The 2021 Atlanta Braves: A Celebrated Anomaly

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The 2021 Atlanta Braves could be described in one simple word: anomaly. Defined by Merriam-Webster, an anomaly is simply “something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified.” However, the personal preference of this writer when speaking of the 2021 Atlanta Braves is the second definition: “deviation from the common rule.” This is simply the truth. This past season, the Braves deviated from the common rule of the media at large. Simply put, the consensus of doom had been laid on the team long before the season started.

Organizations like the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres were supposed to be at the top of the National League food chain. After all, the Dodgers had Mookie Betts and, as the season progressed, Max Scherzer. The Padres had Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The Mets had just invested the equivalent of a Hollywood budget in Francisco Lindor. The 2021 Atlanta Braves were supposed to be nobodies. Yet, here we are speaking about them as World Series Champions. This is a team that began this season on a massive downswing, yet found the determination and will to emerge victorious. Now we examine how they got there.

The 2021 Atlanta Braves: Emotion & a Bad Start

The season opened with a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of heavy emotion. The passing of Braves greats Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro in the offseason took its’ toll. A controversial voting law and an even more controversial league decision took the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Young hurler Mike Soroka continued to struggle in his return to the field from an achilles injury. The team faced massive obstacles and were looking to overcome them. Unfortunately, the season began on a sour note, as the team lost their Opening Day contest to the Philadelphia Phillies. What made it worse was that it was on a walk-off as the bullpen self-destructed.

April: A Rough First Month

This was the first of four straight losses to open the season. A 12–14 month of April had the Braves sitting in fourth place in the NL East. However, the division was tight, and they were only a game out of first place. They hit .235 as a team during April and proved their power early on, hitting 38 homers. This tied them with the Cincinnati Reds for the most home runs in all of Major League Baseball. They also placed seventh in the league in runs scored with 122. Teams like the Mets and Phillies, ahead in the division, had fewer than 100 runs scored. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the 2021 Atlanta Braves would be driven by power.

May: Slight Improvements

In May, the Braves had a much better month, going 13–12. Their team average remained about the same, yet they cracked 43 home runs. This was second only to the San Francisco Giants in all of baseball. Unfortunately, their penchant for relying only on power would come back to bite them. They ranked 13th in the league in team WAR for the month and 20th in team on-base percentage (.308). Striking out 26.8% of the time gave them the fourth highest percentage in the majors. The pitching struggled as well, especially in the bullpen. According to FanGraphs, the Braves’ relief corps posted a -0.68 WPA for the month. All of this was followed up by another player loss, as outfielder Marcell Ozuna was arrested for domestic violence.

June: The Ship Sinks Once More

Treading water in the NL East, the Braves looked to June to give them a spark. Unfortunately, it offered them yet another period of mediocrity. A 13–15 record put them 38–41 overall, five games behind the Mets. They managed to raise the team average by a few points, and seemed to try and diversify their offensive approach. Holding the fifth highest walk percentage for the month indicated their new direction. That said, the team’s weak link remained in the bullpen. They had the fourth worst relief corps in the game, judging by WPA (-1.35). A lot of this can be attributed to the simple fact that they got hit really hard. In fact, they had the ninth highest hard hit percentage in the game for June (34.6%). However, this was only the beginning. The biggest obstacle was yet to come.

July: How To Lose a Superstar and Solve the Problem

The beginning of July saw the Braves lose Ronald Acuna Jr. to a season ending ACL tear. To call the loss devastating would be putting it lightly. The team forged ahead, attempting to fill the hole in the outfield with guys like Abraham Almonte. However, times continued to be rough. The Braves hung around .500 for most of the month, but were unable to eclipse it. They finished the period 52–54 overall, five games out of the division lead. Then, General Manager Alex Anthopolous made some trades. Outfielders Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Eddie Rosario were brought in. The bullpen’s woes were addressed via the acquisition of Richard Rodriguez. Things were beginning to change rapidly, and it showed.

The Final Stretch For The 2021 Atlanta Braves

One of the hallmarks of the 2021 Atlanta Braves was their insistence on resilience. This was a team that never quit, no matter what. It showed during their final two full months, as they went 34–18 over their final 52 games. This was especially true in August as the team went 18–8, finally getting to .500 overall in their 110th game of the season. The offense turned things around, posting the fourth highest walk percentage in the league for the month. They did this while continuing to hit home runs with alarming frequency. Their home run to fly ball percentage (16.3%) was fourth highest in all of baseball as well. They embraced their power and found ways to win while remaining patient at the plate.

The bullpen experienced a massive turnaround as well. Adding Rodriguez breathed new life into the corps, and they were able to find their own identity, even after he faded towards the end. They went from posting negative WPA’s to having the fourth highest mark from August 1st through October 3rd. They didn’t walk many batters and struck out over 24% of those they faced. However, their biggest issue remained in their hard hit percentage. It was the fourth highest in baseball during this period, which caused a lot of concern. A team that had come out of nowhere to win the NL East had a bullpen that was rickety, to say the least. Heading into the postseason, this was definitely the biggest wild card for the team.

The 2021 Atlanta Braves: Wrapping Up a World Title

Fortunately, they came through, along with a surging offense. The postseason was simply an extension of this hot streak. The heroics of players like Tyler Matzek, Rosario, and Soler stand out in the season’s lore. The entirety of the infield was amazing, all posting WAR numbers above 3.0. Austin Riley, in particular, experienced a breakout campaign, leading the Braves in average (.303) and homers (33). If not for the outstanding play of these team MVP’s, the 2021 Atlanta Braves would not have won the Commissioner’s Trophy. Truly, it was a tale of unexpected heroism. In this particular season, no other method would have been as sentimental or as appropriate.

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Players Mentioned:

Mookie Betts, Max ScherzerFernando Tatis Jr.Manny MachadoFrancisco Lindor, Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Mike Soroka, Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr.Abraham AlmonteJorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Joc PedersonEddie RosarioRichard Rodriguez, Tyler Matzek, Austin Riley