HOUSTON -- If you had told Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos on July 31, the day after the Trade Deadline, that two of the outfielders he had just traded for would become the National League Championship Series MVP and the World Series MVP, he would have had a simple answer for you.
“You can’t script it like that,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday night from his home in Atlanta, where he stayed after testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.
Off-script or not, this was how Atlanta's season played out. And it ended on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, where the team hoisted the World Series trophy to a huge crowd of traveling Braves fans after beating the Astros, 7-0, in Game 6.
In the middle of the dogpile and celebration on the field were the four outfielders who didn’t begin the season in Atlanta, but made history there by the end of it.
The story begins on July 10, when Ronald Acuña Jr.’s season-ending right knee injury seemed to turn the Braves from a contending team to potential sellers at the Deadline. They were already down starter Mike Soroka and outfielder Marcell Ozuna, the NL home run leader in 2020, who was on administrative leave due to domestic abuse charges.
The Braves acquired Joc Pederson from the Cubs on July 15, yet they were orbiting around .500 and grasping for more help to stay in a tight NL East race.
Suddenly, the Braves had four new teammates in the clubhouse.
“You’d think it would be weird, but they actually all fit in pretty good,” Atlanta catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “It was almost like we added another family member, even though it was somebody completely new.”
“It’s not easy getting traded in the middle of the season,” Duvall said. “I think it just goes to show what kind of guys were in the clubhouse already, open and embracing us right away. We came in and took off running right away.”
Suddenly, the Braves’ collective confidence began to rise. And so did their record. The deals were made while Atlanta was in third place and five games back in the NL East. It ended the regular season with 88 wins to capture the division title, ready to steamroll its way through October.
All four outfielders played a role in the postseason. Pederson helped the Braves defeat the Brewers in the NL Division Series. Rosario was the NLCS MVP. Duvall hit two homers in the Fall Classic. And Soler was crowned the World Series MVP after hitting three home runs, including a mammoth three-run blast in the third inning of Game 6 that made Minute Maid Park fall silent.
Atlanta became the first team with two postseason MVPs who were acquired midseason. Twelve of the Braves’ home runs this postseason came from players who played for another team this season. They received an MLB-record 59 homers from players who began the season elsewhere.
“Overall, in my experience, this is probably the best I ever witnessed about how a general manager went after this,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “I always say the only thing [Anthopoulos] is guilty of is he never stops trying to make this thing better. He’s just a tireless worker, he and his staff, trying to make this club better all the time. He's never going to cash the chips in, ever. If there's ever slightly a chance or a glimmer of hope, he's going to go out and go for it.”
When Anthopoulos decided to go for it, the Braves' front office began making it known to other clubs that they were looking for outfielders at the Deadline.
“It starts at the top with Alex,” Atlanta assistant GM Jason Paré said. “He identified that we were in striking distance of the division. [Braves chairman] Terry McGuirk was terrific about giving us the money to go out and get more of those players. So we just identified the need and started making calls.”
On the surface, the Braves never found a full-time replacement for Acuña. They brought in incremental upgrades to help lessen the absence of their star player. Rosario was hurt and didn't play until September. Soler was hitting .192/.288/.370 when he left Kansas City.
But the Braves felt good about the talent they acquired and the character they added to the clubhouse. What those outfielders eventually brought Atlanta was the organization’s first World Series title since 1995.
“We felt like we had a duty to our staff and players,” Paré said. “These guys go out there all day every day, play hard for 162 [games]. If we were in any sort of distance, we owe it to those guys to add to the clubhouse and add to the talent pool.
“This is why they play the game. You go and add a group of guys that are good players, good people, that fill the needs we have in the lineup, good things are going to happen.”
The Braves' team in July was different by October because they decided not to stay idle at the Deadline.
They won the World Series because of it.