HOUSTON -- It took both great talent and resilience for the Braves and Astros to reach the 2021 World Series, which begins on Tuesday night with Game 1 at Minute Maid Park.
By winning the American League pennant for the third time in five seasons, Houston once again showed off its star power and strength of its system. These are still the Astros of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, all of whom are vying for their second ring after winning it all in 2017. But they’ve also relied on breakout stars, such as Kyle Tucker and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Luis Garcia, to help them get back to this point despite the AL Championship Series absence of ace Lance McCullers Jr.
With the venerable Dusty Baker searching for his first World Series title as a manager, the Astros have had to endure boobirds in this first season with fans in the stands after their sign-stealing scandal erupted in late 2019. Another pennant won’t silence the skeptics, though they are quickly running out of ammo.
“I think this team is way past that [scandal], because they know they can play,” Baker said. “We are here where we wanted to be, and so we just play the game. You play the game for the love of the game and the love of winning, and they're about winning, and I'm about winning.”
As for the Braves, their hopes of avenging last year’s heartbreaking National League Championship Series exit took a big hit with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s season-ending right knee injury before the All-Star break.
But rather than throwing in the towel, general manager Alex Anthopoulos added almost every outfielder available at the Trade Deadline -- Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler -- to support a lineup anchored by reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman. Now here the Braves are, having dispatched the mighty 106-win Dodgers in pursuit of their first World Series championship since 1995.
“The pieces started fitting, and we started rolling as a group,” Freeman said. “To have a whole new outfield than you did in April than you did at the end of July, it's hard to do. What Alex did in the front office when we dealt with what we dealt with this year, it's pretty amazing that we tried to cover four guys to pick up Ronald's performance, and I think we were able to accomplish that, even though we want Ronald here.”
So here’s one last test of talent and resilience for two teams with a lot of both. Game 1. Game on.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1 is scheduled to begin 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?
Braves: Jorge Soler was placed back in the leadoff spot as the designated hitter with the Astros starting a left-hander in Game 1. But expect the hot-hitting Eddie Rosario to be back at the top spot whenever the Astros start a right-hander throughout the rest of the series.
Astros: Houston has used pretty much the same lineup through the playoffs, with three players -- Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick and Jose Siri -- getting starts in center field. With Meyers injured and off the World Series roster, McCormick got the call in Game 1.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Braves: Atlanta announced on Sunday that it will start right-hander Charlie Morton, who's no stranger to big-game pitching. Morton is well rested and has familiarity with the opposing ballpark, having played for the Astros during the 2017 and '18 seasons. Max Fried will likely get the ball in Game 2.
Astros: Baker made the expected move by announcing on Sunday that Framber Valdez would start Game 1. The left-hander has made three starts in the playoffs, with varying results. He allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the White Sox, and three runs (two earned) in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. Valdez, however, dazzled in Game 5 of the ALCS in Boston on Wednesday, allowing only one run (a homer) and three hits in eight innings.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter? Are there any relievers unavailable?
Braves: A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson serve as the top high-leverage options ahead of closer Will Smith. Minter, Matzek and Smith are left-handers, but each has proven capable of handling both righty and lefty hitters. If the Braves need some length, they could turn to Jesse Chavez or Drew Smyly.
Astros: With three days off between clinching the AL pennant and World Series Game 1, the Astros will have a fully rested bullpen. Houston's relievers were terrific in the ALCS, posting a 3.03 ERA and a .673 opponents’ OPS in 32 2/3 innings. In the final three games of the series, the Astros' bullpen threw 12 scoreless frames and allowed five hits and five walks, with 13 strikeouts. Kendall Graveman and Phil Maton, both acquired at the Trade Deadline, have excelled in the playoffs, along with setup man Ryne Stanek and closer Ryan Pressly. Also watch out for Cristian Javier, a former starter who's found his stride in October -- he’s thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings in three games.
Any injuries of note?
Braves: Atlanta will be without Huascar Ynoa, who was removed from the NLCS roster when right shoulder inflammation prevented him from serving as an opener in Game 4.
Astros: Houston carried Jake Meyers, who injured his left shoulder in Game 4 of the ALDS, on its ALCS roster, but he wasn’t healthy enough to play. The Astros will have to decide whether they want to use a roster spot on him again or add another player. Starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. sustained a right forearm strain in the ALDS and was ruled out for the ALCS. He’s not expected to pitch in the World Series, either.
Who is hot and who is not?
Braves: Eddie Rosario has hit .474 (18-for-38) with a 1.313 OPS through 10 postseason games. Freddie Freeman has tallied three homers while constructing a 1.072 OPS. The Braves would like to get more from Dansby Swanson, Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall, who each have a sub-.660 OPS. Swanson (.500 OPS) and d’Arnaud (.518 OPS) have been the least productive players.
Astros: Yordan Alvarez hit .522 with one triple, one homer, three doubles and tallied six RBIs en route to ALCS Most Valuable Player honors. Yuli Gurriel also made a push for the award by hitting .455 with one homer and six RBIs. On the flip side, Alex Bregman hit just .217 and Jose Altuve .125, though the latter hit two big home runs.
Anything else fans might want to know?
The Astros and Braves have met five times in the playoffs (in the National League), with Atlanta beating Houston in the NLDS in 1997, 1999 and 2001. The Astros won their first postseason series in franchise history in 2004 by beating the Braves in the NLDS; Houston beat Atlanta again in the 2005 NLDS en route to the World Series.
Snitker is the father of Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker.
The Astros have lost four home games in a row in the Fall Classic. Houston had home-field advantage against Washington in the 2019 World Series, but the road team won all seven games.