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2021 NLDS Preview: Brewers’ pitching staff will be stiff challenge for Braves

Corbin Burnes turned in a Cy Young caliber season for Milwaukee

Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

As the Atlanta Braves prepare to face the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS, we’re previewing the matchup all week. Today, we’ll focus on the Milwaukee pitching staff, which has been the third best in baseball this season by fWAR.

The Rotation

The Brewers’ rotation has been the best in baseball by fWAR, just barely edging out the Dodgers. This rotation is headlined by Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, with Freddy Peralta in the midst of a strong season himself and Eric Lauer likely to get the other start (assuming the series reaches Game 4)

Corbin Burnes

New York Mets v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Corbin Burnes has been absolutely unreal this season and is almost certain to be the Milwaukee Game 1 starter. The best pitcher in the league by fWAR, Burnes posted a sparkling ERA/xERA/FIP/xFIP slash line of 2.43/2.01/1.63/2.30 this season over 167.0 innings. He has a real case for the Cy Young and has been consistently dominant nearly every start he’s made this season.

Burnes pitches primarily off of his cutter, which he throws a little over 50% of the time, sprinkling in his second best pitch, the curveball, along with his slider, changeup, and sinker for the rest of his pitches. None of his pitches can be identified as a real weakness, with Burnes finding success with all of them, according to Baseball Savant’s pitch by pitch Statcast stats.

One positive note for Atlanta on Burnes is that his worst game of the season came against Atlanta, in which he got tagged for five runs in four innings of work. That was the most runs and hits he had allowed all season. Whether this was coincidental or a real edge that Atlanta has over Burnes is unclear, but hopefully it’s a trend that continues this week, regardless of cause.

Brandon Woodruff

MLB: SEP 15 Brewers at Tigers Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brandon Woodruff has been a stud for a few years now and he’ll most likely get the mound for the Brewers in Game 2. Woodruff hasn’t been otherworldly on the level of Burnes, but has been quite good overall, posting a ERA/xERA/FIP/xFIP slash line of 2.56/3.29/2.95/3.05, which is quite the impressive line itself.

Woodruff primarily throws his good four-seamer and slightly less successful sinker, about 30% of the time each, and then a curveball, changeup, and slider around 10-15% of the time each. While the sinker can be identified as his worst pitch by xwOBA allowed, it has still been a pretty good pitch, rather than an actively bad pitch.

As with Burnes, Woodruff’s start against Atlanta did not go quite as he would have hoped, although it did go better than Burnes’ start, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Freddy Peralta

New York Mets v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Freddy Peralta has been close to the level of Brandon Woodruff this season, putting up an impressive ERA/xERA/FIP/xFIP slash line of 2.81/2.72/3.12/3.65 this season, following up an extremely brief, but strong 2020.

Peralta pitches with essentially a four pitch mix. His four-seam fastball is his primary pitch, thrown just over 50% of the time, with the slider being the clear secondary pitch, thrown around a quarter of the time, and the rest of the pitches split about evenly between a curveball and changeup. The fastball is Peralta’s worst pitch by xwOBA allowed, but it’s still quite a good pitch.

Unlike the other two Milwaukee stud pitchers, Peralta dominated the Braves in his one start against them, throwing 6.0 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts.

Eric Lauer is the most likely to get the fourth start, should the Brewers opt for a true starter rather than a bullpen game in game 4. Lauer has been solid but unspectacular this season, with a sparkly 3.19 ERA that isn’t backed up by his xERA, FIP, and xFIP, which all sit around 4.

The Bullpen

Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Should the Brewers opt for a bullpen game, they’ve sat around the middle of the league (15th) in bullpen fWAR this season, but are missing their second best reliever. Devin Williams has been a stud in Milwaukee’s bullpen since the beginning of 2020, but did what Huascar Ynoa did earlier in the season, but at a far worse time: broke his hand punching an object in frustration. This is a big loss for a Brewers bullpen that was already middling.

Of course, the Brewers do still have one of the best relievers in the game, in Josh Hader. Hader has a great fastball and a good slider coming in from the left side. Behind Hader, the only real standout in Milwaukee’s bullpen has been Brad Boxberger, who is coming off of two rough seasons before this one, but has been quite good this season with a 3.36 ERA that is spot on with his xERA, but is a little below his FIP and xFIP. Aside from Boxberger and Hader, nobody else has pitched significant innings and had significant success, but there are a few names that have been good in a smaller sample, although usually while outperforming their peripherals. Aaron Ashby is a name to keep an eye on, as he’s been on the tail end of some top 100 prospect lists and has has some success in 19.1 innings out of the bullpen, despite being less successful as a starter.

On the whole, while the rotation is formidable, the top three in particular, the bullpen should be a spot where the Braves offense can really get going against the non-Hader arms.

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