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World Series Preview

The Championship Series in both the American League (AL) and National League (NL) was full of surprises. Last year’s World Series champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, fell to the Atlanta Braves in six games. The underdog Boston Red Sox put up a good fight but could not find successful pitching against the Houston Astros and this led to their downfall after six games. Ultimately this leaves the Astros and the Braves for the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) World Series: two teams that were projected to be solid teams throughout the season, but not World Series favorites. 

Firstly, a recap of the AL Championship Series. The Red Sox’s weaknesses finally caught up to them. In the Wild Card game and the Division Series, the Red Sox had gotten wins because their offense had truly carried the load. Their offense did not have many games where they completely got shut down. This was important considering their pitching was not great. However, in the Championship Series, their pitching weakness came back to hurt them. In game one, the game was close. Their pitching had kept them mostly in the game, but the four runs they scored did not end up being enough, as the Astros broke through with home runs from second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa. After a close game one, the Red Sox did what they did best: they scored runs. According to MLB.com, the Red Sox outscored the Astros 21-8 within games two and three. Although they scored 25 runs in the first three games of the series, they ended up scoring only three in the final three games. They scored zero runs in the elimination game. This is where credit needs to be given to the Astros pitching. They did an incredible job neutralizing the Red Sox hitters. 

Before the start of the NL Championship Series, people were already talking about how the Dodgers were getting ready for back-to-back World Series titles. The Dodgers were very much favored going into the series. This Dodgers starting lineup had seven All-Stars and two Most Valuable Player (MVP) award-winners. According to Baseball Reference, their pitching staff had at least six All-Stars. This was one of the greatest teams ever assembled. However, they were clearly shown to not be invincible in the first two games of the series. In game one and two, the Braves walked the Dodgers off in the ninth inning. For game three, the Dodgers barely came back as outfielder Cody Bellinger hit a clutch three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to keep the team in the series. The Dodgers then got blown out in game four, before blowing the Braves out in game five. At this point the Braves were up one game while needing only one win to take the series. Even though the Braves led for most of the series, the Dodgers continued to be favored to win. After incredibly clutch pitching from the Braves and a home run from outfielder Eddie Rosario, they knocked out the Dodgers to proceed to the World Series. 

This leaves the Braves and the Astros. The Braves’ starting lineup is missing one of the best players in the league. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL in the middle of the season and led many people to underestimate the Braves. The Braves proceeded to replace Acuna Jr. with outfielders Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler. All four of these  players have come in clutch so far in the postseason. Rosario was the NL Championship Series MVP. After being traded for almost nothing, MLB.com describes how Rosario proceeded to hit 0.560 and he had 14 hits in the NL Championship Series. He also had incredibly three very clutch home runs in the series. Rosario is possibly the second hottest player in all of baseball. Soler was out for most of the Championship Series due to COVID-19, but he still had two hits in the two games he played. Although Pederson did not have a good series overall, he did hit a big home run against his former team. In addition to these three players, the Braves have a very solid infield. Duvall just drives in runs. Third baseman Austin Riley has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball this year. Second baseman Ozzie Albies was third in the league in runs batted in (RBI) this season. First baseman Freddie Freeman was the NL MVP winner last year and this year he already sent the Milwaukee Brewers home with a go ahead home run against an unhittable pitcher. Their offense is great all around. Their pitching is good but not great. The starting rotation mostly consists of Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson. Fried was very good in the second half of the season but inconsistent so far in the postseason. Morton has been average during this postseason, but he has a large amount of experience in the World Series. Anderson has been one of the best postseason pitchers in recent years. Their bullpen has been good. Reliever Tyler Matzek has been in the spotlight with his incredible pitching performances against the Dodgers. Pitcher Luke Jackson has not been consistent so far in this postseason, but he was one of the best relievers in all of baseball during the regular season. Finally, closer Will Smith has surprised many by being elite so far this postseason. According to MLB.com, Smith had six blown saves and a 3.44 earned run average (ERA) in the regular season. He was far from elite during the regular season. However, in the postseason so far, Smith has pitched seven innings and allowed only three hits and no runs. Additionally, he has converted on all three of his save opportunities. 

The Astros also have a very well-rounded team. Almost everyone on the team can hit. Designated hitter Yordan Alvarez is the hottest hitter in all of baseball. According to MLB.com, Alvarez hit .522 in the AL Championship Series and had four hits in the final game against the Red Sox. In that important game, he had two doubles, a triple and a single. This led him to win the AL Championship Series MVP. First baseman Yuli Gurriel had ten hits and a batting average of .455 in the series against the Red Sox. Outfielder Michael Brantley had an average series, but he still hit over .300 in the regular season. Third basemen Alex Bregman, Altuve and Correa did not have incredible games against the Red Sox, but they have a very good postseason track record, even though it may be clouded with cheating. Finally, outfielder Kyle Tucker led the team in RBIs and home runs. Their offense is good, but their pitching may be even better. Although their starting pitching got roughed up in the series against the Red Sox, they were very good in the regular season. Pitcher Luis Garcia struggled in his first start against the Red Sox but was nearly unhittable in his second start. José Urquidy did not do well in his one appearance against the Red Sox but this season he has been above average. In game five, starting pitcher Framber Valdez allowed just three hits and one run through eight innings. He was nearly untouchable. Their starting pitching may be good, but their bullpen has been even better. According to MLB.com, relievers Ryne Stanek, Kendall Graveman, Christian Javier, Ryan Pressley and Phil Maton have all pitched in at least six innings and have allowed one run or less. This means that if the Astros have the lead going into the fifth inning, it is going to be tough for the Braves to come back because the back end of the Astros bullpen has been lights out so far this postseason. 

Which team gets the edge? Let’s go position by position to see. In the catcher position both teams have not had great hitters. Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud was unable to replicate his performances from previous years and catcher Martin Maldanado of the Astros has also been disappointing as a hitter. However, Maldanado is better defensively which gives the edge to the Astros. The first baseman edge goes to the Braves. While Gurriel may hit for a higher average than Freeman, Freeman is the better overall hitter. Freeman beats Gurriel in almost every hitting category and has clearly shown how clutch he is after hitting the home run off Brewer’s pitcher Josh Hader. Gurriel is a great first baseman, but Freeman has been one of the best first baseman in all of baseball for the last ten years, so the edge goes to the Braves. Second base is less obvious, as Albies and Altuve are both great players that have struggled as of late. This season Altuve was slightly better offensively, so the edge goes to the Astros, but only slightly. Shortstop is a star-studded position and on these two teams it is no different. Although Dansby Swanson of the Braves is a very solid player, Correa is a superstar in the making. Correa has an incredible postseason history and is a better overall hitter and fielder than Swanson. This gives the edge to the Astros. For third base, the competition is close. Bregman was a former MVP candidate, but Riley is an MVP candidate now. Riley is one of the better hitters remaining in the postseason, which gives the Braves the edge for third base. Left field is hard to compare. Rosario is better than Brantley, who has primarily been playing left field for the Astros, but Alvarez may be playing left field because there is no designated hitter for the NL. Alvarez is the best remaining hitter and even though Rosario is incredibly hot, Alvarez has been a top hitter since he has come into the league. This gives the edge to the Astros. Center field is a clear landslide for the Braves as Adam Duvall has been a far better hitter than Chas McCormick. Although Soler and Pederson have had their moments, Tucker has been a top outfielder in the league this year. This gives a big advantage to the Astros. Starting pitching is even for both teams. They both have pitchers who have been strong in the regular season but inconsistent in the postseason. So, there is no advantage to either team. In the battle of the bullpens, the Astros come out on top. Even though Smith and Matzek have held down the fort, the rest of the bullpen for Atlanta has not been nearly as consistent. The Astros, on the other hand, have had a bunch of very solid relievers. Overall, the final tally gives four position advantages to the Braves and five to the Astros. The slight difference in advantages by position indicates that this World Series is going to be a close one. Both teams exhibit well-rounded teams overall and they each have hot hitters. However, the series is likely going to be decided on the consistency of the starting pitching. Consistent starting pitching can bypass any positional advantage a team may have. Without knowing how well the starting pitching will be, the Astros are favored in this year’s World Series. According to Vegas Insider, the Astros are currently the betting favorites to win the World Series. Although the Astros are the favorites, the Braves have not been favored at all in the postseason, whether it was against the Brewers or the Dodgers, yet they have continued to win. Can the Braves continue to defy the odds and win the World Series?

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