MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves definitely did not stand pat on their way to earning postseason berths.
Both made acquisitions during the season that enabled each to win division titles. Now they face each other in the NL Division Series, which begins Friday at American Family Field.
Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns got the ball rolling in April by trading shortstop Orlando Arcia to the Braves for relievers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka.
A month later, Milwaukee acquired slugging shortstop Willy Adames from the Tampa Bay Rays for two relievers. In June, the Los Angeles Angels sent reliever Hunter Strickland to Milwaukee for cash considerations.
Milwaukee also picked up Arizona Diamondbacks switch-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar at the trade deadline.
It was at the deadline that the Braves remade their roster in the wake of injuries, including a torn ACL suffered by star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. The moves helped the team win the NL East.
The teams split their six regular-season games this season.
“It’s your last competition against some of these guys for the players so you do take information from those games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “But when you play a team that’s out of your division and haven’t played in a few months, it’s hard to rely on everything you saw there.”
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Here are three key matchups in the best-of-five series:
Milwaukee’s offense vs. Atlanta’s starting pitchers
The Brewers averaged 3.5 runs per game while going 4-10 to close out the regular season. That trend follows a season-long norm as Milwaukee went 16-49 when scoring three or fewer runs. It posted a 79-18 record when scoring at least four runs.
The Braves are starting Charlie Morton and Max Fried in Games 1 and 2, respectively. Their pitching styles rely heavily on off-speed and breaking balls, which has been problematic for Milwaukee’s hitters.
The Brewers hit .191 on breaking balls this season, ranking 29th out of 30 MLB clubs, and finished 25th with a .334 slugging percentage on those pitches. Milwaukee’s .334 WOBA against breaking balls (weighted on-base average, which credits hitters for the value of each outcome rather that treating all hits or times on base equally) also ranked 25th.
On average, 29.6% of all pitches thrown by MLB pitchers this season were breaking balls, but Morton threw them 36.6% of the time and Fried went to the breaking ball for 47.4% of his offerings.
Milwaukee’s starting pitchers vs. Atlanta’s offense
Home runs have been the Braves’ calling card since a flurry of deadline deals revamped the team’s outfield. Adam Duval, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler have combined to hit 37 home runs since coming to the Braves, who finished second in the NL with 239 home runs and a .435 slugging percentage.
That might seem like a major concern for the Brewers. But their pitching staff allowed just 168 homers, the fifth-fewest among NL teams. Milwaukee also ranked fifth with 90 given up at home.
Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee’s starters in Games 1 and 2, were among the best at keeping the ball in the park. Burnes led all of baseball with seven home runs allowed and 0.38 per nine innings. Woodruff gave up 18 in all and 0.9 per nine innings, putting him 10th among qualified starters in both categories.
Atlanta’s relief corps finished with a 3.97 ERA, putting them sixth among NL teams and two spots ahead of Milwaukee’s 4.02.
Brewers closer Josh Hader has been spectacular, going 4-2 with a 1.23 ERA and 37 saves in 60 outings with 102 strikeouts over 58⅔ innings. He finished the regular season with 21 scoreless appearances, allowing just seven hits and 10 walks with 37 strikeouts.
The Braves have a strong closer, too, in left-hander Will Smith. The former Brewers reliever made 71 appearances in 2021, going 3-7 with a 3.44 ERA and 37 saves. With six blown saves, Smith hasn’t been as automatic as Hader, who blew just one save all season, but he closed out the year by allowing one run over his final six appearances.
Milwaukee’s bullpen suffered a major hit when set-up man Devin Williams was lost for the season when he broke his hand punching a wall. Counsell, however, has a number of reliable options to fill that spot, including the possibility of moving some of his starters into the bullpen for late-inning, high-leverage situations.
Smashing success: Brewers keep setting franchise records — and they're not done yet
Victories in a season
Record: 96 (2018, 2011)
No team in franchise history has ever won 100 games in a season but the Brewers are on pace to hit that mark this season which would also give the 2021 team the franchise record for best single-season winning percentage, topping the mark of .593 set in 2011.
Road winning percentage
Record: .588 (1982)
Again, this record is almost certain to fall. The Brewers go into their five-game interleague road trip with a .657 road winning percentage in 2021 and would need to go 1-11 in their remaining road contests to finish behind the '82 squad.
Earned Runs Allowed / Earned Run Average
Record: 532/3.36 (1971)
Technically, the 2020 Brewers hold the record for fewest earned runs allowed in a season with 239, but that came during a 60-game season so we're not counting it here. Same with the second-place 1981 team, which held opponents to 428 earned runs in a strike-shortened 109-game season.
The fewest earned runs allowed in a full regular season was 532, set in 1971. Heading into their off-day Monday, the 2021 Brewers were tied with the 1971 team for the best staff ERA in franchise history.
Through 144 games, the Brewers have allowed an average of 3.33 runs per game. If they keep that pace, they'll finish with with 540 but with a couple more performances like this past weekend and the 2021 squad could move into the top spot.
That, in turn, would help the current team's chances of catching the 1971 Brewers record for best full-season ERA.
The Brewers are also in position to break the franchise record for fewest hits allowed in a season (1,259 in 2018) and most strikeouts (1,497 in 2019). Milwaukee's pitchers have allowed 1,017 hits while striking out 1,439 batters so far this season.
Individual pitching records
The Brewers' pitching staff is also on the verge of shattering several individual records this season.
After holding Cleveland scoreless over eight no-hit innings Saturday, Corbin Burnes' ERA dropped to 2.25 for the season, good for second in the National League behind the Dodgers' Max Scherzer and within striking distance of Mike Caldwell's 2.36 ERA in 1978 that stands as the best ever by a Brewers starter.
Brandon Woodruff is also in the mix for both the NL lead and the Brewers' all-time record. He brings a 2.48 ERA into his scheduled start Tuesday at Detroit.