Through the first two games of the series, the Brewers vs. Braves matchup in the National League Division Series has proven to be a pitching duel. On Saturday, the Brewers squeaked out a 2-1 victory, but they were shut out 3-0 in Game 2 on Sunday.
There was not much the offense could have done in Game 1. Charlie Morton was on his game. He was hitting nearly all of his spots with both his fastball and curveball, and his velocity was a tick higher than it was during the regular season. In Game 2, however, the Brewers did themselves no favors. They had no answers for starter Max Fried and missed several hittable pitches from the Atlanta relievers who followed.
Make no mistake, Fried deserves credit for his excellent performance. Since the start of the 2020 season, the southpaw owns a 2.84 ERA and 3.26 FIP in 39 regular-season starts. He was especially dominant after the All-Star break this year, posting a 1.74 ERA in the second half.
However, the Brewers have no excuse for not scoring at all. They had enough pitches to hit to scratch across at least a couple of runs. What was most surprising about the lack of offense was that Milwaukee hitters looked as if they had done no preparation before facing the Braves’ Game 2 starter.
Had the Brewers done their homework on Fried, they should have known that he rarely walks hitters and loves to fill up the strike zone. His 6.2% walk rate was in the 84th percentile among all pitchers this season, and his 45.5% zone rate was 11th-highest among starters who worked at least 150 innings this season.
Another tough draw for the Brewers offense today with Fried on the mound for Atlanta. Fastball, curve, and slider have all been solid pitches for him this year. Doesn't get the whiffs that Morton does, but likes to pound the zone and doesn't allow much hard contact. pic.twitter.com/hhAgySrd3h— Jack Stern (@baseball7310) October 9, 2021
Because Fried is a noted strike-thrower, the Brewers’ lineup needed to come out swinging. If they got a pitch over the plate—especially early in the count—they had to jump on it.
Instead, Milwaukee hitters did the exact opposite. They were alarmingly passive against the Braves’ lefty, taking 20 called strikes. That was tied for the second-highest total in any start for Fried this season. Even more concerning, those 20 called strikes were out of just 81 total pitches for Fried. He threw at least 90 pitches in the other outings where he met or exceeded that many called strikes.
The Brewers could be forgiven for taking so many strikes if Fried was consistently pounding the corners all evening. While he threw plenty of well-located pitches, many of the pitches the Brewers passed on split the plate in half.
Here were just a few of the takes on pitches that caught plenty of the plate. These were pitches to hit.
Again, Fried pitched extremely well. Even if the Brewers had a better approach, it still would have been difficult to score more than a couple of runs against him. No one was expecting them to put up five or six runs.
What was unacceptable was how surprised the Brewers’ hitters looked when Fried was filling up the strike zone, something he has done all year long. That should have been part of the scouting report. What’s more, they made no adjustments to swing more often as Fried kept pouring in strikes throughout the game. The Brewers should have been prepared to jump on pitches in the zone. They were not.
As the series heads to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4, Milwaukee will look to provide their pitchers with more run support. While this may not be a powerhouse lineup, they have enough solid hitters to score enough runs to advance to the Championship Series. Whatever was behind the faulty approach against Fried, it cannot happen again.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and Baseball-Reference.