After both teams defeated their opponents in six games of their respective Championship Series, the Atlanta Braves will face the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. In 2020’s abbreviated season and expanded postseason, the Braves and Astros similarly fell one game short of reaching the World Series after losing 4-3 in their respective Championship Series matchups. Additionally, both teams have gained plenty of Postseason experience as the Braves have advanced to October every year since 2018 while the Astros have advanced every year since 2017. Although both teams have had no issues getting into the Postseason over the past few years, the Braves and Astros had to overcome adversity to reach the point of Pennant winners and potentially World Series champions in 2021.
On July 10th, the Atlanta Braves lost to the rebuilding Miami Marlins which put their record exactly at .500 (44-44), put them 4.5 games back of the first-place New York Mets in the NL East, dropped their odds (via Fangraphs) to make the Postseason to 8.4%, dropped their odds to win the NL Pennant to a mere 1.3%, and lost their star right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. to a torn ACL. At this point in the season, it seemed the Braves had no hope for the rest of the season and that the team should start building towards winning in 2022. Wrong.
Instead of sitting back and letting the season get worse, Braves general manager and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos quickly traded for then Chicago Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson. A couple of weeks later, Anthopoulos also acquired outfielders Adam Duvall from the Miami Marlins, Eddie Rosario from the Cleveland Indians, and Jorge Soler from the Kansas City Royals. Although it appeared that the Braves’ outfield would be a mess following Acuña’s injury, the pieces of the puzzle to fix the mess were now on the team. As Braves, all four outfielders have been above average at the plate, but Rosario and Soler have performed at all-star levels. In 55 games with the Braves, Soler had a 132 wRC+ and in 33 games with the Braves, Rosario had a 133 wRC+. For comparison’s sake, Soler and Rosario performed slightly better at the plate in a Braves uniform than Mookie Betts did this season (131 wRC+). In addition to crushing it at the plate with the Braves during the regular season, Rosario’s bat has been even hotter in the Postseason as he has a 243 wRC+ and an NLCS MVP trophy.
Despite making it to the ALCS last season, the Astros were just 29-31 and Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel were coming off the worst seasons of their careers. Additionally, the Astros were set to face some tough crowds as a result of fans now being allowed in the stands since their sign-stealing scandal from 2017-2018 became publically known. With the players needing to reprove themselves to MLB fans and some coming off career-worst seasons, there could’ve been some added pressure on the team, but it sure didn’t look that way. The Astros had the best team offense in all of MLB this year, won the AL West, had the second overall Postseason seed in the AL, and won the AL pennant. The team was able to accomplish all of this playing in their first season without superstar center fielder George Springer (Blue Jays), 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery), and was without their ace Lance McCuller Jr. for the ALCS and will be without him for the World Series (forearm injury).
As I mentioned above, the Astros were the best offensive team in MLB this season. As a team, they had a 116 wRC+ and every hitter 1-7 in their game 1 lineup had a wRC+ of 115 or higher which is absurd, especially considering the only players in the Braves’ game 1 lineup to have a 115 or higher wRC+ on the season were Freddie Freeman (135) and Austin Riley (135). As a team, the Braves had a 98 wRC+ in 2021 which was the 13th best in MLB. Up to this point in the Postseason, the Braves lineup hasn’t been all that far behind the Astros’. The Astros have a team .797 OPS while the Braves have a team .725 OPS. When you consider that the Braves have had to account for a pitcher occupying a spot in their lineup while the Astros haven’t (yet), the gap between the two teams offensively is closer than it appears this October. So far this Postseason, the Astros have scored 6.7 runs per game while the Braves have scored 4 runs per game.
For the World Series, the Braves are expected to have a three-man rotation of Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson. Morton, Fried, and Anderson combined to have a 3.30 ERA and 3.47 FIP across a collective 479.2 innings pitched. As for the Astros, they’re expected to have a four-man rotation of Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, and Jake Odorizzi. Valdez, Urquidy, Garcia, and Odorizzi combined to have a 3.52 ERA and 4.02 FIP across a collective 501.2 innings pitched.
In 2021, the Braves bullpen had a 3.97 ERA and 4.08 FIP while the Astros bullpen had a 4.06 ERA and 4.21 FIP. The backend of the Braves bullpen features lefties Will Smith and Tyler Matzek to go along with right-hander Luke Jackson (who struggled in the NLCS). As for the Astros, bullpen ace Ryan Pressly and fellow right-handers Kendall Graveman and Ryne Stanek are usually featured in the late innings. Additionally, the Astros can call upon left-hander Brooks Raley when in need of getting some tough lefties out at the plate. In bullpen games or games in which an opener is used, expect the Braves to feature Drew Smyly and Jesse Chavez in bulk roles. As for the Astros, expect them to use Zack Greinke as an opener and Cristian Javier in a bulk role. So far this postseason, the Braves pitching staff has a 3.41 ERA and .228 batting average against while the Astros pitching staff has a 4.50 ERA and .245 batting average against.
If you like seeing good defense, you’ll probably enjoy watching the World Series. The Astros as a team had the second most defensive runs saved (78) and outs above average (44) while the Braves had the eight most defensive runs saves (49) and 12th most outs above average (9) in MLB. Behind the plate, Martin Maldonado and Travis D’Arnoud are both above average defensively, but base runners have taken advantage of D’Arnoud stealing at an 84% success rate in 2021. On the flip side, base runners only had a 60% success rate when trying to swipe a bag when Maldonado was behind the plate in 2021. One thing that I’ll be keeping an eye on is how the Astros align their outfield once the series moves to Atlanta. If the Astros want to keep their best bats in the lineup, they’ll likely have Yordan Alvarez in left field, Kyle Tucker in center field, and Michael Brantley in right fielder.
Astros in 6. While the Braves pitching staff does have a slight advantage in my eyes, the gap between the Astros offense and Braves’ offense is too big of a difference. While I certainly think the Braves will be able to steal a couple of games because of their pitching, I don’t think their offense will be able to outhit the Astros’ to win the series. I think the Astros’ offense will show the world how great their offense is and the tone will be set by leadoff hitter Jose Altuve en route to a World Series MVP.