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2021 World Series: Previewing the Braves-Astros matchup

2021 World Series, Astros, Braves

The matchup for the 2021 World Series is set, and it has no shortage of compelling storylines for fans.

While most of the baseball world will no doubt be rooting against the Houston Astros due to their scandalous past, there are so many reasons to be rooting for the Atlanta Braves — you know, besides spite.

Atlanta once sat at 52-55 on Aug. 1, five games back in the division and staring up in the NL East standings at the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. But the Braves supercharged their team with a flurry of moves at the trade deadline, which has catapulted them to where they stand today, just four wins from their first World Series title since 1995.

This is, of course, even after losing All-Star outfielder — and possibly the best player in baseball — Ronald Acuna Jr. to a torn ACL in July, pitcher Mike Soroka to a re-injured Achilles, and Marcell Ozuna to his personal issues. The Braves certainly could have mailed in the rest of the season after losing these key players and looking close to out of it, but they were instead major buyers at the deadline, acquiring Joc Pederson from the Chicago Cubs, Eddie Rosario from the Cleveland Indians, Jorge Soler from the Kansas City Chiefs, and Adam Duvall from the Miami Marlins — and that’s not to mention catcher Stephen Vogt (who was injured in September) or reliever Richard Rodriguez.

Those moves completely transformed the team down the stretch. Rosario, who was almost an afterthought at the deadline, has been a star for the Braves this postseason. He hit a huge three-run home run in Game 6 against the Dodgers, winning the NLCS MVP Award in the process thanks to a .560 average, three home runs, and nine runs batted in in 28 plate appearances. Acquired from Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval in what was essentially a cost-saving move for the Indians, Rosario was still on the IL when he came to the Braves with an abdominal strain, so it wasn’t clear what his role would be with the team.

Well, the role is pretty clear now. The current makeup for the Braves with Rosario, Pederson, franchise stalwart Freddie Freeman, young phenom Austin Riley, and now Soler, who is back from the COVID list, makes for a pretty formidable lineup for the beleaguered Houston pitching staff.

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The Braves are also rolling into the World Series with a much more intact pitching staff than the Astros, thanks to a rotation of Charlie Morton (who is once again back in the World Series), Max Fried, and Ian Anderson. Houston will be without ace Lance McCullers Jr. for the World Series as well, and Zack Greinke remains unable to be anything other than a reliever or possible opener, which really leaves Game 1 starter Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, and Jake Odorizzi.

If the Braves have the edge in their pitching, the Astros are hoping to rely on what was the best offense in baseball this year. Atlanta has certainly been doing some damage in the postseason offensively, but Houston’s veteran-laden lineup should keep the Astros in every game.

Even with that depleted pitching staff, you won’t find many people surprised to find the Astros once again here. They’re playing in their third World Series in five years, and at this point, any previous opinions about the team or franchise should likely be put to rest and replaced with a respect — even if it’s begrudging — for what this group has been able to accomplish. Since 2017, there just hasn’t been a better or more consistent team in baseball, and we’re all just going to have to get used to it.

The Houston core will begin to break up a bit next season, as star shortstop Carlos Correa is certainly moving to another team in the offseason, as he will command a massive contract. It’s unclear what the Astros will do with 38-year-old Justin Verlander, who missed all of this season following Tommy John surgery, and 38-year-old Greinke, both of whom are free agents going into 2022. It’s likely Houston will begin a bit of a youth movement, not just in the rotation but a continued one in the lineup as well, highlighted by names like ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez (who hit .522 against the Red Sox) and Kyle Tucker, who is hitting .275 this postseason.

The 2021 World Series is about as evenly matched as a baseball fan could hope for, and it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see this go the full seven games. Atlanta showed a penchant for late-game heroics against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which they might need against such a juggernaut of the American League.

This should be a good one.

World Series prediction: Braves over Astros in seven games.