The 2021 World Series is here. The Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves meet at this year’s Fall Classic after knocking out the Red Sox and Dodgers in six games of the League Championship Series, respectively. The World Series kicks off Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Thanks to all these years the Astros have spent in the National League, these two clubs have a long history in the playoffs. Here’s a quick recap of those postseason battles between Astros and Braves:
- NLDS 1997: The Braves sweep 3-0
- NLDS 1999: The Braves win 3-1
- NLDS 2001: The Braves sweep 3-0
- NLDS 2004: Astros win 3-2
- NLDS 2005: Astros win 3-1
Of course, what happened in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s has no bearing on what will happen in 2021. These playoffs go back forever to the baseball years. There are different players now, different managers, different styles of play, the works. The Astros and the Braves have a playoff history, of course, but that has nothing to do with the 2021 World Series.
Either way, with the World Series set to start Tuesday night, let’s lay out some bold predictions. Come with me, don’t you?
There will be a game of chaos
Perhaps this bold prediction isn’t considered bold, as there seems to be at least one game of chaos in every World Series. What do I mean by chaos game? I mean a lot of attack and head changes, some memorable pieces and just full entertainment. The opposite of a pitching duel, basically. Some recent examples of World Series chaos games:
- World Series 2020 Game 4: Brett Phillips’ game
- 2019 World Series Game 7: The Howie Kendrick game
- 2017 World Series Game 5: The Astros beat the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings
- 2016 World Series Game 7: * gestures to everything *
The 2018 World Series didn’t have much of a chaos game, although it did have an 18-round match, the longest World Series in history, and it’s a pretty good substitute. The point is, pretty much every World Series we can expect to see a truly chaotic game with a ton of action and direction changes and a memorable finish.
So predicting a chaotic game in this year’s World Series isn’t necessarily daring, but I’m going to predict one anyway. See this more as a hope than a prediction. Give me a crazy back-and-forth game. To be a bit specific with that prediction, I’ll say Game 5 is our chaos game, and we’re seeing 23 total runs scored and eight homers combined. Go big or come home, baby.
Tucker to set World Series base stolen record
It’s the stolen base playoffs. Across the League Championship Series, the riders are 38 for 42 – 38 for 42! – steal bases, an incredible 90% success rate. One of the four caught stealing wasn’t even a real thief either. Rays outfielder Manuel Margot slipped the bag in ALDS Game 3. He did it safely. He just slipped too far.
The Astros weren’t a stolen base team during the regular season. They stole just 53 bases, the fourth in baseball, and their stolen base leader was traded on the deadline (Myles Straw with 17). Houston isn’t going to wreak havoc on bases, but because those are bold predictions, I’m going to say that an Astros sets a new base stolen record in the World Series.
The player: Kyle Tucker. Jose Altuve may seem like the more obvious choice, but he’s not much of a stolen base threat anymore (just five steals in 2021), and Tucker has made 14 for 16 steals in the regular season. The base record stolen at the World Series is seven, achieved twice by a Hall of Famer:
- Lou Brock, Cardinals: 7 interceptions against the Red Sox (1967 World Series)
- Lou Brock, Cardinals: 7 interceptions against the Tigers (1968 World Series)
- Several tied with 6 interceptions, most recently Kenny Lofton for Cleveland in the 1995 World Series
The 1967 and 1968 World Series both played in seven games, and no player has stolen even five World Series bases since Omar Vizquel in 1997. Stealing has been a dying art for the past few decades, though ‘she came back in a big way this October. The runners are going with a reckless abandonment this playoffs and the Braves have helped, but not in a good way.
The runners are 13 for 13 stolen bases against Atlanta in the playoffs, so about a third of all attempts at steal bases in the playoffs have been against them. Controlling the running game is a weakness because Atlanta has several pitchers who are slow at home, and because catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s arm isn’t great (14 percent of the steal rate taken over the two last years).
The Braves have an exploitable weakness in stolen bases and the Astros are all about exploiting weaknesses. Eight bases stolen in a playoff series is a ton, but it only takes a three or four steal game to give Tucker a real shot at breaking the record. He’s been great and will be based a ton. I boldly predict that Brock’s stolen base World Series record will fall.
Plus, I’ll add a less bold prediction here: Tyler Matzek will at least equal the record for playoff appearance. He’s already pitched nine games and the record is 14 by Brandon Morrow in 2017 and Paul Assenmacher in 1997. Matzek pitching five times in the World Series seems extremely doable. He might even break the record given his current pace.
Smyly will be a throwing hero
We know Framber Valdez and Charlie Morton will start Game 1. Beyond that, rotations are on hold, although things are lining up so we’ll likely see Luis Garcia vs. Max Fried in Game 2, and JosÃ© Urquidy vs. Ian Anderson in Game 3. What happens in Game 4 is guessable. It could be Zack Greinke or Jake Odorizzi for Houston, and a box game for Atlanta.
Inevitably, things will escalate for every team at some point in the series, and either someone will come and get the game back on track or put gas on the fire. Think Cristian Javier with three scoreless innings in ALCS Game 4, or Nathan Eovaldi and Martin PÃ©rez combining to give up seven runs in one inning in the same game.
Sometimes the hero launcher will be someone unexpected, and for that bold prediction, I’m going to say veteran southpaw Drew Smyly comes out of the paddock to give an appearance of Herculean relief at some point. How is the sound of game 2? The Astros bully the Atlanta starter (whoever it is), then Smyly settles things with three or four scoreless frames.
Smyly pitched 126 2/3 innings for the most part effective during the regular season (4.46 ERA), although he moved to the bullpen at the end of the year, and he didn’t just hasn’t started that much lately. His last four appearances:
- October 20: 56 throws in 3 1/3 innings (NLCS Game 4)
- October 2: 46 throws in three innings
- September 26: 21 throws in 1 2/3 innings
- September 21: 37 throws in 3 1/3 innings
So that’s 160 throws and 11 1/3 innings out of four appearances in the past calendar month. It’s not a lot of work at all, so no one would fault Smyly for ever stepping out of the reliever pen and not having him. This is what makes this prediction bold though. The guy that nobody expects to make an impact is coming and making an impact.
One thing to note: Houston has chased curveballs out of the zone more than any other type of court this season, and Smyly’s specialty is getting hitters to chase his curveball out of the zone. He’s not going to wow anyone with his fastball at this point in his career, but he will have you offering to the curve. This is a reasonably effective way to attack the Astros (don’t hang it).
The Braves will win the World Series …
… and Jorge Soler will be the World Series MVP. Why not? Soler missed the first four games of the NLCS after testing positive for COVID-19, and he didn’t start Games 5 or 6 because Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario were playing so well. In the World Series however, the Braves will be able to put Soler in DH in games 1 and 2, and if necessary, games 6 and 7 as well.
Soler has been excellent after coming back from the Royals on the trade deadline, hitting 0.269 / .358 / 0.524 with 14 home runs in 55 games for the Braves. Its pulling power is enormous, and if you want to be a right-handed shooter, there are worse stadiums to play than Minute Maid Park. Check out Soler’s 2021 line orders and superimposed flying balls over Minute Maid Park:
Oh yes, the Crawford Boxes invite you. It almost looks like Minute Maid Park was built for Soler given his ability to shoot the ball into the air towards left field. He’ll at least be in the DH lineup in Games 1 and 2, and it’s not unprecedented for a DH to win the World Series MVP without starting the NL games. Hideki Matsui did it with the 2009 Yankees.
So my latest bold prediction calls for the Braves to win only their second title since moving to Atlanta in 1966, and for Soler to lead the way as a World Series MVP. The Astros are incredibly good, obnoxiously, so I have this streak that lasts all seven games. This gives Soler at least four DH starts to make an impact, and he will make an impact. I predict it boldly.
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