How we'd draft Braves-Astros into WS teams

October 26th, 2021

In the upcoming World Series, you’ll see approximately 50 players, evenly split between the navy-and-red of the Braves and the orange-and-navy of the Astros. Let’s throw those rosters into a blender.’s Will Leitch and Mike Petriello drafted their own 15-man rosters from the two clubs, following these parameters:

• 9 position players (including designated hitter)
• 1 bench player
• 3 starting pitchers
• 1 setup man
• 1 closer

Petriello went first, not because of any sense of fairness or coin flips, but simply because he replied to the email faster. On to the draft …

1. , SS, Astros
Petriello: Step one: Acquire the first pick. Step two: Pick the best player available. This might have been more difficult if Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. was healthy, but he’s not, so it’s pretty clearly Correa, because when you can get a shortstop who is a very good fielder and had a 131 OPS+ and also has nearly a .400 OBP in the postseason so far, well, why overthink it? I’m not playing eighth-dimensional chess here.

2. , 1B, Braves
Leitch: Proving once again how I know nothing about anything, when Freeman was the last man standing after the roster was dismantled last decade, I thought, man, he might not have been the guy I would have picked to stick with. Whoops! I used to think he was a glorified James Loney: Now I think he’s building himself a stealth Hall of Fame case. After the guy you picked first, he’s the one I’d want most up in a huge spot. He’s the rock of everything this team does, and if they win this series, he’s the guy I’d be happiest for. (Then they better re-sign him.)

3. , OF, Astros
Petriello: I’m picking the seventh-most-famous guy in the Houston lineup third in our draft, because that’s how good he’s been. Tucker’s 147 OPS+ was actually the best of any regular on the team, but here’s a thing I find far more enjoyable to point out: There were only three qualified position players to finish in the 80th percentile or above (i.e., being in the top 20% in baseball) of hard-hit rate and strikeout rate and fielding, as measured by Outs Above Average. You probably know Manny Machado and Juan Soto. You should know Tucker, too, the best outfielder in the World Series.

4. , 3B, Braves
Leitch: This is not a guy I would have anticipated choosing this high heading into this year, or last year, or really any other year. The thing about Acuña’s injury is that, offensively, Riley sort of became him after the former got hurt -- other than, uh, the steals. Riley has been a monster, seemingly fixing all the flaws in his approach that I thought would send him down Francoeur Lane. And, as you’ve pointed out, he’s playing a mean third base. You know who he looks like right now? He looks like Alex Bregman from a couple of years ago.

5. , 2B, Astros
Petriello: Last year was a mess, a disaster, for really everyone on this planet. If we could all just agree that it didn’t happen, I think we would. Anyway, here’s Altuve’s yearly batting line for the last eight seasons since his 2014 breakout. See what sticks out:

6. , DH/LF, Astros
Leitch: If I have to play him in the field, I will -- though I obviously won’t like it. But I will like everything else he does. Remember how worried we were about him last year? He’s the lineup tentpole that it’s almost unfair for a team as already stacked offensively as the Astros to have, and now he’s got some nice AL Championship Series MVP hardware to go along with it. Remember, too, he did all that ALCS damage with only one homer. I bet he hits more than that this World Series. Also, if you care about such things, he only made it to the Majors with Houston in 2019, which means you may feel free to cheer for him sans any complicated feelings.

7. , RHP, Braves
Petriello: Did you know Morton once pitched for the Astros? Even finished off their 2017 World Series win? I feel like that’s going to be mentioned once or twice or six hundred times this week. Anyway, this is an interesting series because it doesn’t have any truly dominant, elite starting pitching. Don’t get me wrong -- there’s three or four really good Top 40 or so starters here. There’s just not That Guy, like a Jacob deGrom, or a Corbin Burnes, or a Gerrit Cole, or so on. But the 38-year-old just needs to make two very good starts -- possibly a third if this goes seven -- and not only did Morton have another very good year (33 starts, 3.34 ERA), he didn’t allow more than two runs in any of his three starts this month. And he’s clearly got the postseason pedigree.

8. , LHP, Braves
Leitch: I think you could have gone with either Braves pitcher here, so I’ll grab the one you didn’t. Fried’s second half was otherworldly (1.74 ERA, 5.38 strikeout to walk ratio) and he really only had that one wobbly start against the Dodgers -- which tends to happen against the Dodgers sometimes. And while the Astros certainly have a comparable (and healthier) lineup, I’ll bet on Fried’s second half. Also: He has a very angular face that is particularly intense in high-definition, extreme closeup shots. He’s like a mix between John Mulaney and Ezra Miller.

9. , LF, Braves
Petriello: I cannot believe I just picked Rosario not only in the top 10 here, but ahead of Michael Brantley, who is an objectively better player -- not only in 2021, but over a period of many years. And yet! I only need him to be the better player for like, the next 150 hours or so. It should go without saying Rosario is not the .560/.607/1.040 player he was in the NLCS; all you need to look at is Kiké Hernández looking like “last week’s Rosario” before finishing 4-for-17 in the ALCS. But as it’s become increasingly clear that playoff success is built not on “talent” or “skill” or “heart” so much as “one or two dudes getting unbelievably red-hot for a week or so,” maybe we can keep the wave going here.

10. , LF, Astros
Leitch: Legitimately impressed with your selection of Rosario: That definitely sounds like something I’d be more likely to do. (Though I’m usually wrong, so … good luck!) Brantley’s an easy pick here. It might be time to give the Astros a little credit for doing something that Cleveland was never able to do: Keep Brantley healthy. He missed his most games in Houston this year, but he’s been 100 percent in October, which, considering how long we’ve known Houston is making the playoffs, is what you want. He strikes me as the least likely person to get rattled by any sort of pressure in this series. He seems like one of the least shakeable people on the planet.

11. , 1B, Astros
Petriello: If we really wanted to game theory this out, I’d leave Gurriel until the very end since you already grabbed your first baseman in Freeman, but I’m not going to do that because Gurriel is good, “had a regular season just as good as Freeman” good. He’s also a particular kind of hitter, because he had the fifth-lowest strikeout rate among qualified bats this year. And while that doesn’t by itself make you good -- note that Kevin Newman and David Fletcher, who had the lowest strikeout rates, had very poor seasons -- Gurriel’s quality of contact is such that he posted a 131 OPS+ this year. Is he Freeman? He is not. Is he as far behind him as their reputations would suggest? No.

12. , 2B, Braves
Leitch: If Freeman is the institutional memory of the Braves, Albies is the guy who gets the place vibrating. I’ve been at a few of the postseason games at Truist Park this year, and I’ve been a little stunned by how loud it gets. The loudest moment was definitely Rosario’s Game 6 homer, but right behind it was Albies’ mad dash home in Game 2, when the ball and his diving slide all landed at the same time, and chaos, and LOUDNESS, ensued. (Also: Do we get to draft third-base coaches? Dibs on Ron Washington!) I’m not sure Albies will ever quite become the superstar I thought he might be a couple of years ago, but in a lot of ways he’s the heart and soul of this team. (And now mine.)

13. , LHP, Astros
Petriello: Way back in February, we were writing about how Valdez’s sinker compared favorably to Zack Britton's, and how there were plenty of signs of a breakout-in-progress … and then he broke his finger, keeping him out until the end of May. When he came back, he was, well, fantastic, posting a 3.14 ERA and the highest ground-ball rate in baseball (min. 100 innings) by a huge margin over Logan Webb. Of course, he was then lousy in the AL Division Series (four earned runs in 4 1/3 frames against the White Sox) and couldn’t get out of the third inning in Game 1 of the ALCS before looking incredible in Game 5, throwing eight innings while allowing just one run. I’m betting on that guy, not just because of that one start, but because that’s the guy he’s been all year.

14. , RHP, Braves
Leitch: Do I think he has some sort of special postseason magic? I do not! I do not think such things exist! Magic isn’t real! It’s all science! But Anderson has been undeniably fantastic in two postseasons now, and while it’s not entirely backed up by the numbers, it’s not like he gets knocked around in the regular season either. More to the point: I think there’s a real dropoff in starting pitchers after him, so I’m grabbing him while the getting’s good. Though most of these starters are probably only giving me four innings, tops, anyway.

15. , 3B, Astros
Petriello: I really did not mean to draft the entire Houston infield, but also this is one of the best infields in baseball -- both on offense and defense -- so, hooray for me? Still, it feels odd to get Bregman this low, and while I know that’s a little because you grabbed Riley up above, it’s also because Bregman is now into his second season of being more “pretty good” than “super great,” as he was before. Bregman, from 2017 through 2019, had a 147 OPS+. Bregman, in 2020 and 2021, has a 114 OPS+, with 18 homers in 580 plate appearances. It’s not bad, obviously. He’s still quite good. But that’s not the guy we remember, is it?

16. , LHP, Braves
Leitch: Speaking of things that would have been absurd not very long ago, Matzek was pitching for the Texas AirHogs three years ago. (That team folded after last season, but in their honor, I made sure to accurately capitalize the H. Pour one out for the AirHogs.) You always want some dude to just go unreasonably out of control in the postseason, and Matzek has absolutely been that guy. That seventh inning of Game 6 was no joke: It went from “the Dodgers are going to end up winning this game and everyone’s making 28-3 jokes again” to “another round for the whole bar!” in the span of three dominant Matzek matchups. Braves manager Brian Snitker clearly trusts him more than anyone else in his bullpen, and after that, why wouldn’t he?

17. , RHP, Astros
Petriello: It’s been more than three years since we were touting little-known Twins middle reliever Pressly as someone who could be a guy, and after the Astros acquired him in the summer of 2018, nothing has changed. Pressly has made it into 168 regular-season games for the Astros, striking out more than six times as many hitters as he’s walked. Over the last two postseasons, he’s allowed three runs -- with a 16/1 K/BB -- in 13 games. What more could you want? Is his story as fun as Matzek’s? No, of course not, how could it be? I will take my boring “regular excellence over several years,” thank you.

18. , OF, Braves
Leitch: I’m not really sure how my outfield is going to come together -- please make sure not to draft Jorge Soler, so I can mix and match them at my pleasure -- but there’s no way Pederson’s not having at least one big moment in this series. I love how random things like this pop up every postseason: The rally squirrel and the rally monkey were amusing oddities, but I don’t think there’s been anything weirder in recent memory that seeing gruff middle-aged Braves fans, clad in camo and hunting gear, but with a strand of pearls around their neck. Baseball is hilarious.

19. , RHP, Astros
Petriello: I don’t think Garcia is going to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but he’s going to at least be in the mix, which tells you a lot about how impressive his season was. And while I like Garcia well enough, I’m mostly grabbing him here because the top four starters are off the board and there’s not really anyone else I trust to fill out my three-man rotation. I keep going back and forth between “he looked so bad, absolutely unpitchable, in his first two starts of the postseason, where he allowed five runs each time and failed to get through three innings in either,” and “he looked totally unhittable while no-hitting the Red Sox into the sixth inning in Game 6.” There were obviously reasons why he improved so much, mostly about changing his motion to alleviate pain in his knee that helped increase his velocity. And while that’s all well and good, I’m just a little wary here.

20. , OF, Braves
Leitch: Whew, OK, I have my platoon with him and Pederson. This is actually a pretty terrific platoon for Snitker, and he can run Soler out at DH as well. Remember, the Braves made their run when, lacking a conventional leadoff man (whatever that means anymore), they put Soler atop the lineup. That’s now Rosario’s spot until there aren’t any more baseball games, but Soler was the one addition they made at the Trade Deadline where I thought, “OK, so that might make a difference.” I think he liked leading off: He put up the highest OBP of his career, and he hit 14 homers, too. Those tend to come in handy.

21. , CF, Astros
Petriello: McCormick started the season as a backup outfielder for Houston, and didn’t actually make his first consecutive starts in center until the first week of August, after Myles Straw had been traded to Cleveland for reliever Phil Maton. I don’t know about you, but my reaction at the time was something like, “Wait, you just traded your starting center fielder away and didn’t get another one; did you just open up a hole in your lineup here?” And that, as always, shows what I know. McCormick missed time with an injured hand and split time with Jake Meyers and Jose Siri, but he ended up being a league-average hitter and -- more importantly to me -- showed up as one of baseball’s truly elite defensive outfielders. Doesn’t it feel like every World Series has one incredible game-changing defensive play? This is who it’s coming from.

22. , SS, Braves
Leitch: So my offense is basically the Braves, plus Yordan and Brantley. Kind of OK with that! (Don’t ask about the defense.) It’s clear at this point that Swanson is not going to ever make any of those “best No. 1 overall picks ever!” lists -- he is, however, considerably more useful than Shelby Miller right now -- but he’s had some nice postseason moments in his career, and he does have a tendency to get hot at the right time. Though yes, I’m really just trying to complete the whole Braves infield set.

23. , RHP, Astros
Petriello: I actually like A.J. Minter a bit more than Graveman, but I keep coming back to the fact that neither Tucker nor Alvarez have had much trouble dealing with lefties, which may limit Minter’s effectiveness. (Of course, Tucker is now on my fake team, not the Astros. I may have misunderstood the assignment.) Graveman was never going to be the 0.82 ERA guy he was with Seattle -- and he wasn’t -- but despite a minor strikeout rate decrease, he retained his ability to keep the ball out of the seats, allowing just five homers in 222 batters faced in the regular season. “Not giving up dingers” is somehow always an underrated skill in October. I want that.

24. , LHP, Braves
Leitch: The postseason, and especially the World Series, is always a little more fun when it has one of those closers that seems constitutionally unable to avoid putting runners on base before ultimately finishing the job. Smith was pretty smooth in the NLCS, all told, but it’s just a matter of time before the Braves have a ninth-inning lead and he puts the first two guys on just to fire up the blood pressure. If you have no particular rooting interest in this series whatsoever, you absolutely want to see Smith in as many games as possible.

25. , CF/DH, Braves
Petriello: It just occurred to me that I need a DH, and I have missed out on Alvarez, Pederson and Soler, and while I actually like Duvall’s glove quite a bit, I am also not terribly upset about putting a guy who blasted 38 homers in the regular season this year into my DH spot. That will work out quite nicely, actually, thanks.

26. , C, Astros
Leitch: Neither catcher is particularly exciting, but your team has some base stealers, and I do not want to be stuck with Travis d’Arnaud as the guy trying to throw them out. Can we figure out a way to bat our catchers 10th? 11th?

27. , C, Braves
Petriello: I require a catcher, and d’Arnaud counts. That’s actually underselling him a little, because d’Arnaud actually hit quite well in 2020 (139 OPS+), though he did it in just 44 games, and it was wildly out of character with his previous career. He also had only a 74 OPS+ in 2021 around a left thumb injury that seemed like it was still bothering him in October, and … well, I agree with you, Will. Catcher is not a strong point in this series.

28. , OF, Astros
Leitch: If I don’t pick Siri, my center field options are: Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler or Yordan Alvarez. So: Siri.

29. , UTIL, Braves
Petriello: It seems like a million years ago since Camargo was the Braves’ starting third baseman, but it was only back in 2018 -- but also maybe that is a million years ago in baseball terms. After posting a 115 OPS+ in 524 plate appearances that season, Camargo has managed only 393 trips to the plate in three years since (and a wretched 58 OPS+ to go with it). That’s not great, but I’m looking for a bench player with versatility, so I will take the switch-hitter who can play five spots. That seems like it might matter in one of these games.

30. , RHP, Astros
Leitch: Like Astros manager Dusty Baker here … I think it’s wise to have a quick hook. Look, Urquidy wasn’t that bad during the regular season, and he actually pitched well the last time he was in the World Series (5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Nationals in 2019). But Baker has only felt comfortable using him once this postseason, and he was rewarded with six runs in 1 2/3 innings. So yeah: Quick hook.

With apologies to a handful of relievers, backup catchers, and mostly -- we all love Zack Greinke -- here’s how our rosters ended up.


C: Martín Maldonado
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Ozzie Albies
SS: Dansby Swanson
3B: Austin Riley
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Jose Siri
RF: Joc Pederson
DH: Yordan Alvarez
BENCH: Jorge Soler
SP: Max Fried
SP: Ian Anderson
SP: José Urquidy
RP: Tyler Matzek
CL: Will Smith


C: Travis d’Arnaud
1B: Yuli Gurriel
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Carlos Correa
3B: Alex Bregman
LF: Eddie Rosario
CF: Chas McCormick
RF: Kyle Tucker
DH: Adam Duvall
BENCH: Johan Camargo
SP: Charlie Morton
SP: Framber Valdez
SP: Luis Garcia
RP: Kendall Graveman
CL: Ryan Pressly