Roundtable: Who's World Series favorite?

October 26th, 2021

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: Looking at Mike Petriello’s position-by-position breakdown, he gives the advantage to the Astros at seven positions (relief pitching, DH, LF, RF, SS, 2B, C), while the Braves have a leg up at four: 1B, 3B, CF, starting pitching. Should that give the advantage to the Astros in terms of who might win the series? I feel like this is one of the more evenly matched World Series pairings we’ve had in a while.

Anthony Castrovince, reporter: That would make it the first series determined by our position-by-position rankings, so I don't think so. I think this might be the hardest-to-forecast World Series in recent history. Not that we in the baseball media, at large, have generally been good at predicting things to begin with, but I don't see a clear favorite here.

Brian McTaggart, Astros beat reporter: I would tend to think so, but the Astros have learned that in October anything can happen. Unexpected heroes will emerge. Still, the Astros did lead the Major Leagues in runs scored, had baseball's best defense and have tons of playoff experience, so it's not surprising they'd have the edge at so many positions. If the Astros keep swinging the bat, they'll be tough to beat.

Castrovince: I find myself deferring to the Astros' home-field advantage, which seems really silly after home teams won exactly zero games in the 2019 World Series, between the Astros and the Nationals.

Mark Bowman, Braves beat reporter: Yeah, Mike's breakdown was fair, but the Braves could prove to have the superior bullpen if and log the innings necessary to keep , and as the guys who are primarily setting up for , who has been much more efficient over the past few weeks.

McTaggart: The Braves remind me of the '19 Nationals, a team that didn't emerge until later in the season and then had things go their way into October.

Castrovince: After all the playoff failures over the years for some great Braves teams, it would be objectively hilarious if an 88-win team is the one that gets them off the organizational schneid.

McTaggart: The Astros' starting pitching was in shambles in the American League Championship Series -- their starters threw a total of 6 2/3 innings in Games 1-4 -- but they still found a way to win in six games. They'll need , and to pitch the biggest games of their lives. And the bullpen to continue its good work from the ALCS.

Bowman: Usually the AL teams have an advantage in their parks because their roster is constructed with a designated hitter. But, the Braves' lineup will be stronger on the road than at home during this series. With filling the DH spot, the Braves have a guy who has plus power and good plate discipline. He performed well in the leadoff spot before he was placed on the COVID-19 injured list. But I don't think I'd take out of that spot right now unless you don't like the lefty-lefty matchup.

With that said, keeping Rosario positioned just ahead of presents a problem because it allows the Astros to set their bullpen in a way to take advantage of having two lefties paired at the top of the lineup.

Castrovince: I agree with Bowman about the pitching setup. The key to this whole series might be Minter, Matzek and Smith. That's three lefties who can neutralize the lefty bats in the Astros' lineup (which the Red Sox were unable to do).

Bowman: I'm looking forward to seeing Charlie Morton start Game 1. He's been one of the game's top postseason pitchers going back to 2017 and the Astros are the primary reason why he has gained so much confidence in October. When A.J. Hinch handed Charlie the ball for Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, he created a monster that opposing teams have since had to deal with in October. Morton might be best suited to be targeted for just five or six innings, but he's capable of cruising through that span and lining up what has been a very effective combination of Minter, Matzek, Jackson and Smith.

Footer: To Tags’ point -- while the Astros’ comeback over the Red Sox was impressive, I still keep thinking about how Houston’s pitching absolutely fell apart for a couple of games. Yes, Garcia figured out something with his mechanics that took pressure off his knee. And Valdez and the bullpen got their act together just in time. But I still wonder if the Astros are vulnerable to the big inning. How do you see them, strength-wise, entering this series?

Castrovince: First off, I'm just glad we get to keep seeing Luis Garcia rock the baby in his delivery.

McTaggart: Yes, the starting pitching is very shaky. Hey, the Astros couldn't win the 2019 World Series with Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and an effective all starting two games. The Astros absolutely need to get some quality starts from Valdez, Garcia and Urquidy. The bullpen was up to the challenge in the ALCS, but that's a slippery slope to keep relying on the bullpen to cover so many innings.

Castrovince: Garcia is the X-factor. He was a different pitcher in Game 6. Not just from the guy we saw earlier in the postseason but from the guy we saw in the regular season. A three-mph jump in average velocity is crazy, even accounting for adrenaline. If he's going to bring that again, then the Astros can certainly minimize their supposed disadvantage in the rotation.

Bowman: We continue to hear about starting pitching in the postseason. And there's no doubt, it is a benefit if you can consistently get great starts like the Nationals did in 2019. But the Astros just won the ALCS with two good starts and the Braves got just two quality starts in the National League Championship Series. Finding those relievers who provide length when necessary will likely be the key in this series.

Footer: Good point -- opinions on whose bullpen is stronger?

Castrovince: I think it's fair to say the Braves' bullpen has exceeded expectations this postseason (Will Smith has not been a trending topic on Twitter, so that's a big plus). And the off-days allow Brian Snitker to rely on the aforementioned go-to arms. That said, I still trust and the Astros more in this department right now.

McTaggart: Well, they both came up huge in the LCS. Houston's got a strong back end with , and Pressly, but the unexpected terrific work they got from , a righty who can get lefties out, and in long relief helped bridge the gap to the seventh inning. Game 4 could be a bullpen game from both sides, which means Jake Odorizzi could loom large.

Bowman: Before we get into this too far, do they still play 18 innings in postseason games here?

Footer: Only when they start at noon CT. So we’re safe.

Let's throw out some predictions. Castro and I have long proven to be terrible at this. I think I was at an all-time worst with my predictions when the postseason first started. So I'll go first: Astros in 6 (you're welcome, Atlanta).

McTaggart: I agree with Astros in 6, mostly because I think Houston is going to slug its way to the title. The Astros are averaging 6.7 runs per game in the playoffs and if they keep up that production, the pitching should be good enough.

Castrovince: Astros in 7. In Dusty we Trusty. (And I used to feel a little presumptuous predicting a Game 7 because they were so historically rare. But we've had five in the last 10 years and three in the last five, so who's to say it can't happen again?)

Bowman: The Braves have had much better teams over the past 25-plus years and it seems ridiculous to think they may finally win a World Series without Ronald Acuña Jr., who might be the best talent on this planet. But they will prove to have just enough pitching to emerge victorious in what will be an offensively dominated series. Braves in 7.