nine regular season games. That momentum will be put to the test starting this Friday, as the Braves will face off against the NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the 2021 MLB Playoffs. Let's take a look at how these teams match up in a best of five series:
Braves vs. Brewers NLDS Schedule:
Game 1: Friday (October 8th), 1:37 PST Braves @ Brewers
Game 2: Saturday (October 9th), 2:07 PST Braves @ Brewers
Game 3: Monday (October 11th), TBD Brewers @ Braves
Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday (October 12th), TBD Brewers @ Braves
Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday (October 14th), TBD Braves @ Brewers
While the Brewers have a somewhat sizable lead in regular season record (95-67 Brewers vs. 88-73 Braves), the two teams match up much closer when we evaluate these teams based on their performance since the trade deadline. Comparing full seasons gives us a larger sample size to work with, however both the Braves and Brewers have seen significant change in the roster throughout the season. None of the Braves opening day outfield will be on the postseason roster, and Willy Adames, arguably the Brewers best current position player, wasn't even acquired until May 21st. In my opinion, the games after trade deadline give us a fair evaluation of both ball clubs as they currently stand, and provides a meaningful sample size for us to analyze.
Atlanta Braves (36-20 since trade deadline) **Note: Stats evaluated from August 1st to end of regular season
Jorge Soler (.266/.355/.525 slash line, 131 wRC+)
Freddie Freeman (.321/.385/.505 slash line, 135 wRC+)
Ozzie Albies (.252/.289/.486 slash line, 99 wRC+)
Austin Riley (.332/.360/.547 slash line, 138 wRC+)
Adam Duvall (.221/.285/.505 slash line, 104 wRC+)
Eddie Rosario (.274/.333/.579 slash line, 135 wRC+)
Travis D'Arnaud (.222/.305/.421 slash line, 93 wRC+)
Dansby Swanson (.251/.326/.403 slash line, 94 wRC+)
Team wRC+: 99 (includes pitchers spot), 7.5 total fWAR, -3.0 BsR
Milwaukee Brewers (33-24 since trade deadline)
Kolten Wong (.239/.307/.421 slash line, 94 wRC+)
Willy Adames (.270/.338/.496 slash line, 119 wRC+)
Christian Yelich (.264/.335/.382 slash line, 93 wRC+)
Eduardo Escobar (.273/.342/.453 slash line, 113 wRC+)
Avisail Garcia (.252/.342/.551 slash line, 130 wRC+)
Omar Narvaez (.224/.276/.315 slash line, 57 wRC+)
Luis Urias (.278/.366/.506 slash line, 132 wRC+)
Lorenzo Cain (.261/.313/.428 slash line, 97 wRC+)
Team wRC+: 93 (includes pitchers spot), 8.1 total fWAR, 4.5 BsR
By looking at both the individual players' statistics as well as the team statistics, it is pretty clear that the Braves lineup is more productive offensively than the Brewers lineup. The Braves have a larger team wRC+ by six points, and have four players with a wRC+ over 130 (albeit Rosario's smaller sample) since the trade deadline compared to the Brewers' two. However, the Brewers are a much better defensive team than the Braves, and run the bases much more efficiently, reflected by their 7.5 point BsR lead. Thus, Fangraphs has the Brewers position players as a whole slightly more productive than the Braves, however this 0.4 difference in fWAR isn't really statistically significant.
Statcast isn't as friendly to the Brewers defense, they're ranked 23rd in baseball in Outs Above Average (OAA) with -14 OAA. The Braves are ranked 12th in baseball with 9 OAA. Keep in mind, the Braves defense has progressively gotten worse this season with the loss of Ronald Acuna Jr. and additions of Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, who aren't exactly elite defenders.
Conclusion: The Braves are a better offensive team, but the Brewers position players likely make up for it in defense and base running to make it comparable in terms of total value.
The Starting Pitching
Atlanta Braves: **Note: Stats once again evaluated from August 1st to end of regular season
Charlie Morton (2.71 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.95 xFIP, )
Max Fried (1.46 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 2.94 xFIP)
Ian Anderson (3.62 ERA, 5.67 FIP, 4.72 xFIP)
Huascar Ynoa (5.05 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 3.64 xFIP)
Corbin Burnes (2.36 ERA, 1.86 FIP, 2.49 xFIP)
Brandon Woodruff (3.38 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.21 xFIP)
Freddy Peralta (4.71 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.50 xFIP)
Adrian Houser (2.22 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 4.62 xFIP)
Starting pitching is, without a doubt, the Brewers strength. Corbin Burnes is likely the front runner for the NL Cy Young, and Brandon Woodruff is having an all-star caliber season to compliment Burnes. On the flip side, the Braves have two front line starters of their own, ace Charlie Morton and Pitcher of the Month Max Fried. Both Morton and Fried have been excellent since the trade deadline, and are more than capable of shutting down the Brewers offense.
Oddly, the Brewers truly separate themselves in this category by the back end of the rotation, not the front end. Freddy Peralta is having a breakout campaign (who's run into some bad luck in a small sample since the trade deadline) and Adrian Houser has been a more than capable starter all year long for the Brewers. The same can't be said about the Braves, as both Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa have been shaky since coming off injury. Neither pitcher has been able to consistently throw strikes and go deep in games, and while both have had a start now and then since the trade deadline which flashed their early season success, it is hard to feel confident about either of them giving a quality start in a crucial playoff game right now.
Conclusion: While the Braves match up well with the Brewers top end of the rotation, the Brewers clear the Braves bottom end of the rotation. The Brewers have the advantage in starting pitching.
CP (LHP) - Will Smith
RHP - Luke Jackson
LHP - Tyler Matzek
RHP - Chris Martin
RHP - Jesse Chavez
RHP - Spencer Strider
RHP - Jacob Webb
RHP - Richard Rodriguez
LHP - AJ Minter
Team bullpen stats since August 1st: 3.29 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 4.26 xFIP
CP (LHP) - Josh Hader
RHP - Jake Cousins
RHP - Brad Boxberger
LHP - Brent Suter
RHP - Aaron Ashby
RHP - Hunter Strickland
RHP - Trevor Richards
LHP - Brett Anderson
LHP - Eric Lauer
Team bullpen stats since August 1st: 4.68 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 4.05 xFIP
Bullpens can be hard to analyze since there is a lot of shuffling of relievers throughout the season, even after the trade deadline. There's one glaring absence from the Brewers bullpen, 2020 NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams fractured his hand last week while celebrating the Brewers clinching the NL Central division. That will be a huge loss for them going forward, and honestly both the Braves and Brewers bullpens are quite comparable without Williams in the mix.
Still, Aaron Ashby and Jake Cousins are having breakout campaigns and should be able to eat some high leverage innings for the Brewers, and so can Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson for the Braves. Ultimately, I believe the x-factor in this series will be Will Smith. He's danced out of trouble time and time again, but has not been able to consistently find the strike zone. Josh Hader is arguably the best closer in baseball, so it is absolutely crucial for the Braves to retain the leads they get in the late innings this series.
I'm also interested to see what Spencer Strider can do for the Braves, a right handed pitcher recently called up. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft, Strider ascended through every level of the Braves minor league system this year, posting a K/9 of 14.8 across all levels. Other than a minor hiccup when he first got called up to AA, Strider has dominated hitters all year. I'm curious as to how Braves manager Brian Snitker will use him in such a high intensity environment.
Overall, I think the Braves and Brewers are quite similar on paper in terms of talent level, yet both teams have different strengths and weaknesses to be exposed. I believe the Brewers have the edge in this series due to their more formidable back end of the rotation, but the Braves bats are certainly capable of feasting off a Williams-less Brewers bullpen, and Charlie Morton and Max Fried should be able to turn in three quality starts out of this best-of-five series. I predict the series will go five games, and that the Brewers are more likely to come out on top, with 55% odds to win the series in my estimation (Fangraphs has the Brewers at 56%). Never-the-less, this NLDS should be a great matchup, full of classic moments that both fan bases will remember for years. Cheers to playoff baseball!