The Braves are in the World Series for the first time since 1999. They’ll face the Astros beginning Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.
Here are five keys for the Braves to win their second championship since moving to Atlanta:
1. Do the Braves have a rotation advantage?
The Braves enter the series with a better rotation than the Astros, on paper. They need Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson at their best to slow the Astros’ potent bats. Houston has perhaps MLB’s best lineup, a well-balanced group loaded with power. But the Braves have a better staff on paper.
The Astros are down ace Lance McCullers, but their pitching held the Red Sox to a combined three runs over the final three games of the American League Championship Series. Lefty Framber Valdez will start Game 1 for Houston. Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy will likely follow. Outside veteran Zack Greinke, this Astros’ staff isn’t as seasoned as those in its past runs.
Morton, Fried and Anderson did enough to help the Braves defeat the Dodgers, but they need their starters to be better against the Astros.
2. The bullpen stays hot – and Luke Jackson rebounds
Hopefully Tyler Matzek enjoyed a couple days of rest because he won’t see much more rest until the World Series ends. The Braves will continue riding Matzek, their star southpaw who’s finally on the national radar after a superb series against the Dodgers, capped by his brilliant Game 6 outing.
Fellow lefty A.J. Minter, who logged a pair of two-inning scoreless appearances against Los Angeles, will likewise be vital. The concerns around closer Will Smith are mitigated with his postseason performance. In seven games, he’s allowed three hits, two walks and no runs while recording four saves.
Right-hander Luke Jackson is an important piece here. Jackson was instrumental in getting the Braves to this point, but he was shaky in his last three appearances against the Dodgers. Jackson gave the Dodgers life in Game 6, when he allowed three baserunners and saw his team’s advantage trimmed to two runs before Matzek put out the fire.
The Braves need Jackson to rebound in the World Series. They’re going to rely heavily on Matzek, Minter, Smith and Jackson again.
3. Match firepower
The Braves held the Dodgers to an 11-for-45 showing with runners in scoring position. The Astros’ offense is far more explosive than the Dodgers’ group was. Houston used a seven-run ninth to win Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. They then beat the Red Sox 5-1 in Game 6 to end the series.
While Boston’s pitching is inferior to the Braves, the Astros scored at least five runs in five of the six games. They scored nine runs twice. They’ve scored a whopping 45 runs with two outs during the postseason.
But the Braves can come close to that firepower. Rosario is the hottest hitter remaining in the postseason. Third baseman Austin Riley and first baseman Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ two best hitters who’ve helped them reach the Fall Classic, will need big series. Both played crucial roles in eliminating the Dodgers.
The Braves will need more moments like Joc Pederson’s pinch-hit homers, Ehire Adrianza’s pinch-hit double, even Jorge Soler’s hustle double in Game 6. They’re in the World Series because role players have stepped up and helped complement the stars.
A player to watch: slugger Adam Duvall, who went just 4-for-21 (.190) with one homer in the NLCS.
4. Contain Yordan Alvarez
Alvarez was the Astros’ version of Eddie Rosario. He had 12 hits in the American League Championship Series, hitting .522 over six games. He also had seven opposite-field hits. The ALCS MVP had four hits in the deciding Game 6, including three extra-base knocks.
Oddsmakers pegged Alvarez and teammate Jose Altuve as the favorites to win World Series MVP. There aren’t any easy outs in Houston’s lineup, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Braves approach it. But Alvarez is the most dangerous of the bunch right now.
5. Split in Houston
It’s not necessary that the Braves win one of the first two games in Houston, but it would significantly aid their case if they did. MLB’s format is 2-3-2, meaning if the Braves can split in Texas, they’d return home for three games and a chance to win the championship with three straight road wins. While that sounds like an unlikely proposition, the Braves are 5-0 at Truist Park in the postseason.
Only 14 times has a team overcome a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. The last team to do it in the World Series was the 1996 Yankees, who spoiled the Braves’ bid at back-to-back titles. Every series is different – the Nationals defeated the Astros in the 2019 World Series when the road team won every game – but the Braves taking one of the first two in Houston would go a long way.