The last time the Atlanta Braves made an appearance in the World Series was in 1999. Their last World Series championship was in 1995. The irony of them being in the Fall Classic this season is that the commissioner’s office took the All-Star game away from Atlanta, Georgia due to what they saw as ‘racist’ voter ID laws. Now they are here on the sports biggest stage. For the Houston Astros they are in their third World Series appearance in the last 5 seasons. They won their first World Series title in 2017, but that championship has an asterisk next to it due to the fact they were cheating for most of the season by stealing signs electronically. The irony around the 2021 World Series looms quite large this year. Let’s see if the play on the field will take away from what’s happening off of it.
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
There were moments where Boston could have and did blow leads in the ALDS against Tampa Bay. And yet, they came away victorious in 4 games against their division rival. Largely due to the play of Rafael Devers and Kike Hernandez. Both hit 2 home runs and drove in 6 runs in the series. J.D. Martinez hit .467 in his 3 games he played and Christian Vazquez hit .375 and drove in 4 runs, including the walk-off game winner in Game 4. If Boston wants to continue this momentum the pitching staff has to be better. Chris Sale was not good in his lone start for Boston. Eduardo Rodriguez did bounce back in Game 4 after his Game 1 loss. Nathan Eovaldi had the best start of the Red Sox starting pitchers striking out 8 in his 5 innings pitched. The bullpen held firm and kept the lead or didn’t allow Tampa Bay to rally any further. This trend will need to continue for a potential 7-game grudge match.
Other than Game 3 of the ALDS against Chicago, Houston’s pitching was solid. Lance McCullers struck out 9 batters in his two starts for the series. Phil Maton, Ryan Pressly and Ryne Stanek each pitched in 3 games and combined to struck out 11 batters and walked only one. Kendall Graveman also pitched in 3 games, but looked shaky at times. But if Houston’s lineup continues to produce the way they have, the pitching staff won’t have as much pressure on them. Kyle Tucker led all Astros with 7 RBI while batting .294. Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman each batted over .360 for the series. The three of them combined to drive in 12 runs for the Astros. The patience of this lineup though is what cinched the series. Correa, Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez walked 14 times combined in the series. The dominance of this franchise is hard to overlook as this is their fifth consecutive appearance in the ALCS.
Astros in 6 games
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves
The defending champions passed the test of their division rivals the San Francisco Giants. Now they get to face Atlanta for the second consecutive year in the NLCS. It wasn’t easy getting past the Giants with most of their lineup struggling to make consistent contact. The absence of Max Muncy looks especially daunting. However, Mookie Betts led the way with a .450 batting average and had 4 hits in Game 5 of the NLDS. Cody Bellinger drove in 3 runs, including the game winner in Game 5. This could be a sign that his horrible regular season was an aberration. Will Smith drove in 3 runs with 2 home runs and a .333 batting average. If Justin Turner and Trea Turner return to form in the NLCS look out. The pitching was outstanding and no surprise Max Scherzer was a key component. Although his lone start was a loss, he only gave up one run. He ended up saving Game 5 of the NLDS and finished his series with 12 strikeouts and only one walk in his two appearances. Brusdar Graterol allowed only 3 hits in his 4 appearances and Kenley Jansen struck out 5 in his 2 appearances in the series. Walker Buehler and Julio Urias were solid in the rotation as well. A lot will have to go wrong for them to lose.
For the Braves to overcome the talented pitching staff of the Milwaukee Brewers, they had to score runs at crucial times of a game. They did it quite a bit and Joc Pederson was a big part of that with his .429 2 HR 5 RBI stat line in his 4 games played. Freddie Freeman was his usual self batting .308 and hit a huge home run in Game 4. Eddie Rosario drove in 2 runs and batted .308 as well. Austin Riley batted .333 and played stellar defense at third. The Braves pitching staff needed to match Milwaukee’s and they did better than that. Charlie Morton struck out 14 batters in his two starts, one in which he was given the loss, but he only walked two in 9 1/3 innings pitched. Ian Anderson and Max Fried were fantastic in their starts combining for 15 strikeouts, 6 hits allowed and 0 walks in 11 innings pitched. Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek were stellar setting up Atlanta’s closer Will Smith who saved all three victories for the Braves. Everything was clicking and it will need to again in the NLCS.
Dodgers in 6 games
American League Division Series
1. Tampa Bay Rays vs. 4. Boston Red Sox
* – indicates new to team
+ – indicates injury
1. Oakland Athletics
With their pipeline of pitching on the way they will be hard to contend with in the dog days of summer.
2. Los Angeles Angels
Assuming Shohei Ohtani is back to his old self from his rookie season and Trout and Rendon are playing at an All-Star level, they should be in the Wild Card hunt.
3. Houston Astros
The loss of George Springer in free agency is going to hurt, but not having Justin Verlander in the rotation will be more damaging.
4. Seattle Mariners
They have some intriguing pieces in place for a possible run at a Wild Card spot.
5. Texas Rangers
The growing pains will continue, but their new ballpark looks nice.
Player to Watch: P/DH Shohei Ohtani – Los Angeles Angels
Best Acquisition: P Raisel Iglesias – Los Angeles Angels
New Kid on the Block: OF Jarred Kelenic – Seattle Mariners