With a week left in the 2021 MLB regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers are locked in as the number two seed in the National League. The question is, will they play the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves?
The Braves are currently leading the NL East by two-and-a-half games. It’s going to be an interesting last week to determine the division winner. Atlanta plays Philly in a three game series at home, so the division lead could change several times before the end of the week. After their series, the Phillies will go to Miami to take on the Marlins. The Braves finish off all six of their remaining games at home and will end with the New York Mets coming to town.
So which team would be an easier path to the NLCS for the Brew Crew? Let’s break it down quick.
Braves and Phillies Regular Season
The Brewers played the Phillies seven times during the 2021 season. Their first meeting was the first week of May for a four game series in Philadelphia. Milwaukee was swept in that series. It was also the pre-Willy Adames era of the team and before their offense really clicked. The teams would meet again in the first week of September at American Family Field. The Brewers lost the first game 0-12, but then won the next day 10-0. The Crew would take the series with a 4-3 win the next day. The season series ended with a 2-5 record in favor of the Phillies.
Atlanta would face the Brewers six times in two series. Just over a week after being swept by the Phillies, the Brewers would lose their first series against Atlanta at home. They fell in the first two games, but won the Sunday day game. Then in late July and early August, they traveled to Atlanta and won that series. The season series ended with a 3-3 tie.
On paper, that doesn’t look great. But, everything is different in the playoffs, and Milwaukee will have home field advantage. Plus, having to face off against the big three of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta gives an early advantage to Milwaukee instead of their regular six-man rotation.
Philadelphia leads the way with a two-headed monster in the starting rotation, Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Both have 31 starts under their belt. Wheeler is 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA and 240 strike outs. Nola is 9-8 with a 4.64 ERA and 219 Ks. Nola is a lot better than his record/ERA suggests. Wheeler is the league leader for innings pitched and strike outs.
After that though, the rotation is up in the air. Zach Eflin and Matt Moore are both on the injured list. They did acquire Kyle Gibson at the trade deadline, but he is 4-5 with an ERA of 4.87 since then. They had Vince Velasquez and Chase Anderson, but both were released in the last few months. Their young pitcher ,Ranger Suarez, is one to watch out for though. He has 11 starts with a 7-5 record and 1.45 ERA so far. He was moved from the bullpen to the rotation in August. So they have a solid potential three, but not much after that and their bullpen is average.
The Phillies offense can be quite explosive. They aren’t in the top 10 right for any major offensive categories, but they still have NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper on their roster. He is batting .313 this year with 34 home runs and an OPS of 1.055. They also have players like J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen and Freddy Galvis who can get very hot in the batter’s box.
They aren’t too great this year for away games, and their overall season run differential is -5. If they don’t win the division, they basically have no shot at the Wild Card.
Atlanta’s starting rotation is a little more consistent than the Phillies. Charlie Morton leads the way with 31 starts, a 13-6 record and 3.53 ERA. Behind him is Max Fried, Drew Smyly, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa. Their ERA average is a 3.76, which is pretty solid. Morton is the only pitcher above 200 strike outs. If you compare that to the Brewers’ six-man rotation, their average ERA is 3.03. And that includes Brett Anderson’s 4.30 ERA thrown into the mix.
Woodruff and Burnes both have over 200 Ks, and Peralta is close with 195, and could still finish with 200 this season. The Brewers rotation should definitely be better than Atlanta’s come the playoffs, but the Braves are winning the division for a reason and their pitching has kept them in the race all season.
Even without Ronald Acuna Jr., the Braves offense is dangerous. Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, the red-hot Austin Riley, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson are nothing to take lightly. Pederson did major damage to the Brewers with the Cubs before heading to Atlanta. Their trade deadline outfield depth pick-ups have worked out great. Eddie Rosario, Duvall, Soler and Pederson all came over via trade.
Atlanta’s offense is 11th in batting average, 8th in RBIs, 3rd in home runs and 9th in total runs. For Milwaukee, they are 28th for batting average (yikes), 12th in RBIs, 17th in home runs and 12th in total runs. It really shows that the Brewers success has come down to pitching and an overall team effort on offense. There are no MVP Candidates for the Brewers, but they are still one of the best teams in the league. Some Cy Young candidates don’t hurt, though.
For run differential, remember when I said the Phillies are at -5? Yeah, the Braves are at+121. Wow. Atlanta also has a very good road record, just like the Brewers
So Who Do the Brewers Want?
My opinion is I want the Phillies. Will they get hot and be able to overcome the Braves? Probably not. I know Wheeler will be a major problem and that Nola and Suarez could do some damage, but after that there isn’t a lot of depth. The Phillies are 20th in team ERA while the Brewers are 3rd. The Braves are 11th. Philadelphia’s bullpen is ranked 24th in ERA, while the Brewers are 8th and the Braves are 14th.
The Braves are way more consistent at everything. Their offense is a top 10 team, and their rotation isn’t bad. I think the Phillies have a more intimidating rotation for a five-game series, but I would much rather take that chance. For the Phillies, your big concerns are Zach Wheeler and Bryce Harper. There are a lot more concerns when it comes to Atlanta.
Both teams can be explosive, but Atlanta is overall the better team. I will be rooting for the Phillies even though it will be tough. The Milwaukee Brewers are better than both these teams, but anything is possible in the playoffs depending on who is playing the best baseball this last week of the regular season. But give me the team with the higher ERA and less weapons on offense every time. Sure, you have to beat the best to be the best. But if the team can have an easier path to the NLCS, I will take it.