I saw a map of the United States on social media recently showing the rooting interests of the country ahead of the World Series. All of it was in purple save for a small orange dot where Houston sits in Southeast Texas. Next to the map, it said everyone in purple is rooting for the Braves and orange is rooting for the Astros.
I am not sure that many people will be satisfied with the result either way as the 2021 World Series gets ready to open up. The Astros are the clear favorites in Game 1 and in the series.
MLB did its best to keep important baseball out of the state of Georgia when it took the All-Star Game away due to voting legislation passed by the Georgia legislature and signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in March. But try as it might, MLB won’t be able to keep the Braves from hosting the middle three games (if all are needed) of this World Series.
It matches two managers in Brian Snitker and Dusty Baker whose managerial careers couldn’t be more different. Snitker, who has now managed 831 regular-season major-league games, also managed 19 years in the minors. His previous high water marks came when he won back-to-back championships with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 1999 and 2000. In those two years, Snitker won the Carolina League Manager of the Year awards.
Baker never managed a game in the minor leagues but has 3,722 regular-season games under his belt. Baker is in his first American League job but his fifth overall managerial stint. Previously, he managed the San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), Chicago Cubs (2003-2006), Cincinnati Reds (2008-2013) and Washington Nationals (2016-2017).
So, how will this series go? The Astros won 95 regular-season games and the Braves, with a late-season kick, won 88 games. But don’t kid yourselves, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos remade his team ahead of the trade deadline, dealing for outfielders Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler to help make up for the loss of superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.
After 18 weeks of the 2021 season, the Braves were just 52-54 and behind both the Philadelphia Phillies and the then-first place New York Mets. However, they won 16 of their next 18 games. In the last nine weeks of the season, the Braves went 36-18 to win the NL East going away.
The Braves beat the Milwaukee Brewers, who had won 95 games, in the NLDS. They took care of business in the NLCS against the defending NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers, who seem to have the patent on using starting pitchers on short rest in the playoffs despite a $200 million-plus payroll.
Now the Braves will take on the Astros, who quickly and easily dispensed of the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS. And after struggling through the first three games of the ALCS against the Red Sox, the Astros totally stymied Boston’s bats to earn their into their third trip to the World Series in the past five years.
If you asked MLB officials the World Series they’d least like to see during the next 9-10 days, it’s this one.
Without getting bogged down in the minutiae, it will probably come down to the team that scouts their opponent better and is able to pitch the opponent’s best hitters more effectively.
And it’s actually difficult to tell you which team will do that. But Atlanta comes into this with a solid head of steam and is clearly able to scout their opponents and then execute plans for how to get the opposition’s best batters out. In facing the Astros, the Braves pitching staff with be put to the most severe test of doing just that.
Game 1 will feature former Astros right-hander Charlie Morton pitching against left-hander Framber Valdez, who pitched a masterpiece in Game 5 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
While it hasn’t been announced yet, it looks to me that the Braves will feature lefty Max Fried and the Astros will come back with Luis Garcia, who pitched a near-Valdez-like performance in Game 6 against the Red Sox.
The Astros will most likely turn to Jose Urquidy in Game 3. With Lance McCullers Jr. out, that will put added pressure on Jake Odorizzi and Zack Grienke to help Baker string together one or two patchwork games.
Meanwhile, the Braves will likely turn to Ian Anderson in Game 3 and perhaps Drew Smyly for a short stint in Game 4. Don’t sleep on the lefty Smyly as a possible chess piece in a couple other games. Remember this: The Braves also have three reliable lefty relievers in A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and closer Will Smith.
Smyly, Minter, Matzek and Smith will be tasked with facing young left-handed masher Yordan Alvarez, the ALCS MVP. Snitker could intentionally walk Alvarez a couple times, too.
If Grienke and McCullers were healthy, I’d pick the Astros, but they are not. If Morton and Fried do their jobs in Games 1 and 2, the Braves may just surprise the Astros early in this series. I am not sure the Astros will have the starting pitching to climb back into the series should they fall behind.
If I am wrong, the Astros will probably sweep the Braves.
But if I am correctly reading the tea leaves, I see a brilliant chess match being won by the Braves in six or seven games because they’ll figure out how to pitch to the deadly bats on the Astros.