Pitching Plus Power Propels Underdog Braves

IBWAA

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Freddie Freeman hit five home runs for the Braves in the 2021 postseason.Dan Schlossberg, IBWAA

By Dan Schlossberg

Before the 2021 baseball playoffs started, New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff was the lone prominent prognosticator who picked the Atlanta Braves to win the World Series. But, then again, what do forecasters know?

Like the TV weather girls who invariably predict fair skies on rainy days, most baseball writers missed the boat. They simply failed to see that the Braves were surging — the hottest team in baseball since finally vaulting over the .500 mark on August 6.

Trade deadline acquisitions Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Joc Pederson combined for 27 home runs after donning Braves uniforms and were just as devastating in postseason play.

Rosario, obtained while idling away on Cleveland’s injured list, recovered in time to run away with MVP honors in the National League Championship Series.

Then Soler did the same in the World Series, smacking three home runs — one as a pinch-hitter — that put the Braves ahead.

As a team, the Braves hit 11 home runs against the Astros in the Fall Classic while holding Houston hitters to a pair — both by diminutive Jose Altuve.

In nine of their 11 postseason wins, Atlanta pitchers limited powerful opponents to two or less runs. That was some job by a much-maligned pitching staff — and especially a bullpen led by a trio of talented lefties.

A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith had their way with the Astros, the highest-scoring team in the majors during the 2021 season. Houston averaged more than five runs per game during the 162-game campaign but went limp against Atlanta.

Manager Brian Snitker also deserves lots of credit. Normally steadfast in playing eight regulars and batting them in the same order, the veteran organization man (45 years in the Atlanta system) moved things around, especially in Game 7, and wound up winning it all.

It was the first World Series exposure for Snitker, who was managing in the minors when the Braves won their only previous world title in 1995. Earlier versions of the franchise, playing in other cities, won in 1914 and 1957.

Snitker, the oldest manager in the National League at age 66, has one of the youngest teams. Atlanta stars who have yet to reach their 25th birthday include Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson, among others.

With Acuna a potential MVP and Soroka a possible Cy Young Award candidate, their return in 2022 suggests the Braves will be even more formidable next year.

That’s not good news for the Phillies, who have been out of the playoffs since 2011; the Mets, absent since 2005; or the Nationals, who have fallen into the divisional basement since winning the 2019 division Wild Card and knocking off Houston in the World Series.

Only an unsigned Basic Agreement stands in their way.

HERE’S THE PITCH weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 38 baseball books, including When the Braves Ruled the Diamond and The New Baseball Bible. E.mail Dan at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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