World Series Preview

We haven’t been here in over 20 years. The Atlanta Braves are in the World Series. And they’ve somehow made it here without Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka, and Marcell Ozuna. How we made it here, we mostly know. But you might not know much about our opponent — the Houston Astros.

The Astros won 95 games to win the AL West. The AL West was quite good this year with the Mariners winning 90 games and the A’s winning 86. But this wasn’t a regular season performance on the level of the Dodgers and Giants, who dominated the regular season with 106 and 107 wins, respectively. So if you simply go by their regular season performances, the opponent the Braves just conquered is better than the one they are to face. But I doubt that makes any of us feel much better. The Astros are still the Astros who have been in the World Series now 3 out of the last 5 years.

But from here, I’m going to focus on the names you’ll see the most in this series if their previous two series have been any guide. Gone are Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole from the rotation. They have ridden starters Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers, and Luis Garcia most heavily in this postseason. They have made 8 out of the 10 starts so far this postseason. Zack Greinke and Jose Urquidy have both made one start, and neither were pretty. But Lance McCullers will miss the World Series due to a forearm injury, so the Astros are extremely depleted in the rotation. McCullers had been their only effective starter (only one run given up in two starts totaling 10.2 IP), and Garcia and Valdez have struggled. They’ve combined to give up 17 earned runs in 24.1 IP across 6 starts. With McCullers out, Greinke, Urquidy, or someone who hasn’t started in the postseason will grab the rubber. The Astros cannot match us at all in the starting rotation.

What has bailed them out has been a devastating relief core. Kendall Graveman, Phil Maton, Cristian Javier, Ryne Stanek, and Ryan Pressly have been just what they’ve needed. They have combined to only give up 4 runs in 34 innings. Bottom line: if you don’t get to the starters, there may not be a late-inning comeback. They simply have more buttons to press in the late innings.

On the offensive side, they’ve been doing a lot of the same as us: penciling in the same 8 or so guys into the lineup every day. And their lineup is decidedly deeper than ours: Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel is simply a deeper core than what the Atlanta crew can throw out there. Alvarez has been their Eddie Rosario, a man on fire. His .441/.535/.794 has been Rosarian in scope. Because of the injuries to Muncy and Turner, there were some holes in the LA lineup. With Dansby and d’Arnaud struggling, we have some holes in ours. I can’t say the same about Houston.

Not to be overly simplistic, but with how the Astros have performed this postseason, the answer is easy: get to the starters early, or this series could be short in their favor.

Do you think Atlanta has the horses to keep up with Houston?

60 thoughts on “World Series Preview”

  1. McCullers now out for the WS, which tilts the SP balance heavily in Atlanta’s favor I would say. They would get the bullpen edge based on depth probably (though they don’t have Matzek). Lineup has to favor Houston. 538 calls this a 50/50 series and I’m inclined to agree. Hopefully Atlanta can remind the rest of baseball that SP still matters and win in 6.

  2. Meant to add, thanks for the preview Rob. I think we should add Rosarian to the glossary for when a player gets scorching hot and carries his team for a series or two. Wonder if Alvarez will start the games in Atlanta with no DH?

  3. Agree with Dusty. As I mentioned on the last thread, I think this series turns on our starters – especially with McCullers out. I think Anderson, in particular, because the Astros haven’t seen his changeup before, is going to be very effective. He’s my under-the-radar choice for WS MVP.

  4. Great preview, Rob!

    Hard to understate how absolutely incredible Smith & Matzek have been out of the pen as well; Smith has a 0.71 WHIP (average walks + hits per inning), and Matzek’s is 0.77. For context, Fangraphs considers a 1.20 WHIP to be “above average,” and a 1.10 to be “great,” s0 mid-to-low 0.7’s is absolutely, unthinkably, ridiculously good. Smith is 4/4 in save opportunities, and is the only postseason reliever on ANY team with more than one save! Smith has yet to allow an earned run, and Matzek’s only allowed 2.

    As a whole, we’ve used 10 pitchers for 87.0 innings, with a combined ERA of 3.41 and a WHIP of 1.21. Astros have also used 10, through 88.0 innings, with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Very small sample size, but that high Astros ERA and mediocre WHIP look promising.

  5. From last thread, I really want them to replace Ynoa/ Lee with someone who can go 3-4 innings if needed. Where is Touki? Muller?

    No to a 3rd catcher. If someone gets hurt we can replace them next game. Swap out Camargo for Gore or Pache – probably Gore. We won’t need as many PHs in an AL park, and we have a 4th OF/ PH for the NL games. Use that last spot on someone like Gore who can do a specific thing that might be useful.

  6. I’ve been reading this website since 2000, lurking mostly and posting occasionally. I’m so happy to finally read a World Series preview. I wish Mac was here.

    Thanks to all who have stepped up to keep this site running. GO BRAVES!

  7. It’s very easy to overlook how good Will Smith has been this postseason so far, overshadowed by Matzek as he’s been. Like, what was his shakiest playoff outing? Game 2 of the NLDS, I guess? He let the first two guys on base with a 3-run lead and then proceeded to get all three outs in about five seconds. That’s not even in the top 10 Will Smith adventurous saves from this year.

  8. My local weatherman (mini-celebrity) James Spann just posted this about Brian Snitker. Maybe it’s been brought up before but I had no idea. Cool story!

    “WORLD SERIES: Most of you know I am a long time Boston Red Sox fan, so my team is out and I really don’t have a “dog in the hunt” for the series this year.

    But, I must admit I will be pulling for the Atlanta Braves because of Manager Brian Snitker.

    One of my favorite baseball books is “One Shot At Forever” by Chris Ballard. It is a chronicle of the 1971 Macon High School baseball team in Illinois. Macon was a very small school (about 250 attended there), yet their baseball team marched all the way through the Illinois High School Association one-class state tournament, losing a heartbreaker to mighty Waukegan (student population of around 5,000) in the championship game.

    This Macon High baseball team was one of the most famous Cinderella teams in Illinois prep history. The Ironmen were a collection of farm boys who wore Caterpillar tractor caps with their uniforms. Coached by Lynn Sweet, with long hair, a fu Manchu mustache and progressive approach to life.

    Some of the Macon players really never got over the loss. Snitker was the catcher on that Macon High School team in 1971, and now he gets another “shot at forever”. I hope he gets it this time.“

  9. Yeah, Smith has been great. No qualification needed.

    One of the biggest keys, for me, will be to get Dansby Swanson’s approach right. Albies and Duvall have been slumping lately, too, but Albies is Albies; he busted out with a huge double in Game 6. And Duvall is one of our many outfielders, so it’s easier to just play matchups with each of them. But Dansby has a LaRocheian tendency of completely disappearing at the plate sometimes, and his at-bats were simply not very competitive on Saturday. His defense has remained terrific, but getting him back to a solid approach at the plate would really lengthen our lineup.

    That’s great, ValD Brave — thanks!

  10. @5 my idea of a 3 rd catcher was so that Contreras could be a pinch hitter rather than Arcia, not for injury purposes. I would prefer Pache to Gore if Pache is eligible.

    @10 Very cool story.

    Snitker managing against his son’s team is funny. I bet the rest of the family feels squirmy.

  11. @7 Terrific article. I’m all-in on keeping batters in the box, with a reasonable amount of leeway for insect attacks and dust in the eyes. Pair that with similar rules for pitchers stepping off or throwing/faking to the bases and we’ll be golden, in the regular season and the post.

    Second the notion of carrying a third catcher so Contreras can pinch hit.

  12. @12 and @13, I’d just keep two catchers and use Contreras to PH as needed. Always found the “what if the catcher gets hurt” stuff overblown.

  13. To quote Casey Stengel, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.” It will be up to our good pitching stopping the Astros. I’m afraid if we get into a slugfest with them we are in trouble.

  14. My brother lives by Truist and is an “A-List” member (early access to tix) and wasn’t able to grab a ticket for Game 3.

  15. This morning, I managed to get two tickets for game 4. I’ve attended many hundreds of Braves games since 1966, including at least 8 playoff games, but this is the first time I’ll ever attend a World Series game. I’ve lived in or close to Atlanta all my life, except that I lived in West Texas from 1989 to 2004. Just my luck, their only WS appearances in 55 years were all in an 8 year window while I was not nearby. Until now!

    BTW, I got these two as an A List member–they had a special sale beginning at 10:00 this morning. I tried to get four, but could not get four together. Currently when I try to get in the queue, they say that there are no tickets currently available but that I should keep checking back.

  16. Just tried to get tickets as part of today’s ticket sales and no dice. Every time I clicked purchase, it kept telling me they weren’t available or someone else had bought them.

  17. My bad, y’all. I wrote this yesterday afternoon. Last night, the McCullers news become official, so I thought I had saved the updated draft this morning where I updated the paragraph about their starting rotation. I’ve now done so if you care to re-read.

    Bottom line: their rotation really sucks now. Greinke is not Greinke, and Garcia and Valdez don’t scare anyone. I don’t know if there is a more disproportionate pair of units amongst two playoff teams this year than Houston’s rotation vs. Atlanta’s rotation. And yes, they have more good relievers, but we can ride our good relievers just as hard as they can.

  18. Thanks, Rob. You make a great point that getting to their starters is the key to the Series. Fortunately, as you point out, that rotation without McCullers is pretty weak. That’s a pretty clear advantage for the Braves.

    On the other hand, their lineup is the strongest and deepest in baseball. Our infield is the best in the National League, and one of the strongest in memory, but theirs is even better. As much as I love Ozzie and Dansby, Altuve and Correa are stronger offensive players. Riley had a better year than Bregman, but Bregman’s no slouch and has lots of October experience. Of course I’d prefer Freddie to Gurriel, but the latter’s numbers weren’t that much below Freddie.

    It’s not that the Stros lineup is a huge advantage for them; I’d insist that the Braves by the end of the season had the strongest and deepest lineup in the NL. Overall, it’s a great matchup.

  19. Agreed, tfloyd. I think it will be a higher-scoring series than the last one. After doing my research, I think this series, though, is a lot closer than most would have you believe. The Braves match up well.

  20. Don’t underestimate Valdez, he’s a good pitcher. Luis Garcia is claiming that his knee is fine, and of course, he would claim that, but if it’s true, he’s a good pitcher too.

    That said, given our performance against the Brewers and Dodgers, I feel pretty good about our offense going up against a playoff-caliber rotation. The biggest question will just be how in the world we record the 27th out each night. Those hitters won’t make it easy on us.

  21. Excellent write-up, Rob. Thanks too because as stated, I’ve not paid too much attention to the Astros this year. It looks like we are pretty evenly matched, all things considered, and so we have a 50/50 shot. I don’t see a sweep for either team, especially with our starters. I really think this could go all 7 games due to that and look for the Braves to win out.

    Does anyone think we might go short rest for the starters to get Morton 3 starts in the series? I know that’s a bit old school, we just saw that bite the Dodgers in the ass and certainly Morton is 37 and not a young buck anymore. But he’s done game 7s in the past and prevailed. As our rotation stacks up now assuming a bullpen game in the middle, we’re looking at Anderson for a potential game 7.

  22. I’d personally prefer not to. From what we’ve seen of Morton at this age — to say nothing of what we just saw with Scherzer — I’d bet that we’d get more total quality innings from him in a fully-rested Game 5 than two short-leash short-rest starts in Games 4 and 7.

  23. Yes I think:

    Morton 1 and 5 (maybe an inning or 2 in game 7 if needed)
    Fried 2 and 6
    Anderson 3 and 7
    Muller Game 4 (I know it won’t happen).

  24. I agree with everybody except Chip, and I say that without even knowing what he thinks. This a pretty evenly matched series on paper. Even if it weren’t, performances vary so much in a 7 game series that only gross mismatches have any chance of showing themselves. The Astros have a deeper hitting lineup, although with a catcher who doesn’t hit at all. In games in Atlanta, they will lose some of that depth. The Braves have better starting pitching, but neither team has more than three starters. Houston’s starters have been sometimes brilliant and sometimes awful, so either result is possible. Both teams had extraordinary bullpens in their playoff runs — I think we all know how quickly that can change.

    As I sometimes have been known to say: We’re still at the craps table with a sizeable bankroll. Roll the dice, already.

  25. Astros in 6, possibly 7.

    Should be a great series but I don’t know if we can hold down their offense especially in the Minute Maid bandbox. This will be the best lineup the Braves have faced all season, IMO.

    Really need Morton to be good in game 1. We need to try and somehow-someway steal one in Houston.

  26. I’ll be done with quarantine on Saturday (assuming everyone in my fam test negative) and I want to go to the game, or at the least, watch it at The Battery. Anyone else heading up that day?

  27. The Astros lineup is awesome and on paper is better than ours. However, our line up doesn’t have to face their lineup.

    I like our pitching vs their lineup more than their pitching vs our lineup. I think our starters give us a big advantage.

  28. @26 – I’ll sign on for that (and I guess we’ll know if Muller makes the WS roster.)

    And did Chief just do the reverse jinx? If so, I’ll take it and celebrate a Braves win. ;)

  29. @29 Not 100% sure but I think my buddy and I will be heading down to watch game 4 at the Battery. Tried to get tickets today without any luck, and as much as I would love to go – I was 15 the last time we made the WS and have always said that I’d go the next time we made it – I just can’t justify $1000 for an upper level seat.

  30. Me and my brother have tickets to game 3 so we will be there for that. I’m 0-3 in Braves playoff games attended in person. One of those losses was in 1995 though.

  31. @29, 33, 34, my son and I are thinking about meeting at the Battery on Saturday, with him coming from Clemson & me from Columbus. We’ve never watched a game outside the stadium, though – what’s the experience like? We bought parking passes with our tickets for NLDS game 3, but I’m not sure where we could park this time or how to arrange it in advance. Ideally we’d park together, since I need to give him some things that we don’t want to carry around. Appreciate any comments/suggestions.

  32. The last playoff game I was at was when Acuna hit a grand slam off Buehler, the only game we won that series. Before that, the Brooks Conrad error/Eric Hinske home run game. I’m a mixed bag.

  33. I was at the game we lost to the Rockies in 95, a game we lost to the astros in 04 or 05 and game 6 last year’s nlcs.

  34. #38
    That was the last one I attended, as well. (Was at the Conrad/Hinske game & Bobby’s Last Stand, as well.)

    If I can remember correctly, I’m 8-14 in Braves post-season games, which includes 1-5 in the WS, 3-6 in the NLCS & 4-3 in the NLDS. Ouch.

    But things are different this year…

  35. I went to 1982 NLCS game 3-1/2 (with the first 1/2 being the rained-out game we were leading) against the Cardinals and this year’s NLDS game 3 against the Brewers. So 1-1, but on a winning streak.

  36. @43. I would imagine teams have broad leeway with who they give rings to. In my other life I’m an Eagles fan, and they gave a Super Bowl ring to a long-snapper that had been with the team for 12 years before being shipped off just before the season started. So, given what Soroka means to the organization, my guess is that he’d get a ring. Hopefully, the team can make this an actual discussion and not a hypothetical.

  37. I was there the last time the Braves played the Astros in the playoffs in Atlanta–the game in which baby faced rookie Brian McCann homered off Roger Clemens and the Braves won 7-1. That’s a good omen!

    I was also there for the Ronald grand slam off Buehler–one of the most exciting moments ever. And for the Hinske/Conrad game–that was a game of the highest high and the lowest low. And the infield fly wild card game–that was the worst. And the Bobby Cox finale–which even though it ended poorly was still a wonderful memory.

    But I’m counting on the World Series to top them all.

  38. Yes, I think teams can give rings to whomever they want. I believe the Dodgers gave one to Joc Pederson’s brother.

  39. @47 I thought there were strict rules as in they had to at least be on the roster at some point. I like your explanation bettter.

    @46 lets maybe not have Soroka wrestle with a bum leg. I would decide with thumb wrestling, if necessary.

  40. @28 I think you underestimate the advantage Anderson will have being an unknown quantity to the Astros. One reason he did so well last year is the Dodgers hadn’t seen him and didn’t know what to expect from the changeup. The Dodgers did better this year because they had a book. I think Anderson will be lights out in this series. That changeup will get more swings and misses from the Astros keeping Anderson’s pitch count down too.

  41. This is an interesting dilemma. My apologies if it’s already been discussed.

  42. @55 I mentioned it in a roundabout way. I said something about the Snitker family would be squirmy about who to pull for.

  43. Why not just have the leadoff guy chosen on the basis of the handedness of the starting pitcher? Does it need to be any more complicated than that, at least until it moves to Atlanta?

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