This Tuesday, the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves meet to compete for MLB’s 2021 World Series championship. As always, the matchup is rife with subplots. With a balanced matchup, the winner might come down to who fortune smiles upon in 2021.
The matchup is six decades in the making, pairing former National League rivals who’ve played more than 700 times, including in five postseason series. Because of scheduling and the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the Astros and Braves haven’t met on a field since 2017.
The big, bad Astros return to redeem a cheating-tainted title over the Dodgers in 2017, making their third Fall Classic appearance in five years. On the other end, the peaking Atlanta Braves are making their first championship appearance of the millennium. Manager Dusty Baker, not with the ‘stros in 2017, continues his quixotic quest to earn a title. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker’s son, Troy, is a Houston hitting coach.
“The Snitkers are going to have a World Series trophy in their house here,” Brian Snitker said after Atlanta’s Saturday night series clinching-win over the Dodgers. “I don’t know who is going to own it, but we’re going to have one.”
The Astros opened as a 3-2 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Though the team probably sports more pure talent, team members will be playing against history as well.
Astros teammates Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel are besmirched as cheaters after being part of a team that devised an illegal, sign-stealing scheme on its way to the 2017 championship. At Houston’s Minute Maid Park, they’re revered. At every other ballpark, they’re derided as the game’s worst villains. This hasn’t stopped them from mashing their way to the last dance, though.
“Ever since the news came out, I think we’ve all wanted to prove what kind of class of players that we are and team that we are,” AL Championship Series MVP Yordan Álvarez (who was not with the 2017 team) said.
The Astros will be missing ace Lance McCullers for the entire series and will present a mix of veterans of rookies trying to shut down Atlanta’s clutch hitting. They’ll be led by Framber Valdez, 27, after coming off the best start of any pitcher this postseason giving up only one run and going eight innings in Game 5 against Boston last Wednesday. It gets dicier from there though, with rookie Luis Garcia looking to replicate his series clinching performance on four days of rest, Jose Urquidy who has not pitched well so far, and either veteran Zack Greinke, Jake Odorizzi, or a bullpen pick start for game four.
The Braves have had to deal with adversity of their own, first getting off to a slow start to the 2021 season and then losing ace Mike Soroka and star-outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. midseason. A trade deadline haul of Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall helped Atlanta surge in the second half, leading to a fourth straight NL East title. Dominant pitching and timely hitting helped them to dispatch the Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the NLDS before knocking off the Dodgers in six in the NLCS.
Braves starter Max Fried and relievers Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, and A.J. Minter pitched 41 1⁄3 innings combined this postseason with a collective, practically invincible 1.96 ERA. Smith, Matzek, and Minter’s dominance was on full display in Game 6 of the NLCS, as they combined to record the final 15 Dodger outs in immaculate fashion. Altuve, Bregman, and Correa, however, have fared markedly better against opposite-side pitching throughout their careers, and left-handed hitters Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez rank first and second respectively in terms of batting average against same-side pitchers.
On Atlanta’s offensive side the Braves are second in the NL with 90 home runs since August and third with 283 runs scored. They’ve been led by first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Austin Riley, and trade deadline acquisitions Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler, who is returning from the COVID-19 protocol to serve as a much-needed DH in American League parks.
All signs are pointing to a long, hard-fought series. The Braves sport better back-end pitching, which portends well for a slog, but Houston has the experience and the sluggers who’ve been there before. The World Series may just come down to whichever team receives a lucky bounce or two.
Read More: The Braves Keep Winning… Is It the Pearls?
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