MILWAUKEE -- It is power hitting vs. power pitching as Hank Aaron’s former teams meet in the postseason for the first time with Game 1 of the Braves-Brewers National League Division Series on Friday.
“Their starters are as good as it gets, and they have a closer that's as good as it gets,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the Brewers. “I mean, their pitching is just so talented. It's such a good team. Their guys have been through the wars. They play good defense and everybody that comes up there's capable of a big hit. It's just a really good ballclub.”
The respect is mutual.
“Significant injuries, off-the-field distractions, they had to remake their outfield in the middle of the season -- and to have those pieces come in and perform at a very high level immediately, they’ve got a lot going right over there,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said of the Braves. “It’s a very good team.”
While the Brewers remade their infield with trades for shortstop Willy Adames, first baseman Rowdy Tellez and third baseman Eduardo Escobar, the Braves did the same in the outfield. They lost one star outfielder in May when Marcell Ozuna was arrested for alleged domestic violence, then they lost another when Ronald Acuña Jr. crashed into the outfield wall in early July and had to undergo season-ending surgery for a torn ACL.
Braves management responded by acquiring Jorge Soler from the Royals, Eddie Rosario from the Indians and Adam Duvall from the Marlins in July 30 trades that may have saved Atlanta’s season.
“Give them credit,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “They've had a great second half. When you lose a great player like Acuña, in a lot of seasons, that changes things. But they almost got better after that, which is just a real credit to everybody involved in the organization.”
“It’s a very complete team,” Stearns said. “As we’ve looked at them, there are no obvious weaknesses to that team. The lineup is complete. They don’t get exposed by either handedness. They are well-constructed. Their bullpen pieces fit together. They’ve got some very solid top-end starting pitching, which in a five-game series, we are going to see a lot of. It’s a very legitimate challenge for us. It’s a good challenge.”
Here’s a look at what fans should watch for ahead of Game 1 in Milwaukee.
How have these teams fared against each other in the playoffs?
This is the first postseason meeting between the Braves and Brewers, both of whom have called Milwaukee home.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1 starts at 4:37 p.m. ET/3:37 CT on Friday at American Family Field and will be televised on TBS. It is also available to stream on MLB.TV with authentication.
Braves: Atlanta features a left-handed-hitting perennial NL MVP Award candidate in Freddie Freeman, a dangerous switch-hitting second baseman in Ozzie Albies and a plethora of potent right-handed hitters throughout the lineup, starting with Soler. The Braves hit 239 home runs during the regular season, the third most in the Majors and two shy of the Giants’ NL-leading total, so it is a powerful group, even after losing Acuña and Ozuna.
Brewers: A May 21 trade for Adames injected some serious life into a Brewers offense that was sputtering to start the season, and it sent Milwaukee on winning sprees in June and again in August. Unlike the past Crew teams of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, this one hits for scant power (eighth in the NL with 194 homers), though in-season additions Escobar and Tellez should help if they stay healthy. The Brewers batted .207 in their final 14 games, lowest in the Majors over that span.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Braves: The Braves will start Charlie Morton in Game 1 and Max Fried in Game 2. Ian Anderson is expected to start Game 3. If Huascar Ynoa starts a potential Game 4, he would likely be used as an opener.
Brewers: On Tuesday the Brewers announced NL Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes will start Game 1. Burnes became the first pitcher in Brewers history to win a league ERA title, with an MLB-best 2.43 ERA in 2021. Brandon Woodruff will start Game 2, and Freddy Peralta will likely follow in Game 3, with either right-hander Adrian Houser or left-hander Eric Lauer getting the ball first in a potential Game 4. The Crew has a well-rested rotation; Woodruff led the team with 179 1/3 innings.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Braves: Right-hander Jacob Webb and left-hander A.J. Minter have often been used to bridge the gap to the seventh inning. Richard Rodríguez and Chris Martin have been seventh-inning options. But lefty Tyler Matzek has been given a chance to handle a majority of the high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings. Luke Jackson has been the primary setup man for closer Will Smith.
Brewers: Losing setup man Devin Williams to a fractured right hand was a killer for the Brewers, who were 71-4 during the regular season when leading after seven innings. Middle relievers like right-handers Hunter Strickland and Jake Cousins and rookie Aaron Ashby become more important than ever to get the ball to veteran Brad Boxberger and All-Star closer Josh Hader at the end of games. Ashby is something of a wild card here; when he throws strikes, he is absolutely electric, and Milwaukee has not been shy in past postseasons about trusting unproven relievers in high-leverage spots. That will be especially necessary with Friday’s news that lefty Brent Suter is out of the NLDS with a right oblique injury.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Braves: The Braves will enter this series with a fresh set of relievers.
Brewers: Williams, most notably. He broke his right hand when he punched a wall the night the Brewers clinched the NL Central title, a terrible mistake for which he apologized in front of the team. The Brewers also will be without Suter, who ranked second on the team with 61 appearances during the regular season.
Any injuries of note?
Braves: Acuña’s torn right ACL was one of the many significant injuries the Braves had to deal with this year. But they are entering the playoffs in a healthy manner.
Brewers: The benefit of clinching their division with a full week to go was that the Brewers could spend the final road trip getting players rested and ready for the postseason. The bullpen is the area most impacted by injuries. Besides Williams, Milwaukee lost right-handers John Curtiss and Justin Topa to season-ending elbow injuries during the second half of the season, then lost Suter at the last moment with what the club characterized as a minor ribcage injury.
Who is hot and who is not?
Braves: Freeman hit .330 with a .911 OPS over his final 28 games, going back to Sept. 1. Riley hit .362 with four homers and a 1.052 OPS over his final 14 games. Soler homered four times over his final 12 games.
Brewers: Luis Urías had an .886 OPS over the final month and has become an important player with his ability to move all over the field. He hit five home runs in September and October to tie García for the most on the team over that span; García set a career high with 29 home runs. The Brewers were pleased to see Escobar finish strong after losing some time in August to a hamstring injury; he was 7-for-18 on the final road trip including his 1,000th career hit. Yelich homered twice on Aug. 21 against the Nationals, but he hit only one home run the rest of the season to finish with nine homers in 399 at-bats for the year.
Anything else fans might want to know?
The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee and played at County Stadium from 1953-65 before moving to Atlanta for the ‘66 season. … Braves infielder Orlando Arcia played parts of six seasons for the Brewers before a trade sent him to Atlanta in April. It might surprise you to learn that he is tied with Fielder for the most postseason home runs in Brewers history, with four.