MLB Postseason Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewersby Alex Kielar October 8, 2021 1 comment
After winning their respective divisions, the Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) and Atlanta Braves (88-73) meet in the National League Division Series. While the Braves only won 88 games in a weak NL East Division, the Brewers walked all over the NL Central on their way to a division title. The Brew Crew had the division wrapped up last Sunday as they held off a late surge by the St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) and their 17-game winning streak. The Braves took until Friday to clinch despite the other teams in the division not seeming too interested in making a push. Nevertheless, it is now the postseason, and records are thrown out the window. These teams split the season series, with each team winning one series each. It will be the first postseason meeting between the franchises.
The top three pitchers for the Brewers, Corbin Burnes (11-5, 2.43 ERA, 234 Ks in 167 IP), Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.56, 211 Ks in 179 1/3 IP), and Freddy Peralta (10-5, 2.81, 195 Ks in 144 1/3 IP), have all been aces for them this season. They will look to continue their dominance against Atlanta’s tough lineup. Burnes will start Game 1 on an extra day of rest. Despite being without their best player and top five major league player in Ronald Acuña Jr., along with Marcell Ozuna, and others, the Braves found a way to get into the postseason. Now they must figure out a way to get past an absolute wagon of a team. The series begins with Game 1 at 4:37 p.m. EST on Friday.
Three keys to victory for Braves
Charlie Morton will get the ball in Game 1 for the Braves. He looks to bring back some of his past postseason magic. After he had a solid postseason in 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays declined his 2021 option and he walked into free agency. The Braves stepped in and signed the right-hander to a one-year, $15 million contract.
Over his postseason career, Morton has gone 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA, and 67/22 strikeouts to walks in 61 1/3 innings over 13 games – 12 of them starts. In the 2020 ALDS and ALCS with the Rays, the 37-year-old gave up just one earned run in 15 2/3 innings over three starts. The World Series wasn’t as friendly to him, as he allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves hope he can pitch like he has all season, in which he went 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings over a major league-leading 33 starts.
Austin Riley had an outstanding regular season in his breakout year. The 24-year-old finished the season with a .303/.367/.531 slash line, 33 homers, 33 doubles, 107 RBI, and a .898 OPS in his first full season. Not only did he perform well, but he was an Iron Horse, missing just two games all season. Riley became the fourth third baseman 24 years old or younger in franchise history to hit 30 or more homers in a season. The previous three were Eddie Mathews, Bob Horner, and Chipper Jones. The former first-round pick got his first taste of postseason action last year. He only went 8-for-45 in 12 games throughout the Wild Card Series, NLDS, and NLCS. But now that he has broken out, Riley looks to continue to rake into the playoffs.
Go Home Tied or Ahead
For the Braves to have a chance in this series, they are going to have to scratch one of the first two road games out. That means beating one of Burnes or Woodruff, which won’t be an easy task, but it can be done. Back on July 30, the Braves smacked Burnes around in his worst start of the season. He gave up five earned runs on nine hits in just four innings. If Atlanta is going to steal one on the road, it will be in Game 1 with their ace Morton on the hill.
Three keys to victory for Brewers
Despite the Brewers’ offense looking as good as they have, the 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich hasn’t looked like himself. The former Miami Marlin had career lows for a full season in batting average (.248) and slugging percentage (.373), while he hit just nine home runs in 475 plate appearances. Yelich put the ball on the ground more often than usual, as his 54.4 percent ground-ball rate was the ninth highest among batters with at least 400 plate appearances. The season started with injuries when he spent five weeks on the shelf in April and May with a bad back. But the outfielder has been healthy since. Yelich doesn’t have to return to full MVP form. But if he can be half that, the Brewers will be in a good position for this series and further.
Willy the Kid
The Brewers were 21-23 on May 21. Then, they traded for Willy Adames from the Rays and went 74-44 the rest of the way. In the 99 games he has spent with Milwaukee, the 26-year-old hit .285 with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, and a .886 OPS. Adames had postseason experience with the Rays in 2019 and 2020, where he struggled mightily, hitting just .171 with a .638 OPS over six series. He did miss time in September with a strained left quadriceps, but he is healthy and ready to go for October baseball. The Brewers will need him to perform like he has all year and finally do it up in the playoffs.
The Three Aces
Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta are going to have to pitch like the aces they have been to put the Brewers in a good spot. The Braves are a team that hits mistakes, as their 239 homers rank third in the majors. These top three pitchers don’t make too many mistakes, but any pitcher can have a hiccup here or there. As long as they don’t let a couple of mistakes get to them, they should be able to bounce back. But in this series, one run might win a game, as the pitching on the other side is also very good.
I originally wanted to go the route of having the Brewers sweeping this series. But as closely contested as the games can get, Atlanta can certainly win at least one. Morton and Max Fried can match the Brewers’ starters, while the offense can scratch across some runs. Atlanta has had the better offense over the past two months, ranking 12th in OPS (.760) dating back to August 1st while the Brewers rank 18th (.724). Once the bullpens are in play, the Braves have also had the stronger bullpen, They ranked 10th in bullpen ERA (3.97) compared to the Brewers’ 4.02. One of the first two games goes to Atlanta before the Brewers wind up too much to handle and wrap it up in Game 4.
Prediction: Brewers 3, Braves 1
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