By all accounts, Atlanta shouldn’t be here. Before the season began, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projected Atlanta to finish fourth in the NL East, and an NL pennant later, it might be tempting to say the computers got it wrong. In actuality, Atlanta only beat their projections by six games, but that resulted in a division title because the rest of the NL East crumbled around them. The Mets Metsed themselves while the Nationals gave up and threw in Trea Turner as a freebie with Max Scherzer. If Atlanta played in the AL East, they would have finished fifth.
In a league with two 106+ win teams, an 88-win group got into the Fall Classic because someone forgot to lock the back door. Atlanta knocked off the Brewers and their vaunted pitching staff by virtue of Milwaukee’s inability to hit a baseball. They dethroned the reigning champs, who ran their trio of aces into the dirt striking down the Giants. Now, they’re facing off against baseball’s biggest heels in the Houston Astros, and there’s no reason they should let up now.
It’s not as if Atlanta is free from sin, but a World Series title for this squad would at least show that trying is good, actually. Atlanta got off to a wretched start, and the only reason their season didn't end in June is that Ronald Acuña Jr. played out of his mind. Acuña tore his ACL on July 23, and at that point, Atlanta was 47-50 and six games back of the division crown. It would have been easy for Alex Anthopoulos and company to throw up their hands and say it wasn’t their year, but they correctly identified that the division could be won with 80-something wins and they went for it. They reacquired Adam Duvall, picked up Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler. This was in addition to Joc Pederson whom Atlanta acquired before Acuña’s injury.
Without an aggressive deadline strategy, Atlanta would have missed the postseason. Since the deadline, they’ve looked much more convincing. Between August 1 and the end of the regular season, Atlanta’s non-pitchers compiled a .335 wOBA, and the pitching staff was sixth-best in baseball by FIP at 3.98. In October, the offense has proven itself against two of the best rotations in MLB. They should be more than capable of handling the McCuller-less Astros.
The real test will be if Atlanta’s pitching can contain the best offense in the majors. The Astros’ lineup is so deep that AL batting champion Yuli Gurriel is hitting seventh. His .319 batting average isn’t all empty calories either. Gurriel still slugged .462 and hit for a 134 wRC+. Gurriel is just one of four righties typically in the starting lineup that will go against Max Fried in Game 2, and even lefties Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez mashed southpaws.
If Atlanta’s starters can limit the damage, the offense shouldn’t have a problem picking up the slack. That’s a pretty big ‘if,’ but with the NL Pennant wrapped up, the hard part is over. There’s just one obstacle left, and it’s still going to be difficult but not insurmountable.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.