The Atlanta Braves’ magical World Series championship run carried a piece of Baltimore sports with it.
Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz held the same role with the Orioles from 2008-2010. After splitting the next eight seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies, Kranitz signed on with the Braves ahead of the 2019 season.
Atlanta came close to its ultimate goal during each of Kranitz’s first two seasons in charge of the pitching staff. The 2019 season resulted in an early postseason departure in the NLDS, and the 2020 season saw the Braves falter on the doorstep of the World Series, blowing a 3-1 NLCS lead to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For Kranitz, the 2021 squad fed off of bold moves from its front office to build the camaraderie and confidence needed to take the club to the pinnacle of baseball.
“Games you play early in the year that you think you should win and you lose, you go, ‘How the heck did we lose that game?’ … things started to flip for us and we started getting into a little bit of a roll [in August],” Kranitz said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 16.
Key injuries should have buried the Braves long before they even considered a postseason berth, let alone a run to the World Series. Superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his right ACL in July, requiring season-ending surgery and dealing a major blow to the Braves’ lineup.
On top of the loss of Acuña, the Braves also lost pitcher Mike Soroka to a season-ending Achilles tendon tear and outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was placed on administrative leave in September for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policies.
With gaping holes in the lineup and in the outfield, Braves general manager and president Alex Anthopoulos explored the trade market, looking to shore up the team with acquisitions ahead of the July 30 trade deadline. Atlanta had a 44-45 record at the All-Star break.
“I remember Alex Anthopoulos coming in and saying, ‘I do not want to sell,'” Kranitz said. “Thankfully, the other teams in the division really didn’t take off. They kind of let us hang around, Alex did his thing, and we really gelled right after those trades. It became pretty special.”
Most teams in the Braves’ position would have sold off valuable players to build toward success in seasons to come. Anthopoulos did the opposite, shipping prospects off to other organizations for immediate help on the Major League roster.
The Braves acquired outfielders Joc Pederson (Chicago Cubs), Jorge Soler (Kansas City), Eddie Rosario (Cleveland) and Adam Duvall (Miami). Soler took home the World Series MVP, while Rosario won NLCS MVP. Pederson and Duvall drove in nine and 10 runs, respectively, during the course of the postseason.
“I really felt like it was a team,” Kranitz said. “I didn’t see a lot of guys like, ‘Look at me.’ This team came together. Alex did such a good job of bringing in quality people, not just good baseball players, but good people.”
Kranitz was back in Baltimore this past season when the Braves visited for a three-game series in August, and he was reminded of his time with the Orioles more than a decade ago.
The O’s have taken their time to develop from within, selecting players in the top 12 picks during the past four drafts. MLB Pipeline rated the Orioles’ farm system as No. 1 in baseball in August with a handful of players appearing to be nearly ready for big-league action.
“I think [the Orioles are] going through a lot of what we went through when I was there, a lot of rebuild, a lot of younger guys coming up,” Kranitz said. “The East was incredibly competitive, every team was very good and unfortunately we had to roll through that. I think the difference is, from what I see, the talent level looks very real [now].”
With more young talent waiting in the wings and budding talent already making an impact in the majors, the future looks bright for the O’s going forward, according to Kranitz.
“Soon those younger players start to get a little bit older and start to be a little more comfortable,” Kranitz said. “Hopefully your general manager makes the right kind of moves to bring the right pieces in. But for sure, the Orioles are in a good spot as far as what I see on a talent level.”
For more from Kranitz, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles