ATLANTA -- One last time in 2021, Braves fans will pack the Battery, fill up Truist Park and root, root, root for the home team.
But this time is different. This time, a title 26 years in the making is in play.
Following their dramatic comeback victory in Saturday's Game 4, the Braves enter Game 5 against the Astros on Sunday night one win away from their second World Series championship since moving to Atlanta. They have tamed what is statistically the best offense in baseball, they have explored the length and limits of a pitching staff compromised by injury and they have taken a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series.
That’s a historically significant edge. Only 14 teams out of 90 that fell behind, 3-1, in a best-of-seven postseason series have come back to win. The Braves know the pain of being on the small side of that stat, having blown a 3-1 lead in last year’s National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. But they have no intention of letting this one get away.
Especially not at home, where Atlanta is 7-0 this postseason. If the Braves become the first team to go 8-0 at home in a postseason, they’ll be known for much more than that.
“This is our house,” Atlanta outfielder Eddie Rosario said. “We're coming [Sunday] with that energy and that focus. We know [the Astros] are a resilient group and they don't give up, but we have our heads high right now and we're going to be ready to play.”
As for the Astros, it needs not be said that a .206/.291/.298 team slash line in this Series isn’t cutting it. They need to summon their bats and their backbones. It’s worth noting that the last time Houston won three games in a row was only eight days ago.
“You lean on your past,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “These guys, we were down, 3-0, last year [in the ALCS against the Rays, before forcing a Game 7], and you lean on that and you lean on the other series that they've come back on. You really don't have any choice but that. You know, how small is your faith if you just crumble under every circumstance? You've got to have faith that you can do it, and it will get done.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 5 is scheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT and will be broadcast on FOX. It is also available to stream on MLB.TV with authentication.
What are the starting lineups?
Astros: With his team having scored two total runs over losses in Games 3 and 4, Baker hinted he might make some lineup changes for Game 5. Baker was specifically asked about third baseman Alex Bregman, who is 1-for-14 in the World Series.
“Yeah, I thought about it,” Baker said. “I'll let you know [Sunday] when I make the lineup out.”
Lineup changes were indeed in store, as Bregman was moved from his customary three-hole to seventh.
Braves: With the Astros starting a left-hander, Jorge Soler replaced Joc Pederson in right field after Pederson got the start in Saturday's Game 4.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Valdez bounced back against Boston to turn the ALCS in Houston’s favor, tossing eight innings of one-run ball in Game 5 after giving up three runs, six hits and three walks over 2 2/3 innings in Game 1. He did it last month against the Angels, tossing seven scoreless innings in Anaheim 10 days after giving up five runs in as many innings in Houston. He did it in last year’s ALCS against the Rays, winning Game 6 with a nine-strikeout gem after losing a pitchers’ duel to open the series.
Braves: Early Sunday, Atlanta announced that the left-handed Davidson would start Game 5. This will mark the first postseason experience for Davidson, who worked to a 3.60 ERA in four starts (20 innings) this season, highlighted by six scoreless innings against the Phillies on June 9.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: The only reliever to throw more than 17 pitches in Game 4 was Ryan Pressly, who tossed 33. He didn’t pitch in Friday's Game 3, and there’s an off-day on Monday, so he’s probably available for Game 5. Long reliever Jake Odorizzi hasn’t thrown since Game 1, so he’ll be ready. It’s an elimination game, so the Astros won’t hold anyone back.
Braves: Kyle Wright will be the only unavailable pitcher on Sunday. Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith have pitched each of the past two days. But with a potential off-day on Monday, the Braves will do whatever it takes to try to end the Series on Sunday.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: Probably not. It’s a must-win game, and it will be all hands on deck.
Braves: Only Wright.
Any injuries of note?
Astros: Backup catcher Jason Castro was placed on the COVID-19 injured list prior to Game 4 and was replaced by Garrett Stubbs.
Braves: Right-hander Charlie Morton fractured his right fibula during Tuesday’s Game 1 and will miss the remainder of the Fall Classic. So, too, will righty Huascar Ynoa, who was removed from the NLCS roster with right shoulder inflammation.
Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: The only hot hitter is Tucker, who had two hits in Game 4 and is 5-for-15 in the World Series. Brantley (6-for-17) has also swung the bat well, but pretty much every other regular player has been in a Fall Classic funk. Altuve is 4-for-18, though he had two hits (including a homer) in Game 4. Correa (2-for-14), Alvarez (1-for-11), Gurriel (3-for-15) and Bregman (1-for-14) are a combined 7-for-54.
Braves: d’Arnaud is 5-for-16 with two homers through the first four games of the World Series. Rosario has hit .426 with a 1.160 OPS this postseason. Freeman has a .947 OPS through 14 postseason games.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Rosario’s 23 postseason hits are tied with Marquis Grissom (1996) for the second most in a single postseason in Braves history. ... Smith has six career postseason saves, the second most in Braves history behind Mark Wohlers (nine). ... Altuve’s 23 career postseason homers are the second most in MLB history, behind only Manny Ramirez (29). His 38 career postseason extra-base hits are tied for fifth with Albert Pujols. ... Tucker has seven extra-base hits, five stolen bases and 15 RBIs in 14 games this postseason. He’s the second player in MLB history to reach those totals in 14 games in a single postseason. ... Teams scoring first are 27-8 in this year's postseason, but one of those eight losses was the Astros' defeat in Saturday's Game 4.