According to FanGraphs’ playoff odds, the Houston Astros have a 51.8 percent chance to win the 2021 World Series. By the odds, it’s a near-coinflip despite the Astros proven success. Houston has the same basic core of position players that has earned them five ALCS berths and three World Series appearances in five seasons.
A well-balanced offensive led Houston to their 95-win season, as the Astros 116 wRC+ led the majors. Atlanta’s wRC+ by contrast was a paltry 98, middle-of-the-road for all of MLB. Freddie Freeman is the best hitter on the Braves, but Eddie Rosario who has been nothing short of amazing this postseason (he’s posted a .474/.524/.789 slash line in the playoffs). Joc Pederson has emerged as a major catalyst for the offense as well, but the reality is that this Atlanta team is punching well-above-their-weight offensively. If anyone has any doubt as to the rapidity at which things can change, look no further than Enrique Hernandez, who was an ALCS God for three games...only to finish the series with a negative WPA.
Houston’s juggernaut offense was on full display in their three consecutive victories over Boston. Two nine-run outings and a 5-0 shutout. It’s no surprise that a team that had seven qualified hitters with a .799 OPS in the regular season ran roughshod over their AL playoff contemporaries.
The ALDS was hardly competitive, as Houston took three-of-four games handily against Chicago. Despite losing game three — a game where they put up six runs — Houston never looked like they were on-the-ropes in the series.
The ALDS was a highlight-reel of nearly every offensive player by Houston, with no one player doing it all himself. Houston scored 31 runs, but hit only four home runs. This team manufactures runs at a serious clip due to speed and competent, aggressive baserunning.
The ALCS was much the same. Despite strong performances by Yuli Gurriel (.455/.520./636) and two critical series-altering home runs by Jose Altuve, it was Yordan Alvarez who won the ALCS MVP. Alvarez isn’t one of the top three players on the ‘stros, yet he managed a 12-for-23 including five extra base hits; he also had two walks to-boot!
In watching the National League playoff series, pitching was everything, as teams did not post nearly as much firepower offense as the American League teams. In the ALCS, Houston’s pitching was up to the challenge despite the unexpected injury loss of ace Lance McCullers. While it wasn’t a marvelous 90s’-era Braves performance on the mound, it was enough to shutdown Boston when needed, and do enough to let the offense steal the show.
The emergence of Framber Valdez, and his 10 ⅔ innings of three earned run hurling over two games was exactly what Houston needed at exactly the right time. Valdez was overlooked coming into the series despite having a strong regular season. His 3.14 ERA was the best of any Houston starter this season.
Atlanta’s pitching is what brought them to the Promised Land. Their top three of perennial World Series starter Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson, but it was their reliable reliever corps of Tyler Matzek, Will Smith, and AJ Minter who came into the games in the highest leveraged situations and shutdown LA rallies to help Atlanta advance to the World Series. Is it likely all three of those relievers are top-of-their-game against another potent lineup that simply does not give away at bats? 24 ⅔ playoff innings out of those three relievers with an ERA under 2 hardly looks sustainable.
Relying on lefty pitchers in Fried, Matzek, and Minter worked splendidly against Milwaukee’s lineup, and served its purpose against the Dodgers, but the Astros eat lefty pitchers for lunch.
Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve perform exceptionally well against southpaws, and even lefty batters Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez fare surprisingly well in their lefty-on-lefty matchups. Tucker hit .286/.332/.578 with 13 of his 30 home runs coming against lefties. Alvarez posted a .283/.349/.532 slash line with 13 of his 33 homers coming off southpaws.
This hopefully will be a competitive series, as it may be the last baseball we get for quite a while. The Astros are the clear favorites, and if the Braves find themselves down by three or four runs early, things could get quite worse from there.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano