The 2021 World Series is set: the Houston Astros will take on the Atlanta Braves beginning on October 26th. Unfortunately, for those of you who prefer seeing your Fall Classic games with fans in the stands bundled together in “October” hoodies and knit caps fighting frostbite during every nerve-wracking pitch, we’ve got two southern hip-hop cities competing for the title. One is fighting a curse of scandal, the other fighting a curse that could be witchcraft. Let’s take a deep-dive on how each team got here after a 162-game season and a thrilling postseason.
Atlanta Braves (National League Champions)
The Atlanta Braves are the epitome of a Cinderella story.
Georgia sports has long been seen as a cursed town- they only won one World Series during their great run in the 90’s, the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl in 2017, the Georgia Bulldogs blew a 13-0 halftime lead on an overtime Hail Mary to Alabama in overtime, and the Braves just last year blew a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLCS.
So, naturally, they played the Dodgers again in the NLCS this year.. And went up 3-1.. But this time, they were able to exercise those demons. This Atlanta team feels different.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for the Braves. They brought back the same team that was so dominant last year only to have a string of nightmares pile up. Their ace Mike Soroka tore his achilles for the second time. Marcell Ozuna, the man who led the NL in homers in 2020 that they signed to a 4-year, $65 million extension this offseason, was arrested on domestic violence charges and is likely done playing baseball for them for good. Ronald Acuna Jr., the 23 year-old who is a top-5 player when he’s at his best, tore his ACL. Their top 10 catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, was on the 60-day Injured List. As they had a 44-45 record at the All-Star Break, there were questions as to whether or not they would begin
selling off their players to prepare for the next season.
However, the NL East wasn’t strong, so they added some low-cost additions to the team to see if they could get some magic going. They got an entirely new outfield of Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario- all of whom are on 1-year flier deals for dirt cheap.
They’re now in the World Series because of these moves.
They went 32-21 after their season’s lowpoint by getting at least 25 home runs from every single player in the infield- Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley. Their pitching has gotten healthy again, and it carried them past the Milwaukee Brewers and was the highpoint of the series against the Dodgers, when in game 6, up 4-2 with no outs and two former MVPs (Mookie Betts and Albert Pujols) up to the plate, Tyler Matzek came in and struck out three in a row.
The Braves feel like a team that’s already cleansed itself of its past and is a team of destiny. Freddie Freeman, 2020 NL MVP, is seen as the veteran charismatic leader of men. Joc Pederson wears women’s pearls instead of a gold chain, and now the entire stadium full of Braves fans has used it as a rallying cry and are all wearing pearls to games! You couldn’t make this stuff up in an episode of Ted Lasso. They’re an incredible unlikely story playing with house money, but know the job isn’t done until they bring a championship to the ATL.
Biggest Strength: Power-hitting
Biggest Weakness: Bullpen depth
Player to Watch that Could Decide the Series: Charlie Morton (Starting Pitcher)
Houston Astros (American League Champions)
For the third time since 2017, the Houston Astros have won the American League Pennant, with or without a cheating scandal. This is a team with many different pieces than those teams that won, and they’ve had to get here in a much different fashion. There are only several players remaining from that 2017 World Series team that ties back to the cheating scandal, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman as the critical headliners, but for many they’re still seen as the villainous cheaters all the same. We don’t want to give them the validation of winning a World Series fair and square without banging trash cans in the outfield to steal signs even though they very much are talented and capable enough to do so, which is what made the scandal so egregious.
As the boos finally reigned in from away stadiums all year long, they’ve embraced the villain role and haven’t let it bother them one bit. Carlos Correa, their shortstop who likely will be one of the highest-paid players in baseball approaching free agency, taunts everyone by tapping a fake watch as if to say “it’s my time” before a bat-flip. Jose Altuve is 5’6 but hit 31 homers and will do so in the most-important moments. They’re a team of stone-cold killers.
The 2021 season was just another season of steady domination where they played with their food like a lion en route to taking the AL West- finishing top 5 in batting average, hits, runs, on base %, slugging %, ERA, and team defense. They’ve also had some new names be the key pieces during this postseason run: 24 year-old DH Yordan Alvarez has had a .441 average and carried the team, and they’ve had to turn to pitchers like second-year starter Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia to keep them afloat with the injury to Lance McCullers Jr., who will still be out for the World Series.
This postseason, the pitching injuries haven’t been an issue because of how explosive their offense has been. They cruised past the White Sox in 4 games, scoring a minimum of 6 runs in each game, then came back from down 2-1 to the Red Sox by winning 3 in a row, shutting down the Boston bats by only allowing 3 total runs in those games.
It’s a new Astros team. It’s one that you can still root against, but the players that helped them get there are just trying to fumigate the stench left on a couple teammates left from the past and create a new legacy as these veterans of previous iterations are in their closing window.
Biggest Strength: Lineup depth/on-base hitting
Biggest Weakness: Lack of work horses in the bullpen
Player to Watch that Could Decide the Series: Kyle Tucker (Left Fielder)