And then there were two.
After weeks of wild-card games, division series, and pennant playoffs, the World Series is finally here.
Before it even begins Tuesday night, the best-of-seven showdown between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros will generate considerable fodder for historians. Here are a baker’s dozen:
1. Talent matters more than money. Neither team is at the top payroll tier, with the Astros ranked fifth at $187,648,656, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and the Braves all the way down the ladder at 14th ($131,400,310). Four teams with fatter payrolls left the dance early: the Los Angeles Dodgers (defeated by the Braves in the NLCS) and New York Yankees (lost American League wild-card game to the Boston Red Sox) bowed out of the playoffs, while the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies didn’t even get there.
2. Experience can be the best teacher. The Astros have won only one World Series – the scandal-tainted seven-game match of 2017 – but are entering their third in the last five years. Just six players remain from four years ago and both the manager and general manager are different. Atlanta fell one game shy of qualifying last year, when they lost a seven-game NLCS against Los Angeles, and hadn’t won a pennant since 1999 or a World Series since 1995. The team holds the record for most consecutive division crowns (14 from 1991-2005) but reached the final round only once. The Braves had fewer wins (88) than any playoff team but they’re hungry for more.
3. Shall we call them the Asterisks? Exposure of electronic sign-stealing by the Astros during the 2017 World Series resulted in one-year suspensions for A.J. Hinch, then Houston manager, and Alex Cora, then his bench coach, though both returned to managing in 2021. Carlos Beltran, in his last year as a player, was also implicated and lost his job with the Mets without managing a game. Fans reacted, booing the team, calling them cheaters, and even carrying such posters as one that read, “Bet you can’t steal this sign!”
4. Age is a matter of mind; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Houston manager Dusty Baker is 72, making him the second-oldest active manager, behind 77-year-old Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox, while Brian Snitker celebrated his 66th birthday during the playoffs. He’s the oldest pilot in the National League but, like Baker, is beloved by his players, some of whom see him as a grandfather.
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5. The Battle of the Snitkers begins. The manager of the Braves has already made one prediction that can’t be challenged: he said on MLB Network Radio Sunday that this year’s World Series trophy will belong to somebody named Snitker. Though he never played in the majors, Brian has been with the Atlanta organization since 1977, while son Troy has been hitting coach for Houston since 2019. Both Snitkers were minor-league catchers originally drafted by the Braves.
6. Little guys can come up big. Both second basemen in this series, Houston’s Jose Altuve and Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies, have big power despite their small stature. At 5'6" tall, the former is the shortest man in the majors, though Albies – generously listed at 5'8" – hardly towers over him. Both men are All-Stars who bring power, speed, and defense to the table. Altuve, with 21 post-season home runs on his glowing resume, is on a five-year, $151 million deal that runs through the 2024 campaign, while the switch-hitting Albies has a seven-year, $35 million contract that could take him through 2027. He had career peaks with 30 homers and 106 rbi in 2021.
7. Lefties can be lethal. In the sixth and final game of the NL Championship Series, three left-handed relievers wearing Atlanta uniforms retired all 15 batters they faced. A.J. Minter, who also excelled in last year’s NLCS against Los Angeles, retired six straight Dodgers after entering the game in the top of the fifth. Then Tyler Matzek struck out three men in the seventh after Luke Jackson allowed a walk, two hits, and a run, leaving runners on second and third with nobody out. Matzek followed with a perfect eighth, setting the stage for closer Will Smith, who worked in all four Atlanta victories. Smith got two strikeouts and a grounder to short to clinch the deal.
8. Timing is everything. It’s not easy to keep everyone healthy through the grind of a 162-game season, followed by playoff rounds that require 11 victories to determine a world champion. Just as the Dodgers lost Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Max Scherzer either before or during the NLCS, the Astros lost Lance McCullers, Jr., arguably their best starting pitcher, with a forearm strain during the playoffs and don’t know if he’ll pitch again this year. Also out is center fielder Jake Meyers, with a recurring shoulder problem. Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa, who could have been their Game 4 starter, also has a shoulder problem discovered during the playoffs.
9. Hank Aaron would have enjoyed this. The long-time Atlanta icon died in January just short of his 87th birthday but left a legacy that included records for runs batted in, total bases, and All-Star Game selections (25). He won a World Series ring in 1957, when the team was still based in Milwaukee, but missed in 1958, when the Braves blew a lead of three games to one in a return engagement with the Yankees, and in 1969, when the transplanted team was blown away in the first NL Championship Series by the “Miracle” New York Mets.
10. Deadline deals matter. After superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL trying to make a catch three days before the All-Star Game, Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos had a choice: cash in his chips or gamble he could deal for a fourth straight NL East title. He chose the latter, adding outfielders Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and former Brave Adam Duvall, plus catcher Stephen Vogt and relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez. The outfielders took to their new surroundings so well that the Braves finished the season with 239 home runs, second in the NL and just two less than the San Francisco Giants. Rosario remained hot right through the NLCS, becoming the first man ever to collect 14 hits in a six-game series. “We couldn’t figure him out,” lamented Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “We had no answer for him.” Nor could the Red Sox find a remedy for Yordan Alvarez, the Cuban star who added the ALCS MVP trophy to his 2019 Rookie of the Year award. Like Rosario, Alvarez was acquired by the Astros in an under-publicized trade five years ago.
11. Acuna’s presence helps. After playing the 2020 World Series on the neutral territory of Globe Life Park, the Braves were obviously inspired by the chanting, tomahawk-waving fans at Truist Park. But they were even more thrilled that the injured Acuna was in uniform, walking around, and encouraging them before, during, and after games. Chipper Jones, an extra hitting coach during the season, sat in the stands – and even lightened the mood when he dropped a foul pop-up that came his way.
12. The pros and cons of free agency will be felt in the 2021 Fall Classic. Houston made two shrewd signings in adding Cuban star Yuli Gurriel, a first baseman who won the American League batting crown at age 37 this year, and outfielder Mickey Brantley, whose two-year, $32 million deal expires after 2022. But all eyes are on Carlos Correa, who will headline the class of star shortstops who could hit the open market after this season. Houston pitchers Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Luis Garcia are all under team control through 2025 butu future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, recovering from Tommy John surgery, could depart. Atlanta already re-signed potential free agents Charlie Morton, at 37 the oldest man on the team, and batterymate Travis d’Arnaud but needs Face of the Franchise Freddie Freeman to agree on a new deal. The Braves also seek to keep at least two of their new outfielders, with NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario leading the pack.
13. The hot corner can be pretty hot. Alex Bregman spent chunks of the 2021 campaign on the injured list but returned in time to resume terrorizing opposing pitchers. A two-time All-Star who was MVP of the 2018 game in Washington, Bregman has been in the big leagues since 2016. Both he and his Atlanta counterpart, Austin Riley, are right-handed sluggers capable of changing any game with one swing of the bat. Riley led the Braves with a .303 average in 2021, hit a career-best 33 homers, and provided solid defense at third base. Prediction: Astros in seven. With four games set for Minute Maid Park, the home-field advantage will make a difference.
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschlossberg/2021/10/24/braves-astros-world-series-will-be-test-of-experience-versus-hunger/2037