The World Series has reached its final stage -- it will either end Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether Houston can stretch it to a full seven-game Series by winning Tuesday's Game 6 at Minute Maid Park.
Our intrepid reporting staff gathered to discuss what we might expect in the final game(s).
Well, here we are, preparing for Game 6. This is shaping up to be a really interesting World Series. Let’s start with the most obvious question -- who has the advantage in Game 6, the Astros or Braves?
Brian McTaggart, Astros beat reporter: Because the Braves have a rested Max Fried for Game 6 and the Astros will be pitching Luis Garcia on three days of rest, it’s definitely advantage Atlanta. Houston will again be relying heavily on its bullpen on Tuesday, but its relief corps has been terrific in the postseason. Home-field advantage should help the Astros, and the fact their offense broke out in Sunday's Game 5 win was a big development for them. But this game is about pitching, and the Braves are in a better spot.
Mark Bowman, Braves beat reporter: You have a determined Fried taking the mound, so I’ll give the edge to the Braves. Fried posted MLB’s best ERA after the All-Star break (a 1.74 mark), but he hasn’t had a great postseason. His struggles against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series were self-inflicted. Being too amped up led to inconsistent command and the delivery of two off pitches that ended up landing over Dodger Stadium’s outfield wall. His rough outing in Game 2 of this Series was a product of the tough luck he endured in a four-run second inning. The Astros are likely going to see Fried look much more like he did over the final three months of the regular season.
Anthony Castrovince, reporter: I crunched the numbers and ran them by some representatives from the Mathematical Sciences Institutes. We determined that the Braves have the edge because they only have to win one game, whereas the Astros still have to win two. Brilliant! But of course, it goes deeper than that, because Atlanta, in Fried and Ian Anderson, has the endangered species that is two rested starters who can (conceivably) give it length in Game 6 and Game 7 (if necessary). What a concept! (Of course, because this is baseball, I’m sure all of the above means Houston somehow has the edge, because things are never as they appear.)
As you addressed with your answers in No. 1, the Braves have a fully rested Fried starting, whereas the Astros will start the rookie Garcia on short rest. One of the most interesting sidebars to this Series has been how each game features a “new” team that has pitching issues. In Game 5, Atlanta was at the disadvantage, having to throw a second straight bullpen game. In Game 6, it would appear Houston is at a disadvantage. This probably means we’re headed for a Game 7, right?
McTaggart: Well, it wouldn’t surprise me. The Astros hit left-handed pitching pretty well, so they could get to Fried, especially after their offense broke out in Game 5. This Series has been pretty much impossible to predict, though, because of the messy pitching situations. It’s hard to say how long the starters will go or how effective they will be, and there have been so many relievers used it only takes one to mess it up for either team. But Game 7s are awesome, so I say yes. It’s going seven.
Bowman: Yeah, this Series has been filled with unpredictable developments. The Braves haven’t lost consecutive games since dropping four straight from Sept. 14-18. Now, they enter the final one or two games with a fully rested bullpen and the chance to have both Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson in the lineup. The Astros benefit from the designated hitter because Yordan Alvarez doesn’t have to play left field. But Atlanta benefits because it will have Soler’s presence while also hoping Joctober extends into November.
Castrovince: I predicted seven games at the start and will stick with it, because why not? I was impressed, though, with the way Fried shook off some shakiness and bad luck in the first couple innings of his Game 2 outing. I know he’s young, and I know he did not deliver when the Braves were trying to clinch in Los Angeles in the NLCS. But this is still a kid with great stuff, a mature mindset and the ability to seal this Series in six. So nothing would surprise me.
The Braves have two shots at one win, but somehow it feels like the Astros might be in the driver’s seat. No. 1, they’re returning home to play in front of their fans, and this isn’t an easy place for a visiting team. But also, Houston has that "been there done that" confidence. The Astros have to be more comfortable at this point in the postseason, given how many of these they’ve played in. Can that be a factor?
McTaggart: Yes, the Astros’ experience could loom large. It seems Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman have been together longer than The Beatles (if Correa leaves, does that make him John Lennon?). Houston has played its share of elimination games over the years. Since the Astros snapped their 10-year postseason drought by reaching it in 2015, they are 9-4 in elimination games. Houston will be buoyed by its home crowd and will try to replicate what the Nationals did in the 2019 World Series -- win Games 6 and 7 in Houston to win the title.
Bowman: No doubt this is a tough place to play, especially when the roof is closed. I still hear the Killer B’s buzzing when I walk through the doors at Minute Maid Park. Yeah, the Astros have been in this position before. But the Braves remain motivated to kill the narrative about Atlanta sports teams choking. The Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. But the Braves are a different team. They blew a 3-1 lead to the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS, then killed those ghosts by preserving a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles in this year’s NLCS.
Castrovince: It certainly can. As much as the math tells us momentum doesn’t matter, it’s hard not to think that the strange conditions that unfolded in Atlanta -- the Dracula weather that prevented the Astros from getting a feel for Truist Park in pregame activities -- didn’t play some small part in how Games 3 and 4 unfolded. I’m not suggesting that all it took was one batting practice on the field for Houston to unleash its offense, but there is something to be said for the return to normalcy prior to (and in) Game 5 and how that can carry over now that the Astros are headed back to their home ballpark, where they typically play so well. I also think that experience matters this time of year. Houston has proven to be a tough out the past couple years, even when it seemed its run of excellence might be expiring. The Astros always find a way to make a series compelling, and this Fall Classic has proven to be no exception.
While it’s fun to criticize managers and place way more blame on them for losses (and credit for wins) than they deserve, one of the more fun narratives to emerge from this World Series is how masterfully each manager is guiding his particular ship. What has impressed you about Houston's Dusty Baker and Atlanta's Brian Snitker?
McTaggart: Baker has had a reputation of mismanaging pitching in postseasons of years past, but he’s done a nice job so far. Of course, much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom and the staff for putting them in the right spot, but Baker has had to use so many relievers in the American League Championship Series and World Series that it would have been easy to make a misstep. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s pushed the right buttons. Even pinch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez in Game 5 of the World Series and dropping Alex Bregman to seventh in the order seemed to pay off.
Bowman: Snitker has constructed his lineup and managed his bullpen in an impressive manner this Series. His decision to lift a teetering Anderson after five hitless innings in a one-run game in Friday's Game 3 was the right move, and his choice to hold Soler back to pinch-hit in Saturday's Game 4 proved masterful. I question why he sent Tucker Davidson back out for the third inning in Game 5, but with a couple relievers down, he was going to run out of outs. So with a two-run advantage at that point, maybe it made sense to have faith in his young pitcher. I think his next big move will be to move Ozzie Albies down in the lineup. Albies’ bat has been lifeless.
Castrovince: I said before the Series that Baker has evolved more than he gets credit for. The same can be said of Snitker. Neither was dealt an attractive hand with the injury losses of Lance McCullers Jr. for Houston and Charlie Morton for Atlanta. While I think Snitker could have been more aggressive with when he went to A.J. Minter in Game 5, the outcome of Minter’s outing softens that stance. Both skippers are making the best of bad situations. The Braves’ willingness to turn two starts over to the untested arms of Dylan Lee and Davidson was fascinating ... and almost worked. I found it interesting that Baker let Kendall Graveman finish off Game 5 and gave Ryan Pressly an additional day off. That definitely worked. While it is always fun to pick apart the managers this time of year, I find it really hard to fault either of these old-schoolers for the way they have navigated a truly tricky pitching situation. Whoever wins this will have earned it the hard way.
You didn’t think we’d end this without more predictions, did you? This one is easy:
1) The Series ends with the Braves winning Game 6
2) The Series ends with the Braves winning Game 7
3) The Series ends with the Astros winning Game 7
McTaggart: No. 3. My track record at predictions in this postseason has been awful, so this might be bad news for Astros fans. This could be the last hurrah for Correa before he leaves in free agency, and I think the drive for one more championship -- and to quiet the controversy about 2017 -- provides real motivation. Playing at home will help, but -- surprise -- it will all come down to pitching. I think the Astros find a way to get 54 more outs and get two wins.
Bowman: I started with Braves in seven, but I’m going to switch it up to Braves in six. Fried has evolved into a big-game pitcher. I think Game 6 could be his big night.
Castrovince: I said Astros in seven at the start, and I will stick with Astros in seven. Even though I have absolutely no idea how they’re going to piece together enough outs to make that happen! Godspeed, Dusty.