2021 World Series Preview: Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros

The Fall Classic is finally here. Welcome to the final MLB postseason preview, the 2021 World Series preview. The 2021 MLB postseason has been one to remember, and a surprise matchup is set to take place in the World Series. The Houston Astros were expected to make a deep playoff run, but they may have lucked out by avoiding the Tampa Bay Rays thanks to the Red Sox upsetting them in the ALDS. Still, they’re back in the final showdown, only they aren’t playing one of the Goliaths from the National League this year. The Atlanta Braves were the only sub 90-win team to make the playoffs this year, but that hasn’t deterred them from knocking off the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in convincing fashion.

The Astros and Braves have some postseason history. Because Houston used to be in the National League, they have been able to go head-to-head with Atlanta five times before. The Braves lead the total postseason matchup with a 12-7 record, including a 3-2 series record. Houston has won the last two meetings between the two, however. The Astros went through the Braves in the NLDS in both 2004 and 2005. 

The Braves last made the World Series in 1999, and they were embarrassed by the New York Yankees in a four-game sweep. In the past 31 seasons, Atlanta has made the playoffs 21 times, this being their sixth World Series appearance. They are looking for their first title since 1995.

The Astros have been one of the MLB’s best squads for the past five years. This is the third World Series appearance for Houston since 2017 when they won it all. Their hitting core remains relatively the same from that championship winning squad.

So what are the key things to pay attention to for this year’s World Series? Which players could make a huge impact? Who do we think will win? Let’s dive into our 2021 World Series preview.

2021 World Series Preview
(image from Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)

How They Got to the World Series: Houston Astros

When down 2-1 in the series, the Astros looked – dare I say – dead. It wasn’t until a seven-run top of the ninth inning in game four that saw Houston get the ball rolling. Boston brought in starter Nathan Eovaldi to shut Houston down to maintain a 2-2 tie, but it backfired badly. After throwing 24 high-leverage pitches, Boston called on Eovaldi again just three days later, and though he pitched well in 4.1 innings, Boston failed to score any runs for him and lost 5-0 to end their season. Houston benefited from a huge risk taken by Boston manager Alex Cora, but it has to be considered that if Eovaldi worked a scoreless ninth in game four and then Boston walked it off, Houston would have been facing a 3-1 deficit and probably wouldn’t be here. However, Houston’s bats woke up, and they averaged six runs per game in the ALCS alone – not to mention their 7.75 average in the ALDS against Chicago. This team has their bats going, but the Braves offer the best pitching they will face in the 2021 postseason.

2021 World Series Preview
(image from Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

How They Got to the World Series: Atlanta Braves

Realistically, the Atlanta Braves should have swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. After winning the first two games in walk-off fashion, it took a surprise four-run eighth inning in game three just for the Dodgers to win one of the first four games. The Braves played like the better team, and they eventually won the series in six games. Eddie Rosario went ballistic in the NLCS. He is now up to a .474 batting average in 42 postseason plate appearances with three homers, 11 RBI, and four walks. The 2021 NLCS MVP was traded from Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval on the trade deadline and has done nothing but rake for Atlanta. He stepped into a starting role because of the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuna Jr. Rosario is one of the many Braves patchwork pieces that have baseball fans saying, “Why couldn’t my team get that guy?” In what looked like a series of panic moves to overcome being down by as much as eight games in the NL East, the Braves benefited. And Rosario and others like Adam Duvall are big reasons why Atlanta has made it to the Fall Classic.

2021 World Series Preview: Pitching Matchups & Impact Players

Charlie Morton and Framber Valdez are set to take the mound in game one. They have both been solid this postseason but not dominant. Morton’s last start came a week ago in game three of the NLCS. He went five innings, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out five. Morton should have gone deeper, but he walked six Dodger hitters on the night, and the Braves bullpen ultimately blew the game in the eighth inning and lost 6-5. Morton has started three games and has given up six runs in 14.1 innings pitched this postseason. Valdez is coming off arguably the best start of his career, and there is no better time to do that in game five of the ALCS. The left-hander took a perfect game into the fifth and finished with a line of five strikeouts, three hits, one run, and one walk in eight innings of brilliance. For the postseason, he has a 4.20 ERA in 15.0 innings, telling us that that eight-inning masterpiece could have been a fluke.

Game two will feature Max Fried and Jose Uriquidy. Fried had been incredible before he was hammered by Chris Taylor and the Dodgers in game five. He allowed five runs on eight hits in just 4.2 innings. He struck out just three batters and walked two. Urquidy is coming off his lone postseason appearance – one which he would love to forget. The Red Sox pounded him in the second inning, and he was charged with five runs in just 1.2 innings of work. The rest of the series has yet to be announced. Ian Anderson and Drew Smyly are Atlanta’s other options as legit starters, while Houston will probably start Luis Garcia and Zack Greinke at some point during the series.

The Astros will be without their ace, Lance McCullers, for the World Series due to a strain in his pitching elbow. In his two postseason starts, McCullers racked up nine strikeouts in 10.2 innings while allowing just one run – which came on a solo home run. The Braves are adding one of their top pitching prospects to their roster for the World Series in Kyle Wright. If this series goes deep, expect a lot of different arms to take the mound for both teams and one or two games in which we see an opener used.

Impact Players for the Astros (Playoff Stats): DH Yordan Alvarez (.441 BA, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 8 BB), RF Kyle Tucker (.275 BA, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB), 2B Jose Altuve (15 R, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 7 BB), LF Michael Brantley (.311 BA, 8 RBI, 14 H)

Impact Players for the Braves (Playoff Stats): 1B Freddie Freeman (.294 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 10 BB), LF Eddie Rosario (.474 BA, 3 HR, 11 RBI), RF Joc Pederson (.276 BA, 3 HR, 9 RBI), 2B Ozzie Albies (.262 BA, 8 R, 2 SB)

Evan Kinsey and I have tag-teamed every MLB postseason series preview. Here are each of our picks for the 2021 World Series:

Evan: Braves in six. The Houston Astros are a perennial powerhouse at this point. They are back in the World Series after their fifth straight ALCS appearance. The Braves remind me a lot of the 2019 Nationals, as a team that caught fire at the right time and has really rode that momentum. While the Nationals relied on pitching, the Braves relied on hitting to get here. Their offense is absolutely prolific and unforgiving, and with Houston losing ace Lance McCullers the entirety of the series, a lot of what’s at stake rides on the shoulders of rookies Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy. Luis Garcia also had the outing of his life during Game 6 against Boston, and I don’t see him coming close to replicating that. Tyler Matzek has also emerged as a lockdown reliever during the postseason, and looks unhittable currently. If you’re not watching this series out of spite then you’re missing out.

Ryan: I really don’t know who to pick here. I’m going to try and convince myself who the winner will be by the end of this paragraph. The Astros are going to benefit from home-field advantage, but the Braves have proven they can win on the road. Both offenses are red hot coming into this matchup, and I am expecting some high scoring games. This series is going at least six games, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it goes the full seven. Both of these teams are fun to watch and have unbelievable atmospheres at their home ballparks. I think it goes back and forth the entire way, but the Astros get the last laugh and take home another World Series title – this time without the cheating scandal. Astros in seven.

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