Seven things to know about the Atlanta Braves, the Brewers' opponent in the National League Division Series

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The Milwaukee Brewers have learned that their opponent in the National League Division Series will be the Atlanta Braves. The best-of-five series against the National League East champion begins Friday, Oct. 8, at American Family Field in Milwaukee.

Here are seven things to know about Milwaukee's foe.

First: The names to know

Freddie Freeman has spent his entire career with the Braves.

Potential lineup

  • RF Jorge Soler, .263 BA, .848 OPS, 12 HR (52 games)
  • 1B Freddie Freeman, .300 BA, .902 OPS, 31 HR (155 games)
  • 2B Ozzie Albies, .257 BA, .795 OPS, 30 HR (152 games)
  • 3B Austin Riley, .301 BA, .893 OPS, 32 HR (155 games)
  • CF Adam Duvall, .234 BA, .831 OPS, 16 HR (52 games)
  • LF Eddie Rosario, .269 BA, .910 OPS, 6 HR (28 games)
  • C Travis d'Arnaud, .226 BA, .688 OPS, 7 HR (56 games)
  • SS Dansby Swanson, .245 BA, .755 OPS, 27 HR (155 games)

Next up

  • OF Joc Pederson, .250 BA, .747 OPS, 6 HR (61 games)
  • OF Guillermo Heredia, .225 BA, .678 OPS, 5 HR (115 games)

Starting pitchers

  • RHP Charlie Morton, 3.39 ERA, 1.055 WHIP (183 IP)
  • LHP Max Fried, 3.12 ERA, 1.109 WHIP (159 IP)
  • RHP Ian Anderson, 3.60 ERA, 1.243 WHIP (122 IP)
  • LHP Drew Smyly, 4.58 ERA, 1.383 WHIP (124 IP)
  • RHP Huascar Ynoa, 3.98 ERA 1.081 WHIP (86 IP)

Closer

  • LHP Will Smith, 3.55 ERA, 1.167 WHIP (66 IP)

Relievers

  • RHP Luke Jackson, 1.90 ERA, 1.184 WHIP (62 IP)
  • LHP Tyler Matzek, 2.66 ERA, 1.230 WHIP (61 IP)
  • RHP Chris Martin, 4.24 ERA, 1.339 WHIP (40 IP)
  • RHP Jesse Chavez, 2.27 ERA, 1.042 WHIP (32 IP)
  • RHP Richard Rodriguez, 2.59 ERA, 1.027 WHIP (24 IP)
  • LHP A.J. Minter, 3.83 ERA, 1.236 WHIP (49 IP)

Needless to say, the Braves have a rich history in Milwaukee

From left: Eddie Mathews, Del Crandall and Henry Aaron brought some heavy lumber to the formidable lineup of the Milwaukee Braves.

The obvious thing to know about the Braves is their history in Milwaukee. From 1953-1965, the franchise called the city home, a legendary run that included the 1957 World Series title, a World Series appearance in 1958 and never once a losing season.

Legends such as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette electrified the fan base, but new owner Bill Bartholomay sought a larger, untapped market in the southeast and moved the team to Atlanta, leaving Milwaukee fans bitterly disappointed. For four summers, Milwaukee was without baseball before the Brewers came to town in 1970.

How fitting that the two organizations for which Aaron played should meet in the postseason for the first time; Aaron died in January.

RELATED:Former bat boy fondly remembers Braves heyday and interactions with Hank Aaron

More:These are the instances of Wisconsin athletes on the cover of Sports Illustrated

The Braves lost two stars in the outfield ... but replaced them nicely

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr., center, is helped onto a medical cart after trying to make a catch on an inside-the-park home run hit by Miami Marlins' Jazz Chisholm Jr. during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

It was a blow to the Braves (and heck, baseball in general) when star Ronald Acuña was lost to a torn ACL in July making a play in the outfield.

The team was already without Marcell Ozuna, whose administrative leave will continue through the postseason while the league investigates domestic violence allegations after he was arrested in late May at his home.

Acuña was an all-star this season with a superb .990 OPS, which would have put him squarely in the National League MVP discussion if he had been able to continue.

Ozuna has been a thorn in the Brewers' side, with an .870 OPS against Milwaukee racked up during his days with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. His 18 homers against Milwaukee are the most against any opponent, and he's hit 14 of those at American Family Field.

But, the Braves have overcome those losses thanks to a litany of moves at the trade deadline at the end of July. At the time of Acuña's injury, the Braves were just a .500 team and nearly five games behind the New York Mets in the National League East. 

General manager Alex Anthropoulos landed an entire stable of outfielders at the deadline: Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario. All of them have been mashing.

Rosario overcame injury to post a .938 OPS in September. Soler has an .860 OPS since arriving and nearly as many homers with Atlanta (12) as he did in 94 games with Kansas City (13) this season. Pederson's numbers have rebounded and Duvall is vastly outperforming what he did in Miami, including 16 homers in 53 games.

And they aren't even the biggest cogs in the offense.

Atlanta has three 30-homer bats

Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley, left, laughs as Ozzie Albies (1) waits to congratulate him after he hit a two-run home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept 23, 2021, in Phoenix.

Austin Riley is quite possibly the biggest NL MVP candidate you've never heard of. Just 24 years old, the third baseman has had a breakout season, driving in 103 runs with 32 homers and a .894 OPS, a massive leap forward from his .716 in 2020 and .750 in 2019.

Freddie Freeman, who won the 2020 MVP award, continues to be the best offensive player in the lineup with a .299 batting average, .392 on-base percentage and .898 OPS. He, too, has cleared 30 homers, as has Ozzie Albies, the switch-hitting second baseman with more than 100 RBI and a .795 OPS.

Albies fouled a pitch off his knee Sept. 1 and had to be carted off the field in an episode that looked hauntingly similar to the broken kneecap the Brewers' Christian Yelich incurred in late 2019. But Albies avoided serious injury and hasn't missed a beat, with seven homers in September.

Freeman and Riley have been particularly lethal since the all-star break, another reason the team has overcome the loss of its star outfielder.

If you're looking for a Brewers advantage, consider that Freeman, Albies, Dansby Swanson and Riley have all played a ton of baseball this year; is it possible they could run out of gas?

Max Fried leads the pitching staff, and he's dominated lately

Braves starting pitcher Max Fried pitches against the Brewers in the first inning.

The Braves may not have as explosive a rotation as Milwaukee, but you can't deny what Charlie Morton and Max Fried bring to the table.

Fried is the real problem. He has a 3.12 ERA and 1.109 WHIP, but he's been particularly lights out over the past two months. Since August began, the Braves have won 10 of his 11 starts, and he boasts a 1.46 ERA with a .183 opponents' batting average. He's thrown two complete-game shutouts in that stretch, both under 100 pitches (including one at 90).

Morton has a 3.39 ERA and strikes out 10.5 batters per nine innings, with a 1.055 WHIP. That's not altogether different from someone like Eric Lauer in the Brewers rotation, though Morton has done it over a much larger sample. His usage also has increased lately, with three starts of seven innings in September after just four starts that lasted past the sixth entering the month.

Mike Soroka, a starting pitcher who finished second in the 2019 rookie of the year voting, hasn't been able to stay healthy since.

You may have heard of Atlanta's closer

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Will Smith delivers to a San Diego Padres batter in the ninth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Derrick Tuskan)

Will Smith's "slider of death" first popped onto the scene for the Brewers in 2014, when he tied for the league lead with 78 games pitched. Smith has continued to shine as a top-flight reliever, long after Milwaukee traded him to the San Francisco Giants in 2016 for Phil Bickford (now in the Dodgers' bullpen) and catcher Andrew Susac.

The 2019 all-star with the Giants is in his second year with the Braves, and he's logged 36 saves. That includes a pair of recent bases-loaded escapes Sept. 26 and Sept. 28 to inch the Braves closer to clinching.

It's not the only Brewers connection. Brewers utility man Jace Peterson's wife, Brianna, is the sister of U.S. soccer star Mallory Pugh. Pugh met her boyfriend, Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson, at the Petersons' wedding in 2017. Swanson and Peterson were teammates with the Braves.

What are the odds you confuse Jace Peterson with Joc Pederson at least once this series?

Former Brewers minor-leaguer Drew Smyly, who somewhat famously was released from his contract just before Brandon Woodruff went on the injured list in 2019, has been part of the Braves rotation this season.

Former Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt is a backup for the Braves and is currently on the injured list.

The Braves win more on the road, too

Atlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies loses his helmet on his way to scoring from second base off an RBI-single by Austin Riley during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Maybe home-field advantage isn't what it's cracked up to be for Milwaukee? The Brewers haven't played as well at American Family Field (45-36) as they have on the road (50-28). Only the Giants have more road wins this year in Major League Baseball.

The Braves, meanwhile, are 40-37 at home in Truist Park but 46-35 on the road. 

How they fared in the regular season ... not a particularly beautiful collection of games for the Brewers

Dansby Swanson of the Braves heads home after hitting a two-run homer against the Brewers in the sixth inning Saturday night. He would add a grand slam in the seventh inning.

The teams split the regular-season series, 3-3

May 14: Atlanta 6, Milwaukee 3. Smyly kept the Brewers off-balance for six innings, and Adrian Houser issued a career-high five walks with a hit batsman and wild pitch over just three innings. Eric Lauer allowed back-to-back homers in relief. Only homers in the ninth by Luis Urías and Manny Piña made it somewhat interesting.

May 15: Atlanta 5, Milwaukee 1. Ian Anderson carried a no-hitter into the seventh as Milwaukee's offense continued to scuffle in the pre-Willie Adames days. It marked Milwaukee's 10th loss in 13 games. Daniel Vogelbach finally broke the no-hit spell with a bloop single.

May 16: Milwaukee 10, Atlanta 9: Milwaukee nearly lost an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning, but Josh Hader closed out the game to help Milwaukee avoid the sweep. Kolten Wong, Omar Narváez and Lorenzo Cain combined for nine of the team's 12 hits, and an Avisaíl García homer barely eluded the webbing of Ender Inciarte's glove. With a big lead, Freddy Peralta was pulled after six innings of shutout baseball on 88 pitches, but J.P. Feyereisen allowed four of five batters to reach, and miscues by Urías and Wong set the stage for Freeman to hit a grand slam against Brent Suter and pull his team within a run. 

July 30: Milwaukee 9, Atlanta 5: The Brewers fell behind in the first inning, 4-0, with Corbin Burnes on the hill but answered with a pair of four-run innings to prevail for an eighth straight road win. Newcomer Eduardo Escobar homered in the ninth and scored three times. It was the most earned runs Burnes has given up in a start all year when he yielded five in four innings.

July 31: Atlanta 8, Milwaukee: Swanson homered twice — though once after a pitch from Brandon Woodruff that even Swanson thought was strike three, but CB Bucknor called it a ball. New reliever John Curtiss had an ugly debut, ceding a grand slam to Swanson.

Aug. 1: Milwaukee 2, Atlanta 1. Milwaukee logged only three hits, and the final 14 were sent down in order, but it was still enough. Brett Anderson befuddled the Braves over 5⅔ innings. Adames hit a first-inning home run against Charlie Morton, and a Jackie Bradley Jr. groundout in the fifth plated what turned out to be the winning run.

The schedule

  • Game 1: Friday, Oct. 8 at American Family Field
  • Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 9 at American Family Field
  • Game 3: Monday, Oct. 11 at Truist Park, Atlanta
  • Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 12 at Truist Park, Atlanta (if necessary)
  • Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 14 at American Family Field (if necessary)

All games will air on TBS.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

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