The Atlanta Braves seem to be on a date with destiny and redemption. I do not know about you but I know I have had plenty of laughs at the expense of Atlanta sports teams since Super Bowl 51. Whether it was 28-3, multiple blown double digit leads or the Braves losing after going up 3-1 on the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, Atlanta sports teams have had issues with closing series or games out when it mattered most. I believe all of that can be forgiven if they take down the vaunted Houston Astros in this year’s fall classic.
Their first order of business is to shut down Houston’s scorching hot lineup led by ALCS MVP Jordan Alverez. Alvarez led the Astros in home runs (33) and RBIs (104) in the regular season, so it was not surprising to watch him torch the Red Sox rotation in the last round. This comes one season after recovering from two knee surgeries and could do nothing but watch as his team fell one win short of their second straight world series trip. Going 12 for 23 with one homer, five extra-base hits, seven runs scored and six RBIs is a good way to erase that memory and leave Red Sox fans like me shaking my head. I could only watch helplessly as he lit up Chris Sale in game five twice in my first-ever playoff game at Fenway Park.
Oh and let’s not forget the Astros have Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, and Yuli Gurriel who have plenty of postseason magic in their outstanding bats. Trust me I saw first hand that each of those players picked late-inning moments to either tie the game, increase the lead or put ALCS on ice. There are no easy outs in Houston’s lineup.
Speaking of offense, do not sleep on Atlanta’s offense which was powered by NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario. There is no better feeling than launching a go-ahead home run to send your team to the World Series and especially when it comes against the likes of Walker Buehler. He was a nightmare for the Dodgers, finishing with a .560 batting average, 14 hits, nine RBIs and three home runs.
Braves fans would love nothing more than a repeat performance, especially when Houston’s staff focuses their attention on Freddie Freeman, Joc Pederson, and Austin Riley who have combined eight home runs and 20 RBIs this postseason. There will always be an unexpected hero that emerges this time of year. Who do you believe will be that player (offensively) for Atlanta? Leave your predictions in the comments section below.
One other important storyline to watch is each team’s bullpen usage. Houston is without the services of Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr in this series and Zack Greinke has only pitched in two games this postseason (2 ⅓ innings). According to ESPN, the Astros have used their bullpen to account for 57% of their postseason innings, while the Braves have relied on their pen for 49% of their innings. I foolishly thought that the Red Sox would eliminate the Astros in five games, after witnessing Houston’s starters pitch just 6 ⅔ innings in the first four games. Unfortunately for me and the rest of Red Sox nation, Framber Valdez fired 8 innings of one-run ball in game five of ALCS at Fenway.
Atlanta’s top pitchers have been A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith. Those three have combined to throw 24 ⅔ innings this postseason, striking out 35 and allowing nine hits (no home runs). Expect manager Brian Snitker to turn to them in high leverage situations throughout the series.
Game one will be a showdown between Framber Valdez and former Astros’ postseason legend Charlie Morton. For those that might have forgotten, Morton won game seven of the 2017 world series, pitching the last four innings to earn the win and closing out the Astros first title in franchise history. He knows better than anyone how to shut down his former teammates and you do not need to look any further than last year’s ALCS for proof. There was no better way to clinch the Tampa Rays first world series trip since 2008 with 5 ⅔ innings of two-hit ball. Brian Snitker would love a repeat performance to give the Braves an early 1-0 lead in the series. Only time will tell if history is destined to repeat itself.
The World Series kicks off tomorrow at 8:09 p.m. EST on FOX from Minute Maid Park in Houston.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com