On Friday, two NL Division winners square off in Game 1. The Atlanta Braves are by all estimates the underdogs, coming from behind to win baseball’s weakest division despite finishing with just the 12th-best record. Still, they do hold some advantages over the Milwaukee Brewers, which should make this a competitive series.
Here are our best bets for the Braves-Brewers NLDS from Adam Burke and Derek Carty.
Milwaukee Brewers (-140) vs. Atlanta Braves (+ 120)
Burke: The Braves were able to survive the weakest division in baseball and punch another ticket to the postseason, despite losing Ronald Acuna Jr. right before the All-Star Break. There were probably some very uncomfortable front office talks about trading Freddie Freeman at the trade deadline to maximize his value as a rental for a contender.
Mike Soroka never threw an inning. Marcell Ozuna missed most of the season with an injury and legal issues. A bunch of different players were forced to step up and they did so, showcasing the strength of the Braves’ organization.
Their prize is to face Corbin Burnes twice and maybe even Brandon Woodruff twice in the NLDS. Burnes led all of baseball in fWAR and did so in only 28 starts and 167 innings. Woodruff was ninth and somehow finished with a 9-10 record, showing yet again why you need to look past a pitcher’s win-loss record when evaluating his effectiveness.
What makes the Brewers good is also what makes the Braves a live dog in this series. Milwaukee is very top-heavy. Burnes and Woodruff are elite. Freddy Peralta, who was limited to 144.1 innings, may be on his way, though durability will always be the question. He only pitched 46.1 innings after the All-Star Break. The Brewers also have dominant reliever Josh Hader.
Milwaukee usually has fellow dominant reliever Devin Williams, but he broke his hand punching a wall, so the Brewers are missing one of their two key cogs in the bullpen at the worst possible time. It is a little unfair to call Milwaukee’s pitching staff a “stars and scrubs” unit, but Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Hader amassed 18.8 of the staff’s 23.5 fWAR. Williams was good for another 1.4.
The Brewers were not a good offensive ballclub. They finished with a 91 wRC+ , which ranks 23rd in baseball, and their .310 wOBA was 19th. They got better as the season went along after a terrible start in April and May, but this is still the weakest offense of any playoff team.