The Atlanta Braves won the World Series Tuesday night. The baseball season is over.
This was kind of a strange World Series, but it ended with the familiar sights of players rushing the mound, the familiar sounds of fans booing commissioner Rob Manfred, and the raising of the Commissioner’s Trophy. Let’s get into it.
The Braves are world champions
There’s a certain personal irony to this Atlanta championship. I started this newsletter in February, following the Phillies and baseball. And the Phillies’ biggest rival won their first World Series in 26 years. Sometimes you just catch a big L.
Beyond the on-field rivalry, it’s bittersweet to see the Braves win. The bitter is obvious. I got into it a couple of times in the last month, but the short version goes: the chop, the flight to Cobb County, and generally miserable ownership vibes.
There’s a lot of sweet too though, and this is the moment to focus on that. First, these Braves players are fun. Even as a Phillies fan, I like watching Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuña play. Max Fried reminds me so much of Cole Hamels. Long gone are the days when this team was baseball’s fun police, when Brian McCann would stare down opposing players just for taking an extra millisecond to watch their home runs. Now, they’re this team:
Then there’s the Alex Anthopoulos factor. He has a reputation as an executive that actually goes for it. And it worked this year. He brought in Charlie Morton in the offseason. (I think it was one of the first free-agent signings, nearly 12 months ago.) He overhauled the outfield when Atlanta could have given up. He brought in World Series MVP Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall. And they’re all fun players to watch, too.
The thing about baseball tribalism is that during the season it’s fun to root for your team. But it’s more fun to root for the players. And the world champs had a lot of players worth rooting for.
How they won
You’ll see a lot of takes about this World Series and how Atlanta won, but the formula was really simple. Their bullpen was great and they hit a lot of home runs.
Seventy-five percent of the team’s runs were scored on home runs. Houston hit just two home runs. Every time the Braves needed runs, it seemed like someone was there to hit a big one. And Freddie Freeman didn’t hit one until Game 6. Instead, it was unsung heroes like Soler and Dansby Swanson that provided the power and slugged their team to a championship.
On top of that, the Atlanta bullpen just fought tooth and nail to keep Atlanta in every game. Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Chris Martin, and Will Smith earned their rings. They were the true heroes for an Atlanta team that didn’t have great starting pitching this World Series.
About the starting pitching
There was a lot of talk about all the relievers we saw during the World Series. Both teams used bullpen games instead of a traditional starter more than once. There’s a simple reason for it: starters were gassed.
Both teams were struck by starting pitching injuries. Lance McCullers went down for the Astros after the ALDS. The Braves lost Charlie Morton in game one of the World Series. The other thing you have to remember is that these pitchers were finishing an extra month of baseball after playing a 162-game season following a 60-game season. They were flat worn out.
Yes, the over-reliance on relief pitching is a troubling trend in baseball. There’s plenty of time in the offseason to talk about it. But it would be ignorant to chalk all of the relief changes in the World Series up to just that. These teams were hurt and exhausted and they had no choice.
How the Astros lost
For that reason, I don’t think it would be fair to pin the Astros loss on their pitching. For the most part, their pitching held up. They just gave up home runs when they could least afford to give up home runs.
Instead, it’s the bats that failed the team. For all of the slugging they did in the ALDS and ALCS, these hitters were quiet during the World Series. They had just two home runs, both from José Altuve. Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez disappeared. They couldn’t string together more than one hit. It was offensive ineptitude at its finest.
They managed an outburst to save Game 5 and bring the series home to Houston. But this offense was shut out twice in the World Series against a pitching staff that was just as tired and banged up as their own. As much as the Atlanta bats won this World Series, the Houston bats lost it.
The season’s over
So that’s it. We have another 100+ days until pitchers and catchers report, probably. There’s a lot that’s going to happen this offseason. We’ll see roster turnover. We’ll see more hires and fires.
Most importantly, baseball will see some significant labor changes. The collective bargaining agreement expires next month and all indications are that the owners will lock out the players. But there are also indications that both sides believe an agreement will be reached before the work stoppage can affect the season. We’ll see.
There will be a lot of time to go over all of these developments. For now, let’s leave it with a congratulations Atlanta.