The Atlanta Braves are the 2021 World Series champions, defeating the Houston Astros in six games. As someone who has followed this team essentially since the day he could walk, this writer has waited so long to call them champions. This article is intensely personal, as the tears of joy flow in immense fountains. Fans of this team have been inundated for life with the idea of a curse or a hex. Many an article and social media post reminded us of this after Game Five, or even Game Three of the NLCS. Now, as more articles and posts will say, the curse is broken. The city of Atlanta finally has something to celebrate. However, what defines this victory even more are the legions of fans outside of the city who are raucous right now. This writer just so happens to be one of them. Braves Country is alive, well, and, after this season, finally a champion.
There were a lot of moving parts to this machinery. From brilliant front office moves by General Manager Alex Anthopolous to the daily efforts of the players themselves. Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, the list goes on and on of terrific performances. Newcomers Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, and Adam Duvall carried the team through an intensely dark time. These are players who, on paper, should not form a World Series winner…and yet, here we are. Written off, down for the count, and beaten beyond recognition, these Atlanta Braves fought back time and time again. If anyone deserves this title after the season they’ve had, it’s this team. It’s simple sports movie logic: you fall down thrice, you get up four times. They push, you push back harder. They fight…you battle.
Bad Projections and Soroka’s Injury
Going into this season, the Atlanta Braves were seen as being nothing. PECOTA projections had the team with a five percent chance at winning the division. A rather quiet offseason from the front office had given rise to these ideas. The only notable acquisitions that they made were getting starters Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. Both were coming off of good seasons in 2020. That said, most of the Braves’ collective hope was in the return of hurler Mike Soroka. Pairing him with Max Fried and Ian Anderson would have given the Braves one of the best young rotations in the game. He had torn his achilles during a game last season and was slated to come back. Unfortunately, in one of the many hard luck events of the season, he retore it while walking into Truist Park. So, the team was in a dire situation on the mound.
A Superstar Derailed
However, this was not even the biggest injury to befall the Braves this season. Slugging outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. went down with a torn ACL right after the All-Star break. It was unfortunate, because he had been on track to finish an incredible season. When he was hurt, he was slashing .283/.394/.596 with an OPS of .990 and a WAR of 3.6. He had an OPS+ of 155 with 24 homers, 52 RBI, and 19 doubles in 82 games. He’d also swiped 17 bags and scored 72 runs, all while hitting out of the leadoff spot. In short, things were going really well for the young superstar. Unfortunately, the mythical baseball gods would have other plans. His injury left a massive hole in the outfield. In fact, it was probably the biggest offensive hole this team could have outside of Freddie Freeman himself.
Deadline Acquisitions Coming Through
However, this team never gave in, moving at the trade deadline to pick up new pieces. These, as it turned out, would become invaluable to the squad’s postseason success. Joc Pederson, acquired from the Chicago Cubs, had a couple of key home runs during the NLDS and NLCS. Adam Duvall, acquired from the Miami Marlins, had a number of good hits during the NLDS. Eddie Rosario, acquired from the Cleveland Indians, put forth his best career postseason performance during the NLCS. Racking up MVP honors, he crushed baseballs to the tune of a .560 average. His three-run home run in Game Six, essentially, sent the team to the World Series. Finally, Jorge Soler, acquired from the Kansas City Royals, took home World Series MVP honors after hitting three home runs during the set. His contributions added a staggering 23.1% chance to the team winning the title.
Atlanta Braves Postseason Relievers Dominate
Let’s not forget about the terrific postseason relief pitching. A bullpen that, statistically, was middling this season came through in spades. The leader in all of this was definitely Tyler Matzek. His combined postseason ERA was 1.78, but his true propensity for getting out of jams came during Game Six of the NLCS. Normally reliable reliever Luke Jackson, who struggled in the postseason, had left runners on second and third with nobody out. Having already given up a run in a tight contest, Jackson was pulled and Matzek put in. He promptly struck out the side, including Albert Pujols and Mookie Betts. All season long, Matzek has answered the call, but none of his moments were bigger than this.
He was joined by Will Smith, a closer who had a lot of people on edge throughout the season. This was not unwarranted, as he had blown six saves and had a propensity for walking batters (9.9% BB rate, 3.7 BB/9). That said, he showed his true colors throughout the postseason, going six for six in save opportunities. He did not record an ERA and added over 18% to the team’s chances of winning a title. His walk rate improved somewhat, as he only issued three free passes in 11 innings. He did not allow a home run, nor did any cleat touch home plate while he was on the mound. Between he and Matzek, the bullpen had a firm foundation, and others were able to ride off of that momentum.
The Atlanta Braves: Sports Movie Logic in Real Life
Once again, it’s sports movie 101. A team that nobody feels will do anything rises to the occasion to defeat all the things stacked against them. From losing Acuna Jr. and Soroka to having the All-Star Game taken away, the Atlanta Braves have run the gambit of bad luck this season. However, with each new blockade, this squad fought harder and faster than ever before. Braves broadcaster Chip Caray said it best when this team clinched the NL East: “Against all odds…against all covers!” He would repeat those words on the regional postgame show after Game Six of the World Series. Simply put, Braves Country should enjoy this victory, for the battle is complete.
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Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Ronald Acuna Jr., Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, Albert Pujols, Mookie Betts, Will Smith