Everything You Need to Know Before the Astros and Braves Face Off in the World Series
The 2021 World Series will be contested by the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves. The Astros, winners of the American League pennant, are competing in their third World Series in the past five seasons, while the Braves, winners of the National League pennant, are playing in the franchise’s first World Series since 1999.
In the regular season, the Astros were an offensive juggernaut. They scorched the ball on their way to scoring the most runs in all of baseball. However, they had to contend with the ire of angry fans in the wake of a 2017 sign-stealing scandal. Nearly every single road series featured a group of fans who directed their creative rage toward the team.
Their run to the World Series saw them bludgeon the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series, before facing off with the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The Astros fell behind two games to one before rattling off three consecutive wins to book their ticket to the World Series.
The Braves faced their own form of adversity this season. Their All-Star slugger, Marcel Ozuna, missed nearly the entire season in the wake of domestic assault charges, and MVP frontrunner Ronald Acuna Jr tore his ACL attempting a leaping catch. The Braves were below .500 on July 11th, behind the New York Mets in the standings, and needed to overhaul their outfield. Atlanta’s front office got busy before the trade deadline and brought in Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario. The team went 44-28 after July 11th to claim the National League East crown and punch their ticket to the postseason.
The Braves’ journey to the World Series saw them dispatch the Milwaukee Brewers and their devastating pitching rotation in the National League Division Series. Their reward for beating the Brewers was a matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, last year’s World Series Champion and the consensus World Series favorites. The Dodgers had won 106 games in the regular season and bested, on a questionable umpire call, the San Francisco Giants, the only other National League team to win over 100 games, in the Division Series. The Braves were unfazed and dispatched the Dodgers in six games to complete their miraculous turnaround.
Pitchers to know
The MLB postseason, strategically, is a very different game than the regular season. Managers aggressively go to their bullpens, and the share of innings pitched by starters is now less than that of relievers. While individual starters still have a larger impact on winning than their reliever brethren, a team’s bullpen is just, if not more, important to winning in the playoffs.
Houston Astros Pitchers to know
The Houston Astros are likely to be without their best starting pitcher, Lance McCullers Jr. The Astros haven’t ruled him out, but he still hasn’t thrown since suffering an injury in the American Division Series. They’re never saying never on his return, but it’s unlikely that he will take the mound.
In his absence, they’ll turn to Framber Valdez in Game One of the World Series, followed, in no particular order, by Luis Garcia, Zach Greinke, and Jose Uriquidy. Garcia is battling a knee issue that has robbed him of velocity and control at times, Greinke is older and has faded as the season has worn on, and Uriquidy has struggled in limited action this postseason. The Astros’ bullpen has seen significant use this postseason, and that’s unlikely to stop heading into the World Series.
The names to know out of the Astros’ pen are; Ryan Pressley, Ryne Stanek, and Kendall Graveman. While Houston’s bullpen has been awesome this postseason - they have six relievers with earned run averages below two in the playoffs - Pressley, Stanek, and Graveman have the best track record of the group and should be counted on to get the most critical outs. Graveman and Pressley are right-handers that throw hard and have dangerous sliders. Stanek is dangerous too, but he also possesses a solid splitfinger change-up. Stanek’s arsenal of pitches gives him the best chance to get lefties out, making him the make-or-break arm in the Astros bullpen.
Atlanta Braves pitchers to know
The Braves starting rotation has an edge over the Astros largely because of health. They’re expected to send out Charlie Morton, a member of the Astros 2017 World Series Champion team, for game one. Following him will be Max Fried, and Ian Anderson. The Braves haven’t yet used a fourth starter this postseason.
Morton attacks hitters with a fastball up in the zone and a big breaking curveball. His plan is simple but highly effective, although he rarely works deep into games. Fried, a left-hander, attacks hitters with a combination of fastballs, sliders, and curveballs. He was awesome in the second half of the season and has continued to pitch well in the postseason. Anderson has a three-pitch mix that features a fastball, changeup, and curveball. His fastball and changeup are his two best pitches.
The Braves bullpen is led by a trio of left-handers in AJ Minter, Will Smith, and Tyler Matzek. Minter is a hard-throwing lefty who has been utterly dominant in the postseason. The Braves’ Will Smith is not the world-famous actor, but rather a left-handed closer. Smith, like Minter, has yet to give up a run this postseason. Matzek has given up two runs this postseason but has similarly been excellent, with a 1.74 ERA. The trio of pitchers, seemingly like every reliever in 2021, rely on a fastball-slider combination to get opposing hitters out. Minter and Smith throw about as many fastballs as they do sliders, while Matzek relies much more heavily on his heater.
Houston Astros Hitters to know
The Houston Astros had the best lineup in all of baseball. As a team, they led baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, and were third in slugging percentage. No team does that without a few great hitters and the Astros’ lineup is about as deep as they come.
The Astros had six of the top-50 hitters, according to weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and that doesn’t include Alex Bregman, who missed a significant part of the season with a quadricep injury. The Astros were able to bludgeon opposing pitchers with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alverez, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, and Alex Bregman. Houston’s Magnificent Seven have the rare combination of high contact rates and homerun power. The Braves pitchers are going to need to execute great pitching throughout the series, or things could get ugly.
Atlanta Braves Hitters to know
The Braves would love to have Ronald Acuna Jr in their lineup, but he’ll be relegated to a position of cheerleader, as he recovers from an ACL injury. In his stead, however, the Braves have plenty of potent hitters. Their lineup is spearheaded by 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman, who, after a slow start, in the season had an impressive second half.
Austin Riley had a breakout season after finally being able to hit for power while limiting strikeouts. Eddie Rosario was dismal for the Cleveland Indians before joining the Braves; where he has thrived. Rosario has stayed hot in the postseason and also won the National League Championship Series MVP. Jorge Soler is another midseason addition. The gigantic outfielder has light-tower power but has a lot of swing and miss in his game. He’s as likely to win the series for the Braves as he is to be a non-factor.
Get to know the managers
The Houston Astros are managed by Dusty Baker. After a 19-year playing career, the baseball lifer has managed five different teams since 1993, leading all of them to the postseason. While he has had success throughout his career, he has yet to win a World Series. At 72, this might be his last and best chance.
The Atlanta Braves are managed by Brian Snitker. Snitker joined the Braves in 1977, as a minor leaguer and has been with the organization ever since. After nearly 40 years, his slow climb up the coaching ladder was finally rewarded when he was named the Braves manager in 2016. Under his leadership, the Braves have won the National League East each of the past four seasons.
Who will win?
The Braves have the starting pitching advantage and the Astros have the bigger bats. As series go, this one could be awfully close. However, lineups last throughout the game, while starters are throwing fewer postseason innings than ever before. The Astros lineup is simply too good to deny.
Astros in six games.
Game one will be played in Houston and is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. EST.