World Series 2021: Braves Vs Astros
In a postseason full of drama, the two teams who have peaked at the right time square off.
For everyone complaining about the matchup in this World Series, consider that neither the Atlanta Braves nor the Houston Astros needed seven games in their respective division series to get to the World Series. That’s dominance, which should mean a heck of a championship title fight.
One fun side note is the manager matchup. Dusty Baker is with his fifth team, having been let go from the previous four despite years of success. His sideshow Chicago Cubs experience included Bartman and the tantalizing hope of what the team could be with Kerry Wood or Mark Prior. Unfortunately, Baker got Carlos Marmol, Greg Maddux, and Sean Marshall and their ERAs over four-and-a-half. For a guy with a career .534 winning percentage, this is only Baker’s second World Series trip. For Brian Snitker, this is his first after a well-documented tour through the Braves minor league system. Either manager is a great story should his team win.
The Astros are not the same club that won it all in 2017 against the Dodgers and who were shamed by the Trash Can Gate cheating scandal. But the remaining players, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel are the heart and soul of this club. Adding Marwin Gonzalez to the postseason roster should only help Houston use its experience to overcome the relative inexperience of the Braves. Yordan Alvarez is on fire (.441 average in the postseason, .522 against the Red Sox) which helped make up for the slump Jose Altuve is in (.125 against the Red Sox, .200 in the postseason). At least when Altuve makes contact, he makes it worth his while: three home runs and seven runs batted-in.
On the mound, Houston is without Lance McCullers, which hurts. But the staff came around in the last four games of the ALCS, with the most surprising performance turned in by Luis Garcia. Five innings of shutout ball brought his postseason ERA down to 9.64. That start was only exceeded in the surprise factor by the two previous games in which you could smell the gasoline as he made his way to the mound.
How did Houston turn things around after being down 2-1 in the series to the Sox? Something had to change. Houston gave up 25 runs in the first three games. In Games 4, 5, and 6 Houston pitchers were able to keep Boston from stringing hits together. Also, the location and effectiveness of the breaking pitches they threw were thrown in a better sequence in tandem with the location of the fastballs. Fewer hangers, better location -that’s a good thing.
Framber Valdez (3.14 regular season ERA) and Jose Urquidy (3.62, 0.99 WHIP) will have to pitch backward on occasion to keep Braves hitters off balance. Atlanta hitters think their way through at-bats and guess correctly enough to extend at-bats in critical situations. Zach Greinke and Jake Odorizzi are nice fifth starters to shore up a bullpen.
This brings us to Eddie Rosario, who single-handedly destroyed the Dodgers in the NLCS. L.A. consistently challenged him with fastballs up and off-speed stuff inside. He’s in swing mode. Take advantage. Fastballs high and tight and breaking pitches outside…and then switch. If the worst thing that happens is he goes opposite field for a single, then you’ve won the day. Freddie Freeman and the rest of the team followed their season averages for the most part and that is not exactly fear-inspiring, unlike Houston’s Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel. Any of those guys can get hot and hurt Atlanta badly.
On the mound, Charlie Morton has been in this rodeo before as a Brave and as an Astro. He should be solid and perhaps spectacular. Tyler Matzek, Ian Anderson and Will Smith were great in relief against the Dodgers. Anderson should return to his position as starter. Jesse Chavez had some shaky moments. Astros hitters are really good at sitting on pitches and hitting them when they arrive. Max Fried has lights-out stuff, but he also seems to implode the third time through the lineup. Watch for Atlanta to pull him earlier than normal.
One more thing. Martin Maldonado cannot hit .172 and be a professional catcher. His WAR was -.1 and his bat means two consecutive outs. He throws out 27 percent of would-be base-stealers, which is meh and not enough better than Travis d’Arnaud’s 21 percent to outweigh the fact d’Arnaud is hitting 50 points better (and in a down year at that).
What’s it all mean? I don’t trust Atlanta’s pitchers more than Houston’s hitters. But I do trust Houston’s pitching as much as I trust Atlanta’s hitters. Given Snitker’s experience, I don’t know that he would panic in the moment. He seemed to have it all together in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Yes, they’re hot, but I don’t know if Atlanta is the second coming of the Minnesota Twins. Assuming Dusty Baker pitches around Rosario, Houston wins this in six.