2021 World Series: Braves vs. Astros Preview, Odds and Game-by-Game Predictions
After thousands of regular-season games and three postseason rounds, the 2021 World Series is finally here. Over the next few days, we'll find out whether Atlanta or the Houston Astros reign supreme.
In the meantime, let's size them up and take a whack at predicting how the Fall Classic will pan out.
What we know for sure is that both teams are out to silence doubters. This is Houston's chance to prove it doesn't need to steal signs to win it all like it did in 2017. Atlanta has already done much to improve its reputation after an 88-win season, yet the team won't truly be satisfied until it claims the franchise's first World Series championship since 1995.
As for the outlook for the series itself, let's start with the schedule and odds and go from there.
Schedule and Odds
By virtue of their 95 wins from the regular season, home-field advantage for the World Series belongs to the Astros.
Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, Games 6 and 7 will be played at Minute Maid Park, with Games 3, 4 and 5 to be played at Truist Park in Atlanta. Here are the dates, with first pitch in each set for 8:09 p.m. ET, except for Game 5, which has a first pitch at 8:15 p.m. ET:
- Tuesday, Oct. 26: Game 1
- Wednesday, Oct. 27: Game 2
- Friday, Oct. 29: Game 3
- Saturday, Oct. 30: Game 4
- Sunday, Oct. 31: Game 5*
- Tuesday, Nov. 2: Game 6*
- Wednesday, Nov. 3: Game 7*
According to DraftKings, the Astros are the favorites over Atlanta to win the World Series:
- Astros: -150 (bet $150 to win $100)
- Atlanta: +130 (bet $100 to win $130)
Of course, Atlanta is used to being the underdog by now. Manager Brian Snitker's club won the National League East even though it was six games out of first place as late as July 28. It then dispatched the 95-win Milwaukee Brewers and 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers to get to the World Series.
The Astros, though, are the legacy contender here.
In spite of its tarnished championship from 2017, this is Houston's third World Series appearance in the last five years. The Astros have been resilient in the 2021 playoffs, particularly in coming back from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
Weighing the Offenses
Atlanta's Go-To Lineup (Post. OPS)
- 1. LF Eddie Rosario (L): 1.313
- 2. 2B Ozzie Albies (S): .629
- 3. 1B Freddie Freeman (L): 1.072
- 4. 3B Austin Riley (R): .752
- 5. CF Adam Duvall (R): .653
- 6. RF Joc Pederson (L): .909
- 7. SS Dansby Swanson (R): .500
- 8. C Travis d'Arnaud (R): .518
This is how Snitker lined 'em up for Game 6 of the NLCS, and he'll likely go with the same order when the series shifts to Atlanta. But for Games 1 and 2 at Minute Maid Park, chances are that Jorge Soler would start at designated hitter.
That would mean yet another power bat for an offense that finished third in Major League Baseball with 239 home runs during the regular season. Not bad, considering it didn't have the benefit of the DH when it played under National League rules.
Atlanta has continued to rely on the long ball in the postseason to the tune of 12 home runs in 10 games. But it more so specialized in clutch hitting during the NLCS, batting .343 with runners in scoring position.
Though Freeman, Albies and Riley picked up plenty of slack after All-Star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL in July, nobody is hotter right now than Rosario. After putting up a .916 OPS in September, he has a hit in every game and is batting .474 with three home runs this postseason.
Houston's Go-To Lineup (Post. OPS)
- 1. 2B Jose Altuve (R): .802
- 2. LF Michael Brantley (L): .667
- 3. 3B Alex Bregman (R): .748
- 4. DH Yordan Alvarez (L): 1.329
- 5. SS Carlos Correa (R): .855
- 6. RF Kyle Tucker (L): .935
- 7. 1B Yuli Gurriel (R): .817
- 8. CF Chas McCormick (R): .707
- 9. C Martin Maldonado (R): .225
Likewise, this is how Astros manager Dusty Baker penciled in his offense for Game 6 of the ALCS, though this lineup isn't necessarily set in stone.
For one thing, McCormick could be swapped out for Jose Siri or potentially Jake Meyers if he recovers from a left shoulder injury in time. For another, losing the DH at Truist Park means Baker will have to use the slow-footed Alvarez in left field for Games 3, 4 and possibly Game 5.
The Astros can't sit Alvarez in Atlanta because he's the only hitter as hot as Rosario right now. He's an elite hitter in the best of times, yet he was something else entirely as he went 12-for-23 with two walks and five extra-base hits in the ALCS.
Regardless, the Astros led all of MLB with 863 runs during the regular season. And while they've obviously had the benefit of Alvarez at DH, that alone doesn't explain how they've outscored Atlanta 67-40 in the playoffs even though both clubs have played exactly 10 games. They've been clutch throughout the postseason, notably batting .468 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Weighing the Defenses
In a vacuum, the Astros are the better defensive team in this series.
During the regular season, they rated as one of baseball's top defensive teams in outs above average, defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. All three were less high on Atlanta's defense, with UZR even rating the team's work in the field as below average.
Though Brantley has limited range in left field and Altuve is prone to errors at second base, Houston's defense is otherwise devoid of weak links. It's particularly strong up the middle, where Correa and McCormick are plus defenders, and Maldonado is about as good as they come behind the plate.
The Astros will, however, have to sacrifice defense in Atlanta. Their outfield figures to have Alvarez in left, Tucker in center and Brantley in right. Or: two bat-first players and a guy playing out of position.
For its part, Atlanta's infield of Freeman, Albies, Swanson and Riley is its best defensive component. Those four are mainly responsible for the .228 average that Atlanta allowed on ground balls during the regular season, and that figure has actually gone down to .213 in October.
In the outfield, it ought to be a problem that Duvall is a corner outfielder moonlighting in center field. But as Gavin Lux could tell you, the veteran is doing just fine out there.
Advantage: Astros (slightly)
Weighing the Pitching Staffs
Atlanta's Key Starters: Charlie Morton (R), Max Fried (L), Ian Anderson (R)
Atlanta's Key Swingmen: Drew Smyly (L), Jesse Chavez (R)
Atlanta's Key Relievers: Will Smith (L), Tyler Matzek (L), A.J. Minter (L), Luke Jackson (R), Chris Martin (R)
With all respect to Rosario and the rest of Atlanta's offense, it's actually pitching that's keyed the club's run through the playoffs. Atlanta's hurlers have a sturdy 3.41 ERA.
The bulk of the credit belongs to Morton, Fried and Anderson, whose nine starts have yielded a 3.27 ERA. They also don't offer much in terms of familiarity for the opposition. Morton is a high-velocity guy with a nasty curve. Fried leans heavily on a curve and slider. Anderson lives by his changeup.
Atlanta's bullpen is more of a mixed bag, but not so much when its three left-handers have been on the mound in the playoffs. Smith, Matzek and Minter have a 0.74 ERA with 35 strikeouts over 24.2 innings.
The biggest question facing Snitker is who starts Game 4 in Atlanta. If he goes with Smyly instead of Chavez, he could force Houston to sit Brantley, who doesn't hit lefties well, for McCormick. That would be better for Houston's defense but worse for its offense.
Houston's Key Starters: Framber Valdez (L), Luis Garcia (R), Jose Urquidy (R)
Houston's Key Swingmen: Cristian Javier (R), Jake Odorizzi (R), Zack Greinke (R)
Houston's Key Relievers: Ryan Pressly (R), Kendall Graveman (R), Ryne Stanek (R), Phil Maton (R), Yimi Garcia (R), Brooks Raley (L), Blake Taylor (L)
Valdez and Garcia were simply stupendous in Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS, combining to allow the Red Sox just one run on four hits and two walks over 13.2 innings.
Yet Houston's starting pitching has generally struggled with a 5.92 ERA in the playoffs. And because of a strained forearm, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that ace right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. won't be coming to the rescue in the World Series.
Therefore, there's pressure on Valdez and Garcia to stay hot and for Urquidy to find his good stuff again after getting shelled in Game 3 of the ALCS. The plus side, such as it is, is that Javier and Odorizzi are capable of providing quality bulk innings in relief or as openers, if need be.
Perhaps an even more crucial plus side is that Baker can see Snitker's big three and raise it a big four out of the bullpen. Pressly, Graveman, Stanek and Maton have been cooking with a 1.38 ERA over 26.1 innings thus far in October.
Game 1 Prediction
Pitching Matchup: Morton vs. Valdez
When Valdez takes the mound for Houston in Game 1, he should be just fine if he taps back into the approach that worked wonders his last time out against Boston.
Above all, that involved pounding the glove-side of the strike zone with his sinker. That could work just as well against Atlanta, particularly since it's a solid strategy for neutralizing the dangerous left-handed bats of Rosario, Freeman and Pederson.
As a former Astro, Morton should know as well as anyone that Houston is an excellent fastball-hitting team that isn't fazed by velocity. Fastballs of at least 95 mph got hit by Astros hitters at a .264 clip during the regular season, the fourth-best mark in the league.
If Morton decides to lean more on his curveball, well, he still won't be out of the woods. The Astros offense is a patient bunch that's also pretty good at hitting curveballs, with Tucker being especially likely to provide a big hit off any hook that Morton misplaces.
Considering that Tucker has also been red-hot ever since the start of May, let's go ahead and pencil him in for such a hit and the Astros in for a series-opening victory.
Prediction: Astros 6, Atlanta 2 (1-0 HOU)
Game 2 Prediction
Projected Pitching Matchup: Fried vs. Garcia
For Game 2 of the series, perhaps the biggest question will be if Garcia can pitch as he did in Game 6 of the ALCS.
To this end, it's notable that he'll only be going on four days' rest. He was working on five days' rest last time out, which only helped him avoid further trouble with his knee and could also explain how he was able to dial up his fastball velocity.
Even if Garcia's knee behaves, he'll be at a disadvantage if his velo comes back down on Wednesday. Atlanta hit .274 against fastballs at 94 mph and below this season, compared to .225 against 95-plus mph heat.
Fried, though, will have his own challenge in navigating a lineup that's not at all an easy assignment for left-handers. Houston's offense not only leans to the right but also features two left-handed hitters in Alvarez and Tucker, who each topped a .880 OPS against southpaws during the regular season.
This will also be an issue if Snitker needs to call on Smith, Matzek and Minter to save the day. Whereas they hit a relatively modest .262 against right-handed relievers, the Astros easily led MLB with a .303 average against lefty relievers this season. As such, it could be a "bombs away" kind of night.
Prediction: Astros 10, Atlanta 6 (2-0 HOU)
Game 3 Prediction
Projected Pitching Matchup: Urquidy vs. Anderson
If Atlanta does indeed return home in a 2-0 hole, the last thing it will need is Anderson encountering more first-inning demons. The rookie had a 6.38 ERA in the opening frame this year.
He may be in luck. For whatever reason, the Astros offense was just OK in the first inning this year, and that's continued in the playoffs. Out of their 67 runs, they've scored only three out of the gate in the first inning.
If Houston indeed misses out on its best chance to damage Anderson, it'll need Urquidy to respond with a strong effort on the mound. Or, the opposite of the one he put forth as he got knocked for six runs on five hits and two walks in Game 3 of the ALCS.
A turnaround could be in the cards if Urquidy sharpens his command after it abandoned him in Game 3...but not necessarily. Atlanta's offense isn't the type to work counts. It was a free-swinging offense in the regular season and has kept it up in October.
It should surprise nobody if Freeman comes through with a momentum-shifting hit. Urquidy will surely go to his changeup to try to silence him, but that's a pitch that the reigning NL MVP handles as well as anyone.
Prediction: Atlanta 7, Astros 4 (2-1 HOU)
Game 4 Prediction
Projected Matchup: Odorizzi vs. Chavez
As neither Atlanta nor Houston has a set No. 4 starter, Game 4 will inevitably be the wild card in this World Series.
Baker used Greinke as his starter in Game 4 of the ALCS, but only because Odorizzi needed rest after throwing 82 pitches in relief of Garcia in Game 2. Unless that history repeats itself early in the World Series, expect Odorizzi to get the call for Game 4 this time.
On the other side, Snitker will likely weigh whether to start Smyly or Chavez. The former is more stretched out for bulk innings, but the latter is no stranger to opening games. Indeed, he opened Game 4 of the NLCS.
As he struggled against left-handed batters in 2021, the likes of Rosario, Freeman and the switch-hitting Albies could spell early trouble for Odorizzi. In that case, Atlanta would need the parade of relievers following Chavez to hold serve in order to claim a series-tying win.
The issue there, though, is that hitting relievers is yet another quality of this Astros offense. It had a .782 OPS in its first exposure to a new reliever during the regular season, compared to .709 for Atlanta. Nobody was more dangerous than Gurriel (.932 OPS) in these situations, so he's a good candidate for a clutch knock.
Prediction: Astros 8, Atlanta 6 (3-1 HOU)
Game 5 Prediction
Projected Matchup: Valdez vs. Morton
The last time Atlanta's offense faced the same starter for the second time in a series, it averaged 94.3 mph on its batted balls off Dodgers ace Walker Buehler en route to a 4-2 win in Game 6 of the NLCS.
However, Buehler was starting on short rest for the second time in less than two weeks. That won't be the case with Valdez in Game 5, so Atlanta will have to take a different sort of path to extending the series to a sixth game.
Rather, Game 5 could hinge on whether Valdez or Morton is more capable of making adjustments so as to show the opposition a different look than they had in Game 1.
Because he can conceivably alter his fastball mix to feature more sinkers than four-seamers, Morton could have a leg up in this regard. Valdez, on the other hand, generally doesn't stray from his sinker and curveball.
It would be huge for Atlanta if Morton outlasts Valdez in Game 5. Between it being the third game in as many days and one immediately following a presumably reliever-crowded contest in Game 4, it's one in which with final score could correlate with whichever team's starter lasted the longest.
Prediction: Atlanta 3, Astros 2 (3-2 HOU)
Game 6 Prediction
Projected Matchup: Fried vs. Garcia
When Fried takes the mound for Game 2 of the World Series, he'll be working on five days' rest. If he works again in Game 6, it would be on only four days' rest.
Counterintuitive as it may be, the latter was actually Fried's comfort zone in the regular season:
- Four Days of Rest: 2.86 ERA, .610 OPS
- Five Days of Rest: 3.57 ERA, .706 OPS
Between that and the right adjustments—he does have five pitches in his arsenal, after all—there's a decent chance of Fried putting his Game 2 flop behind him and keeping Atlanta's momentum alive.
Garcia is a five-pitch guy in his own right, but Baker could nonetheless have him on a short leash given that this would be his second straight start without extra rest and if Javier, who's been an X-factor in each of the last two postseasons, is rested enough to provide multiple innings in relief.
More than anything, though, you could bank on Houston's offense bouncing back if Morton and company shut it down in Game 5. The Astros have been held to three or fewer runs exactly once in this postseason. In the other nine games they've played, they've mustered at least five runs.
Given what everyone knows about 2017, it won't be the most heartwarming story if the Astros beat back Atlanta's underdog squad in the World Series. Nevertheless, consider this a warning that it could happen.
Prediction: Astros 5, Atlanta 3 (4-2 HOU)