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A Cubs fan’s guide to the 2021 National League Division Series

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Brewers vs. Braves and Dodgers vs. Giants join a full day of baseball today

Jorge Soler celebrates after a home run during the final week of the season
Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images

The universe put a serious wrench in my plans for Soxtober yesterday as the Astros and Rays handily dispatched of both the White Sox and Red Sox. I still believe and everything, but both teams are going to have to reset if they want a shot to win their five-game series. Perhaps the White Sox could come up with a better game plan than throwing a ton of fastballs to a team that feasts on fastballs and the Red Sox could hit the ball hard at gaps instead of right into outs, but I digress. This is the National League Division Series preview, Let’s get to it.

Brewers vs. Braves

The Brewers and Braves were always candidates to be here but their paths were hardly assured. In fact, prior to the trade deadline the Braves had not been able to climb above .500 and had to piece together deals for a platoon set outfielders in a last ditch attempt to patchwork their weakest spots and replace superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., who they lost to a torn ACL. You can see their playoff odds over the season below:

NL East Playoff Odds
FanGraphs

Meanwhile the Brewers had a clearer path, particularly after the Cubs collapsed and decided to sell in July:

NL Central Playoff Odds
FanGraphs

Let’s take a closer look at how these teams matchup.

Starting pitching

There aren’t a lot of categories in this preview series that are just clearly a crush for one team over another, but the starting rotation for the Brewers vs. the Braves is a crush for Milwaukee. In fact, the starting pitching for the Brewers might be the best out of any team in the playoffs except the Dodgers. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta have all been exceptional in 2021 and having three brilliant starting pitchers is quite the weapon, particularly in a short series. They’ll round out their rotation with Adrian Houser, who has put up a solid, albeit a bit lucky according to FIP, 3.33 ERA during 2021.

The Braves will counter with Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa. Morton and Fried have both had good years, they just haven’t had Cy Young candidate years the same way Woodruff and Burnes have. That said, recency matters in the playoffs and as you can see below the strongest starting pitcher in this group might have been Max Fried:

Brewers and Braves Starting Pitching Season and Sept/Oct

Name Team GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Name Team GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Charlie Morton 33 185.2 10.47 2.81 0.78 .267 71.00% 47.80% 3.34 3.17 3.31
Max Fried 28 165.2 8.58 2.23 0.81 .278 75.90% 51.80% 3.04 3.31 3.45
Ian Anderson 24 128.1 8.70 3.72 1.12 .261 79.10% 49.30% 3.58 4.12 3.96
Huascar Ynoa 17 90.0 10.00 2.50 1.40 .271 73.50% 47.20% 4.10 3.94 3.38
Charlie Morton Sept/Oct 6 34.2 9.09 2.34 0.26 .230 72.80% 43.50% 2.60 2.56 3.77
Max Fried Sept/Oct 6 41.0 7.90 1.54 0.66 .190 85.30% 59.00% 1.54 2.88 3.00
Ian Anderson Sept/Oct 5 26.2 8.78 4.05 2.36 .200 85.60% 44.30% 4.39 5.98 4.49
Huascar Ynoa Sept/Oct 6 29.0 10.55 2.79 1.55 .329 58.80% 49.40% 6.52 4.20 3.42
Corbin Burnes 28 167.0 12.61 1.83 0.38 .309 75.70% 48.80% 2.43 1.63 2.30
Brandon Woodruff 30 179.1 10.59 2.16 0.90 .261 81.40% 41.50% 2.56 2.96 3.05
Freddy Peralta 27 142.1 11.95 3.35 0.89 .225 78.30% 32.90% 2.85 3.14 3.67
Adrian Houser 26 135.1 6.45 4.06 0.73 .256 73.10% 57.70% 3.33 4.34 4.40
Corbin Burnes Sept/Oct 5 28.0 14.46 2.57 0.64 .309 71.40% 47.30% 3.21 1.85 1.86
Brandon Woodruff Sept/Oct 4 22.0 10.64 1.23 1.64 .316 78.40% 28.80% 4.09 3.71 3.12
Freddy Peralta Sept/Oct 5 23.0 12.13 1.96 1.57 .315 65.60% 29.80% 4.70 3.91 3.64
Adrian Houser Sept/Oct 5 30.0 5.70 3.30 0.30 .209 77.70% 54.10% 1.50 3.54 4.16
Select Stats FanGraphs

Bullpens

Milwaukee’s bullpen has been one of their strengths in recent years but their dominance in that department really fell off in 2021 even before setup man Devin Williams punched a wall and pulled himself out of the postseason. By fWAR they were the seventh-best bullpen in the National League in 2021. The Braves actually just edged them out at sixth. While the postseason rosters will allow both teams to bolster their bullpen with some starting arms it is worth noting that neither of these bullpens represents the type of gauntlet superpens we’ve seen from some teams in the past.

One of the biggest roster surprises for this matchup was the Braves leaving reliever Richard Rodríguez off their roster entirely. They traded for the former Pirates closer at the deadline, but he’s struggled down the stretch and it looks like they decided to try their luck somewhere else. You can see the Braves’ complete NLDS roster at our Atlanta site Talking Chop.

When we look closer at September and October the Milwaukee pen in particular struggled down the stretch. They were the 12th-best bullpen in the NL during September even before Williams’ injury. They will have to succeed in the NLDS without another potent weapon in the pen, reliever/starter Brent Suter who was not on the Brewers’ NLDS roster due to an oblique injury. Here is a season-long and September/October comparison of bullpens:

Brewers and Braves Bullpens Season and Sept/Oct

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
ATL 573.2 9.01 3.64 1.1 0.291 74.00% 40.20% 3.97 4.08 4.36
MIL 588.1 10.89 4.15 1.39 0.284 75.10% 41.60% 4.02 4.34 4.05
ATL Sept/Oct 114.2 7.93 3.22 0.94 0.252 80.20% 40.40% 2.9 3.92 4.31
MIL Sept/Oct 106 10.53 3.99 2.04 0.281 65.30% 40.10% 5.86 5.24 4.35
Select Stats FanGraphs

The bats

No team that is in the National League Division Series has quite the thump I documented from the Astros yesterday, even when pitchers are pulled from the wRC+ equation. That said, the only team in the postseason with a below average wRC+ is the Brewers who put up a 97 wRC+ over the course of the season. It is also worth noting that was an improvement for the Brewers who put up a wRC+ of 84 during the first month of the season.

The Braves’ bats have been slightly above average, but don’t really represent the same type of power other teams have in this postseason. I already alluded to their problems in the outfield, but there have been additional offensive outages across their lineup at times. Those outfield issues create some fun viewing opportunities for Cubs fans, who will see some familiar faces in the corner outfield spots this series in Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson, but back to big themes. This is the smallest crew of bats with a wRC+ over 110 of any postseason series:

Braves and Brewers Hitting Sept/Oct

Name Team PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Name Team PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Luis Urias MIL 108 5 13.90% 19.40% .202 .302 .270 .393 .472 .377 135
Lorenzo Cain MIL 73 2 11.00% 15.10% .169 .346 .308 .384 .477 .372 132
Daniel Vogelbach MIL 60 2 26.70% 25.00% .136 .296 .227 .433 .364 .369 129
Eduardo Escobar MIL 110 4 10.90% 19.10% .206 .292 .258 .345 .464 .349 117
Freddie Freeman ATL 123 3 8.90% 13.00% .174 .367 .330 .407 .505 .391 143
Eddie Rosario ATL 98 7 9.20% 14.30% .307 .250 .273 .337 .580 .381 136
Jorge Soler ATL 120 6 9.20% 16.70% .245 .284 .274 .345 .519 .365 126
Austin Riley ATL 122 5 3.30% 30.30% .216 .400 .302 .328 .517 .357 121
Select Stats FanGraphs

Dodgers vs. Giants

There’s something magical about historic rivalries meeting up in the postseason and make no mistake, Dodgers vs. Giants is one of the great rivalries in baseball. The last time one of the great rivalries faced off in a division series was Yankees v. Red Sox in 2018. This is about as close as it gets for predictions, the Giants won 10 of the 19 matchups between these two teams in the regular season.

Gigantic projections miss

The biggest surprise of the 2021 season has to be the San Francisco Giants. I admit that I was skeptical in the early going, but 107 wins in the toughest division in the National League is no joke and the Giants are for real. It’s still funny to look back at their playoff odds and exactly how much San Francisco exceeded expectations:

NL West Playoff Odds
FanGraphs

Starting pitching

You couldn’t script two more different teams in terms of their pitching philosophies. The Dodgers are a deep and fearsome group of strikeout artists who look exactly like what you’d expect from the team with the best betting odds to win the World Series. The Giants look more like what the Cubs put forward this year in terms of contact guys with a great defense behind them, except it worked for San Francisco.

The Dodgers have some serious depth and it’s impressive that they have one of the best rotations in the postseason despite losing Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May to injury and Trevor Bauer to an extended administrative leave due to domestic violence accusations.

It is interesting that the Giants only have two starters who are qualified for FanGraphs’ leaderboards via innings pitched so far (Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani). It speaks to the creativity that their coaches and staff have used at managing their pitching this year. For purposes of the comparison below I’ve included the likely starters for this series whether they met innings qualification standards or not. Luckily, only four Giants starters had at least 10 innings in September, so it made limiting the list pretty easy:

Giants and Dodgers Starting Pitchers

Name Team GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Name Team GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Kevin Gausman SFG 33 192.0 10.64 2.34 0.94 .274 78.40% 41.90% 2.81 3.00 3.28
Logan Webb SFG 26 148.1 9.59 2.18 0.55 .309 74.70% 60.90% 3.03 2.72 2.79
Anthony DeSclafani SFG 31 167.2 8.16 2.25 1.02 .265 78.30% 44.30% 3.17 3.62 3.95
Alex Wood SFG 26 138.2 9.87 2.53 0.91 .305 72.90% 50.80% 3.83 3.48 3.44
Kevin Gausman Sept/Oct SFG 7 40.0 11.48 0.90 1.58 .353 78.00% 40.20% 4.05 3.19 2.51
Logan Webb Sept/Oct SFG 7 43.0 9.84 1.47 0.21 .339 60.90% 60.30% 3.98 1.91 2.47
Anthony DeSclafani Sept/Oct SFG 6 32.0 7.03 1.69 0.28 .277 79.10% 37.60% 2.25 2.58 3.99
Alex Wood Sept/Oct SFG 3 13.0 11.77 0.00 0.00 .290 83.30% 48.40% 1.38 1.25 1.79
Walker Buehler LAD 33 207.2 9.19 2.25 0.82 .247 80.90% 44.70% 2.47 3.15 3.57
Julio Urias LAD 32 185.2 9.45 1.84 0.92 .272 76.20% 40.20% 2.96 3.13 3.73
Max Scherzer LAD 11 68.1 11.72 1.05 0.66 .267 80.40% 35.20% 1.98 1.95 2.89
Tony Gonsolin LAD 13 50.1 10.55 5.19 1.25 .242 88.80% 37.10% 2.86 4.36 4.55
Walker Buehler Sept/Oct LAD 6 31.2 8.24 2.27 0.85 .319 65.20% 46.20% 4.83 3.42 3.75
Julio Urias Sept/Oct LAD 6 35.0 9.00 1.54 0.00 .276 77.10% 44.80% 2.06 1.86 3.92
Max Scherzer lSept/Oct LAD 6 39.1 10.98 0.69 0.69 .271 71.90% 32.30% 2.29 1.95 2.98
Tony Gonsolin Sept/Oct LAD 4 17.2 10.70 3.06 1.53 .225 87.00% 43.90% 3.06 4.02 3.41
Select Season and Sept/Oct Stats FanGraphs

There are a lot more strikeouts on the Dodgers side of the ledger, there are a lot higher ground ball rates on the Giants side of the ledger. It’s going to be interesting to see which team prevails.

Bullpens

The Dodgers had the best bullpen in the National League during the course of the season but only the fourth best during the month of September. The Giants had the second best bullpen over the course of the regular season and the third best during the month of September. What I’m getting at here is that this is very close and the smallest margins of who made the playoff roster, how managers Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler make decisions could be the difference makers in this series.

The Dodgers roster is almost identical to their Wild Card roster, although they added starter Walker Buehler and reliever David Price. To make room for the additional pitchers they pulled Luke Raley and Zach McKinstrey off the roster. It is not in the slightest surprising that they added more pitching and settled for a shorter bench in a five game series.

The biggest surprise in the Giants roster is that veteran Johnny Cueto was left off the roster. Both teams will rely on 12 pitchers for the NLDS. Keep an eye out for Giants reliever Tyler Rogers whose rising fastball is probably the most interesting single pitch in the postseason:

Dodgers and Giants Season and Sept/Oct Bullpen Comparisons

Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% ERA FIP xFIP
SFG 623.2 8.37 2.73 0.95 .262 74.30% 43.40% 2.99 3.71 4.20
LAD 608.2 9.64 3.98 0.89 .257 73.60% 47.30% 3.16 3.83 4.07
SFG Sept/Oct 137.1 8.32 3.15 0.92 .300 82.70% 41.90% 2.42 3.78 4.31
LAD Sept/Oct 111.2 9.19 3.87 0.89 .232 79.10% 46.20% 2.66 3.91 4.24
Select Stats FanGraphs

Hitting

We covered the prodigious Dodgers bats during the Wild Card series and then two guys who had really atrocious final months of the season, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, wound up being the difference makers in the Wild Card Game. Baseball gonna baseball. The Dodgers most potent bats coming into the NLDS are still Corey Seager, Trea Turner and Justin Turner, but that doesn’t mean other guys can’t step up and contribute in big ways.

Another element we covered during the Wild Card Game preview was the Dodgers missing their best bat from September/October in Max Muncy due to injury. For at least the Divisional round they’ll face off against an opponent with a similar issue as the Giants’ best bat last month was Brandon Belt who is not on the roster while he deals with a fractured left thumb. I wouldn’t cry too much for the Giants, they still have a lot of ways to beat you with their bats. Here you can see every hitter for both teams that had a wRC+ over 110 for September:

Dodgers and Giants Sept/Oct Batting

Name G PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Name G PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Corey Seager 29 121 9 13.20% 9.90% .327 .369 .385 .463 .712 .487 210
Trea Turner 29 128 8 7.80% 14.10% .284 .363 .353 .406 .638 .435 177
Justin Turner 29 111 6 8.10% 14.40% .210 .250 .260 .315 .470 .333 110
Brandon Crawford 28 119 5 11.80% 13.40% .235 .358 .333 .429 .569 .425 171
Wilmer Flores 20 50 1 14.00% 10.00% .140 .405 .372 .460 .512 .422 169
Buster Posey 25 101 2 9.90% 14.90% .169 .338 .303 .366 .472 .355 125
Mike Yastrzemski 26 83 4 12.00% 28.90% .232 .310 .246 .354 .478 .353 123
Darin Ruf 18 65 2 10.80% 32.30% .190 .371 .259 .338 .448 .339 115
Tommy La Stella 28 91 4 7.70% 9.90% .195 .246 .256 .322 .451 .333 111
Select Stats FanGraphs

You might be surprised to see former Cub Tommy LaStella on that list and not Kris Bryant. Bryant has been a slightly below average bat for the Giants in the stretch run with a wRC+ of 95. Who knows, maybe he’ll channel his inner Chris Taylor and walk it off one of these games.

Poll

Who are you cheering for in the NLDS between the Braves and the Brewers?

  • 69%
    Braves
    (36 votes)
  • 30%
    Brewers
    (16 votes)
52 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who are you cheering for in the NLDS between the Dodgers and the Giants?

  • 15%
    Dodgers
    (9 votes)
  • 84%
    Giants
    (50 votes)
59 votes total Vote Now