The Atlanta Braves are back in the World Series for the first time since 1999.
It is hard to believe that the organization that dominated the 90s has not been to a Fall Classic since. It’s not like the Braves fell out of relevancy either. Atlanta has made 13 Postseason appearances since they lost to the Yankees in the ’99 World Series. However, they failed to advance in 10 of those appearances.
These last two appearances have been entirely different, however. The Braves got to the NLCS last year and even got up 3-1 on the eventual champion Dodgers.
Then it all came crashing down as it so often has for Atlanta sports fans. The city that watched their football team blow a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl was now subjected to their beloved baseball team blowing the NLCS. The Braves even held a lead twice in that Game 7, before a legendary Cody Bellinger home run gave the Dodgers the lead in the seventh.
The series was crushing, the type some teams never recover from and causes championship windows to close very quickly.
Atlanta’s window for this year seemed to just before the All-Star break when their superstar, Ronald Acuña Jr., went down with a torn ACL.
I was there that day and it was a stunning scene. Watching one of the best players in the game be carted off the field was jarring to say the least. The Braves came back and won that day to get back to .500 at 44-44. They were 4.5 games behind the division-leading Mets. Their season was all but over, and now they are in the World Series.
How? Great question. The answer? A flurry of trades, a pearl necklace and some exorcised demons.
The Flurry Of Trades
When Acuña Jr. went down it seemed all but certain the Braves would be sellers come deadline time. Most teams would have and it is a huge credit to the organization that they did not.
The front office saw an opportunity to take advantage of a weak division and get back to October. Instead of punting on the season and moving assets to replenish the farm system, the Braves looked to replace their superstar.
It was like that scene in Moneyball where Brad Pitt realizes he cannot replace Giambi with one player, but he may be able to with three. Anthopoulos and company brought in four outfielders–Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler–to replace Acuña.
The Braves did not need prospects, they have a great Major League roster whose championship window is open now. They just needed to find a way to make up for the loss of Acuña, and they did it beautifully.
The quartet averaged an .834 OPS and combined for 44 home runs in their time with the Braves. The group is a vital reason why Atlanta got into the Postseason and have played a huge part in their success so far.
Rosario has been the star of the Postseason so far, batting .474 with three homers and a 1.313 OPS. He had the go-head home run in Game 6 of the NLCS that put the nail in the Dodgers’ coffin.
He was acquired for Pablo Sandoval–who was immediately cut by Cleveland–and cash considerations. Duvall was acquired for Alex Jackson, who hit .160 with a 49.6 K% for the Marlins following the trade.
Meanwhile, the Braves got Soler for Kasey Kalich–a reliever that had a 4.12 ERA in High-A following the deal. So yeah, they did alright. Oh, and have you heard about this Joc Pederson guy?!
The Pearl Necklace
Baseball players have always been known as some of the most superstitious athletes. Every hot streak is always related to some new routine or object and it seems like every magical run has some sort of rallying cry.
For the Braves, it is Joc Pederson wearing a pearl necklace.
There is not much to the story really. Pederson said his jeweler had them and he thought they looked cool so he threw them on.
Since then, Pederson has launched three home runs and put up a .909 OPS in the Postseason.
Pederson is second on the Braves in RBIs this October and has come up with multiple big hits. His energy and attitude has been a noticeable contributor to Atlanta’s success this Postseason.
He was not shy about what it meant to beat his former team in the NLCS and that he was burned by Los Angeles letting him walk.
His pearls have become a sensation in Atlanta, with fans wearing replicas to show their support. You have to have swag to pull off pearls, and Pederson has certainly shown he has the confidence to do it. It has been reflected both on and off the field in October.
And just for the record, the Braves traded Bryce Ball to the Cubs in exchange for Pederson on July 15. After the trade, Ball hit .207 with a .732 OPS in 53 games.
So yeah, the Braves did alright with that one too.
The Exorcised Demons
Sure the Braves’ 88 wins was the lowest win total in the Postseason. And sure, there were two AL teams ahead of them that missed the Postseason. And oh yeah, the 90-win Cardinals lost in the NL Wild Card Game. But who cares?
Nobody can say the Braves do not belong here, they just took out the defending World Series Champions! The Dodgers won 106 games this year, any team that beats them four out of seven is deserving.
And imagine how good it felt for the Braves. After last year’s collapse, they were once again up 3-1 and facing the demons of last year. Facing the demons of 22 years without a World Series appearance. The demons of Atlanta sports.
And they exorcised those demons with ease.
Yes, the Dodgers pulled out Game 5 and probably made a whole fanbase nervous, but the Braves did not flinch. They came back in Game 6, fell behind early and then ripped that game right from the Dodgers’ hands.
Just when it felt like it may be happening again, one of the Braves’ deadline acquisitions made sure it did not. It is story book that one of the Acuña replacements came up with the hit that got Atlanta to their first World Series since 1999.
It was also story book that they did it against Los Angeles after holding a 3-1 lead and it all came full circle. They also brought their franchise full circle, because this is the standard the Braves set for themselves in the 90s with five World Series appearances that decade.
The Biggest Task Awaits
The Braves exorcised the demons of last year’s epic collapse, but now even bigger demons await in the Fall Classic: the demons of Atlanta sports.
A city that has long been cursed by epic letdowns now returns to the promised land. There is no doubt that Atlanta fans will be having flashbacks of 28-3 and the countless other disappointments they have experienced.
Sure the Braves went to the World Series five times in the ’90s, but they only won one of those times!
Aside from all the history, they are facing a juggernaut in this series. The Astros’ offense presents a massive challenge to a pitching staff that has had fans worried all October.
The good news for Atlanta is their pitching has held up. They shut down Milwaukee in the NLDS, and handled a tremendous–although banged up–Dodgers lineup in the NLCS. Atlanta’s staff has a very solid 3.41 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in the Postseason with 100 strikeouts in 87 innings.
That pitching staff will need to find a way to limit the Astros lineup, especially their starting pitching. If Houston forces Atlanta to use a lot of their bullpen, things could get really ugly really fast. If the Braves can get long starts from their starters and use their best arms in close games, they could have a really good chance in this series.
It all begins Tuesday night with Game 1 of the World Series. The Braves will give the ball to Charlie Morton and the Astros will send lefty Framber Valdez to the hill.
World Series Schedule
Game 1: Braves at Astros, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 8:09 PM EST on FOX
Game 2: Braves at Astros, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 8:09 PM EST on FOX
Game 3: Astros at Braves, Friday, Oct. 29, 8:09 PM EST on FOX
Game 4: Astros at Braves, Saturday, Oct. 30, 8:09 PM EST on FOX
Game 5: Astros at Braves, Sunday, Oct. 31, 8:15 PM EST on FOX (if necessary)
Game 6: Braves at Astros, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 8:09 PM EST on FOX (if necessary)
Game 7: Braves at Astros, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 8:09 PM EST on FOX (if necessary)5