The 2021 World Series has arrived. The Atlanta Braves face the Houston Astros in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
The Astros, with their sign-stealing scandal hanging over the past two years, are in their third Fall Classic in the past five seasons. The Braves return for the first time since 1999. Atlanta is looking to snap a streak of 16 straight postseason appearances without a title. That drought is the longest in Major League Baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
It is also an unlikely World Series matchup. Atlanta did not have a winning record until Aug. 6 and entered the postseason with 88 wins, the fewest of any team. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Braves were underdogs against both the 95-win Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS and the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. By winning the pennant, Atlanta became just the third team to win a playoff series against a team that had 18 or more regular-season wins. The Braves are also missing Ronald Acuna Jr., one of the team’s best players, who tore his right ACL in July.
Houston entered the season with 22-1 odds to win the World Series, according to Caesar’s Sportsbook, but became the American League favorite in June. The Astros also led the league in runs scored in the regular season.
Ready for Game 1? Charlie Morton will start for the Braves, with Framber Valdez going for the Astros.
Read more: Our experts’ predictions
Here are the best plays and moments from the World Series:
Atlanta continues without its ace
Morton struck out Jose Altuve looking on a 2-2 curveball leading off the bottom of the third inning but grimaced as he completed his delivery and had to come out of the game. He grabbed his right ankle as he signaled to the dugout, and ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez reports Morton appeared to injure his right ankle while delivering a pitch to Astros left fielder Michael Brantley, then limped off the field after being checked on by the Braves’ trainer.
The Braves now report that Morton will miss the rest of the World Series with a right fibula fracture. The Braves already left starter Huascar Ynoa off the World Series roster with shoulder inflammation and he’s ineligible to be added to the roster. They did add Kyle Wright to the roster and he had a 3.02 ERA in Triple-A (but just two starts in the majors). If the idea was to tag-team him with Drew Smyly in Game 4, the Braves may now need to hold Wright back as a Game 5 starter/long reliever. Either way, between this game and then whatever happens in Games 4 and 5, it looks like the Atlanta bullpen is going to have to carry an extra big workload this series, putting pressure on Max Fried and Ian Anderson to go a little deeper in Games 2 and 3 — and keep in mind that Brian Snitker has had a quick hook for Anderson in the postseason.
The Atlanta bullpen will now need to close out this game without their ace. Lefty pitcher A.J. Minter is the first one out of the pen, and he’s been outstanding this postseason, with just two hits allowed over 7⅓ scoreless innings. He did go two innings twice in the NLCS and had a three-inning outing in last year’s NLCS, so he’s capable of going multiple innings, but Snitker is likely going to have to go deeper into his pen than he would have liked in this game. Fellow lefties Tyler Matzek and Will Smith have also been outstanding in the playoffs, but Luke Jackson had a couple shaky outings against the Dodgers and he might have to get some big outs.
Braves stays hot in the third
Adam Duvall sends Valdez to an early shower with a two-run laser of a home run into that the short porch in left field for a 5-0 Braves lead in the top of the third. It traveled just 318 feet, but its exit velocity clocked at 111.7 mph.
That was eight hits off Valdez in just two-plus innings, and the Braves have already racked up six batted balls hit at 100-plus mph (and are the first team to score in each of the first three innings of Game 1 of the World Series). This is what can happen to Valdez if he’s not getting low strike calls on his sinker, and he wasn’t getting them from home-plate umpire Chris Conroy. It can quickly turn into batting practice.
Beginning with a bang
The World Series began with a big bang off the bat of Braves designated hitter Jorge Soler when he smacked a 2-0 sinker from Framber Valdez into the Crawford Boxes in left field. Some history here: Soler is the first player to lead off the top of the first inning with a home run — and he did it against a pitcher who is tough to go yard on, as Valdez allowed a 70% groundball rate in the regular season, best among starters in the majors. Austin Riley later doubled in Ozzie Albies, who had reached on an infield single and stole second, for the quick 2-0 lead. Riley’s double came on a 3-0 count, so Valdez’s inability to get ahead hurt him early.
Leading into the game, the pundits and analysts wondered if Snitker should have left Eddie Rosario in the leadoff spot, where he had thrived in winning MVP honors in the NLCS. But with the ability to add Soler to the lineup in the DH role, Snitker went with the platoon matchup and hit Soler leadoff, where he had thrived in September, and moved Rosario back down to the fifth spot. This will also make it harder for Dusty Baker to use one of left-handed relievers later in the game against Freddie Freeman, as Freeman has Soler in front of him instead of Rosario, and the switch-hitting Albies (who crushes lefties) behind him. — David Schoenfield
Braves’ starter Morton managed to get out of a bases-loaded situation in the bottom half of the inning.
A most Atlanta pregame meal
Waffle House is a big deal in the South. Smothered, covered, chunked and capped. Or, smothered, covered, chunked and peppered. If you know, you know. Its headquarters is in Norcross, Georgia, outside Atlanta, and Waffle House was there to hype up the Braves.
Braves pitcher Tucker Davidson, who is not on the postseason roster, saluted his team with a hearty Waffle House spread.
Local teams are ready
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