Eddie Rosario got a curtain call at Truist Park Saturday night. It could have been any number of Braves players. Manager Brian Snitker and general manager Alex Anthopoulos can take a bow, too. Don’t forget the scouts, past and present, who identified the prospects who became good major leaguers.

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Braves' win

Rosario was MVP of the National League Championship Series. But beating the Dodgers was an organization-wide effort. It took everything the Braves had to win the pennant. They clinched it with a 4-2 victory Saturday. A year after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Braves gained the same advantage and finally finished them off.

The Braves are going to the World Series for the first time since 1999. That team included five future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The group had won the World Series in 1995 and lost in ‘96. Some of them were around when the Braves lost the World Series in ‘91 and ‘92. The Braves of that era were supposed to make deep postseason runs.

The 2021 Braves are different. They started the season as one of many teams chasing the Dodgers. It took some doing just to win the NL East. Thee recent postseason ledger for the Braves included eliminations in three straight years, including the 2020 NLCS vs. the Dodgers. The Braves were heavy underdogs for the rematch.

Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman has a chance to make the Hall of Fame one day. The rest of the roster includes some good veteran players not on his level, or talented youngsters who still have to prove their staying power. That’s the group that took down the mighty Dodgers.

Rosario’s three-run homer in the fourth inning off Walker Buehler put the Braves ahead for good. The Braves won the best-of-seven series in six games. They made it to the World Series with star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. sidelined since July because of a knee injury.

“To lose the best player in the National League, in my opinion, and we are up here going to the World Series without Ronald Acuna, it’s amazing,” Freeman said.

Freeman deserves this. He’s the Braves player who spans eras. Freeman broke into the majors as Chipper Jones was on his way out. He soon became one of MLB’s best hitters, but the Braves were losing. Freeman was still with them when the winning started again and, last season, was voted NL MVP.

Caption
Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Now Freeman is going to the World Series.

“You never self-doubt,” he said. “It’s truly hard to get here, obviously. Well, some of these young guys may not think so. It’s been a crazy journey of ups and downs.”

Freeman is in the final year of his contact. His price keeps going up. The Braves must pay it. They can’t let their long-time star walk away from a contending team with a young core. The Braves need Freeman to win more pennants.

The Braves built a good lineup around him. It looks a lot different than before the trade deadline. Anthopoulos saved the season by acquiring four outfielders to fill the holes left by Acuna and Marcell Ozuna.

Skeptics wondered whether the Braves had done enough to build a contender. Anthopoulos said the team just needed to get to the postseason, where anything can happen. The Braves got there. What happened is they won the pennant and are going to the World Series.

Freeman was good in the NLCS: 6-for-21 (.287), two homers, six walks four RBIs. Rosario was even better: 14-for-25 (.560), three home runs, nine RBIs. Rosario has been with the Braves for barely three months. He’ll be remembered here for a long time.

Cleveland traded Rosario in what was essentially a salary dump. He’s a big reason why the Braves are headed to the World Series. That kind of superlative performance by non-stars is important in the postseason.

Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall, two other outfielders the Braves acquired in trades, also did their parts. Old pros Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly pitched quality innings. Journeyman reliever Jesse Chavez came through when the Braves desperately needed it.

Those players haven’t been with the Braves long. They fit seamlessly on a team where Freeman is the lynchpin. The nucleus of young players that’s been getting playoff seasoning blossomed.

Austin Riley emerged into a star. Lefty Max Fried was a minor leaguer when he arrived in a trade from the Padres in 2014. Now he’s an ace. Second baseman Ozzie Albies did good work with his bat and glove in the NLCS. Also remember: Acuna was a big reason the Braves stayed afloat before his season-ending knee injury on July 10.

Manager Brian Snitker, a lifer in the Braves’ organization, guided this group from playoff neophytes to NL champs. He would have been fired after the 2017 season if former GM John Coppolella hadn’t been ensnared in an MLB investigation. Snitker went on to lead the Braves to four straight NL East titles and, now, a World Series.

Snitker on the scene after the final out of Game 6: “I just kind of sat in my chair and those guys kind of swarmed me. Honestly, I was just hoping I could hold it together (emotionally). A lot comes at you after all the years and what you’ve gone through.”

Retaining Snitker among the first moves for Anthopoulos. Later, he resisted the temptation to acquire star players by trading away top prospects like Riley from the strong farm system he inherited. Anthopoulos instead made smart, smaller scale moves within the financial constraints imposed by team owner Liberty Media.

The Dodgers have the best of both worlds: big-spending owners and a smart front office. They are a tough out. The Dodgers had won seven straight elimination games, including three against the Braves in last year’s NLCS and Game 5 on Thursday. Last year’s championship was their first since 1988. The Dodgers lost five times in the NLCS during that drought and twice in the World Series (2017 and 2018).

This postseason the Dodgers adopted the mantra: “Repeat L.A.” It’s a twist on the “Beat L.A” chant they hear from opposing fans in many places they go. For the Dodgers, it’s more statement of expectation than expression of hope. One championship in 32 years is underachieving by the standards of their tradition and payroll.

The mighty Dodgers fell to an underdog again. Yes, some of their key players suffered injuries. Right-hander Clayton Kershaw, who’s on his way to Hall of Fame, didn’t play in this series. All-Star infielder Max Muncy also sat out. Right-hander Max Scherzer didn’t start Game 6 as planned because of a tired arm.

That’s tough injury luck for the Dodgers, but so it goes. Injuries and attrition are the risks of relying on older players, especially pitchers Kershaw and Scherzer. The Dodgers still had the deeper team. Buehler started Game 6 on short rest, but he’s an All-Star with a very good track record over four postseasons.

Braves 4, Dodgers 2 (box score)

Besides, the Braves also were thinned out. It wasn’t just Acuna and Ozuna.

Potential staff ace Mike Soroka never pitched for the Braves this year. Huascar Ynoa’s late scratch from Game 4 of the NLCS put their pitching in a bind. Jorge Soler was the best of the four outfielders acquired in trade during the regular season. He had just two at-bats in the NLCS because COVID-10 protocols sidelined him for four games.

The Dodgers had more depth on paper. On the field, the Braves got production from more guys. Ultimately, they were just better.

“I’m giving credit to the Braves because they outplayed us, that simple,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

It took everything the Braves had. Rosario, Riley, Freeman and Albies producing at the plate. Effective starts from Morton, Fried and Ian Anderson. Sharp outings for relievers Chavez, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Will Smith. Roster-building by Anthopoulos and clubhouse management by Snitker.

The Braves are going to the World Series because those professionals and so many of others did their part.

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks