The Atlanta Braves have finished the fight, defeating the Houston Astros in just six games in the World Series. Atlanta’s first championship since 1995 was unexpected, rocky and especially impressive.
Frankly, the team should not have had a shot.: the team had a losing record for a sizable amount of the 161 game season, and lost arguably the best player in the world, Ronald Acuna Jr., to a torn ACL in early July.
This team was not supposed to be here, not even close.
The 88-win Braves squeaked into the playoffs via the consensus worst division in baseball, not even eclipsing 90 wins in a division where all but 2 teams had a below .500 record. This was barely good enough for a dismal 75.8 win average amongst the 5 squads. After becoming National League (NL) East champions, the Braves met with the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL Division Series (NLDS), with a juggernaut of a pitching staff. The NL Central champions were supposed to defeat the Braves in three or four games relatively easily.
Backed by their own stellar (and criminally underrated) pitching, the team from the A shut out the Brew Crew after being blanked themselves in game 1. A game 4 tie-breaking home run by face-of-the-franchise and MLB (Major League Baseball) poster-boy superstar Freddie Freeman set up the save for rejuvenated closer Will Smith. Smith shut the door on the Brewers and their 95 win season, sending the Braves to face the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-7 series for a trip to the World Series.
Surely the 106 win buy-a-ring team with the deepest pockets in Major League Baseball (MLB) history would easily handle a team with a payroll of $110,000,000 less than their own.
The Dodgers fell to the Braves in six admittedly hard fought games that saw the titan’s season end in Atlanta. Themes from years prior series against the Brewers remained. The Braves pitching simply outlasted the Dodgers with 2 late game collapses by the Los Angeles bullpen aiding the Braves’ quest to the World Series. It was on to the fall classic for October’s least likely survivor.
Before recapping the World Series though, an offensive comparison of the two participants is much needed in order to provide better context.
Facing off against Atlanta would be MLB’s villain, the 95 game winner Houston Astros. While matched relatively evenly in terms of pitching, (Atlanta had a 4.12 Fielding Independent Pitching to Houston’s 4.08) Houston utterly blew Atlanta out of the water when it came to offense. Houston’s 116 Weighted Runs Created Plus (WRC+) easily paced MLB while Atlanta had a below average 98 WRC+, not even top ten in baseball. Atlanta was not even particularly hot at the time either. Most of their playoff wins had come as a result of great pitching as opposed to offensive explosion (shoutout to the National League). This mostly continued as Atlanta went on to have an average of 4.5 runs per win in the World Series, showcasing their great arm talent throughout the six game trek. The Astros were held to 5 runs or less in every game withholding game 2, a rout of the Braves in Houston.
After a 7-0 win in enemy territory, Atlanta finished one of the more unlikely title runs in the past decade of American sports, beating three series favorites, losing an MVP candidate and being out of the playoff picture for a significant part of the season.
Somehow, manager Brian Snitker (who is old school and does not do anal) righted the ship and steered his team to the playoffs and eventually a World Series championship.
Snitker’s own intuition pushed the World Series winners over the hump, however, the trade deadline prowess by Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos may have been the deciding factor in the team having any shot at the playoffs at all. After losing Acuna to injury and fellow outfielder Marcell Ozuna to domestic violence charges, Anthopoulos was handed an ultimatum: rebuild and start over or risk losing his job buying players for a playoff push.
Anthopoulos chose the latter, laying it all down on the line and restrengthening his once star-laden outfield.
He would go on to trade for Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall, all hard-hitting outfielders known for their bats. These three combined with mainstay franchise pieces Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies would power the Braves offense and give them just enough to supplement their historically good pitching.
Snitker’s old-school mentality paired with the wizardry of Anthopoulos and timely hitting of the Braves will be what is remembered from this championship group, however, it was a historical pitching performance from the entire staff that propelled Atlanta to its first World Series of the millennium.
Overall, it was quite the run from an extremely unlikely contender. Congratulations and