After cruising to the National League Central crown, the Milwaukee Brewers play host to the National League East champion Atlanta Braves on Friday afternoon at American Family Field. Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes will go for Milwaukee in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against Atlanta’s Charlie Morton.
The Braves actually won their division by a larger margin than the Brewers but their respective seasons played out much differently. Milwaukee seemed destined to win the Central from late June on, when the Brewers used an 11-game winning streak to leave the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in their dust.
On the other hand, Atlanta spent much of the season under .500 and only took charge in the East in the middle of August, when they won nine straight games and the New York Mets fell apart. The Braves went 44-45 in the first half and 44-28 in the second half, as their roster makeover at the trade deadline worked wonders.
First pitch from Milwaukee on Friday is at 4:37 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Brewers as -152 moneyline favorites while the Braves are +137. 5 Current MLB lines have the over/under at seven runs.
Ol’ Reliable Morton
When the Tampa Bay Rays declined their club option for Morton for the 2021 season, people around baseball assumed it was mostly a financially motivated decision but also partially performance-related. Morton, who turns 38 in November, had a pedestrian 4.74 ERA in 2020 and, following a strong ALDS and ALCS, pitched very poorly in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. So there was concern about whether he could regain his form.
The Atlanta Braves pounced on that opportunity and signed Morton, bringing him back to the organization that originally drafted him in 2002 and for which he made his major league debut in 2008. That turned out to be one of the best offseason moves by any team as he made a major league-high 33 starts and had a 3.34 ERA in 185.2 innings. Opposing hitters batted a minuscule .203 against him and he only gave up 0.8 home runs per nine innings. Basically, Morton saved an Atlanta rotation that needed a consistent veteran presence.
As the Rays and Houston Astros have seen firsthand, Morton can take his performance — and incredible curveball — to another level during the playoffs. He’s also pitching his best at the right time, as he ended the regular season with a 2.43 ERA in his final seven starts. He can definitely hold down this Milwaukee lineup so, if you’re betting online, go with him and the Braves with the juice.
Braves Can Get To Burnes
It’s tough to fault any part of Burnes’ season, which was about as perfect as could be. He led the majors in ERA, home runs per innings, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio as the ace for an incredible Milwaukee rotation. He doesn’t have many weaknesses and despite a couple subpar starts in September, he should be fully ready to go.
His only non-bright spot is his rather limited postseason resume. He hasn’t pitched in the playoffs since 2018, his rookie season. The issue for him is that the Braves are just really good and have, even without Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, a very deep lineup, not to mention a historically productive infield. Burnes is as good as it gets but even he is susceptible to a lineup with Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Adam Duvall and Dansby Swanson, to name a few players.
Burnes could certainly throw seven shutout innings on Friday, but if you’re looking for value on the MLB playoff odds, go with the Braves. If any team is going to get to Burnes, there’s a good chance it’s going to be the team with the third-most home runs in the majors that has significant power from both sides of the plate.
Brewers’ Bullpen Limited
Milwaukee not having Devin Williams, who fractured his hand when he punched a wall after the NL Central clincher celebration, for the rest of the postseason is really going to hurt in this series. The Brewers’ bullpen isn’t especially deep so even though they have a lot of faith in their starters to give them length, relievers have never been more important than they are in the modern-day postseason.
Milwaukee, outside of Josh Hader, has no real shut-down relievers with Williams sidelined. Guys like Brent Suter and Brad Boxberger are going to have to fill Williams’ place, which is a really big ask. The Milwaukee Brewers can certainly still win this series, even without Williams, but it’s going to be much more difficult, especially against top offenses with multiple key right-handed hitters.
If you’re making MLB picks, take Atlanta to get an early lead in this series and take over home-field advantage.