World Series 2021: Braves vs. Astros Pitching Outlook and Predictions
The Atlanta Braves had the 2021 World Series championship in their grasp until they didn't.
Armed with both home-field advantage and a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Astros, the Braves built up a 4-0 lead in the first inning and took a 5-4 edge into the fifth inning of Game 5 on Sunday.
Neither lead would hold, though, as Houston pounced on Atlanta's relievers and plated five runs between the fifth and seventh innings to rally for a series-extending 9-5 triumph.
Now, the series shifts back to Texas for Tuesday's Game 6 and, if necessary, a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.
Can the Astros ride this sudden wave of momentum to their second world title in five years? Or will the Braves recover in time to capture their first championship since 1995?
To find that answer, we'll break down the probable pitching matchup for Game 6, then bust out the crystal ball to make our series prediction.
Atlanta's Game 6 Starter: Max Fried
Max Fried was the Braves' best starter this season. That might sound like a subjective label, but the numbers agree with the distinction, as he paced Atlanta's rotation in both ERA (3.04) and WAR (4.7), per ESPN.
However, in a perfect world, Atlanta would probably prefer veteran hurler Charlie Morton in a critical contest. The 37-year-old pitched in two World Series before this one, winning a ring with the 2017 Astros and losing in six games with the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
Of course, reality isn't perfect, so the Braves find themselves without Morton, who would've been slated to start Sunday's matchup if not for the fractured fibula he suffered on a comebacker in Game 1. So, now it's Fried handling the biggest start of the season and hoping to find his regular-season form and not the one that failed him in Game 5 of the NLCS (five earned runs in 4.2 innings) or Game 2 of this series (six in five).
Prior to this skid, though, he had put together a string of 14 consecutive quality starts, including his first two outings of the postseason. He doesn't often post big strikeout totals, but he helps himself by limiting walks (three in 21.2 innings in the playoffs) and inducing a ton of ground balls.
Houston's Game 6 Starter: Luis Garcia
Astros starter Luis Garcia might officially be a rookie, but don't expect the bright lights to bother him. This is already his second career postseason, and when Houston gives him the ball in Game 6 on three days' rest, it will be his fifth outing of these playoffs.
Of course, pitching a lot doesn't necessarily doing it well a bunch, as Garcia's postseason game log can attest. He has only escaped the fourth inning once, and in his first two starts of the 2021 postseason, he surrendered 10 earned runs in just 3.2 combined innings pitched.
His lone start in this series was a mixed bag. He allowed just three hits and one run, but his four walks contributed to an early hook after 3.2 innings in Houston's 2-0 loss in Game 3 on Friday.
He threw 72 pitches in that contest, so the Astros will keep close a eye on him to see how he handles the quick turnaround. His five-pitch arsenal can be devastating when he's on, but he can be hurt by walks and loud contact.
As much as Atlanta would've like to celebrate a championship in its own ballpark, the reality is this team threw consecutive bullpen games against one of the best offenses in baseball and probably did well to scratch out a split.
"We knew [consecutive bullpen games] was gonna be tough," Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters. "It's just a lot of innings to cover against a club like this, that swings the bat so well. The good news is we'll take a day off and be in good shape."
The Braves' pitching staff has a chance to catch a breather and get its starters back on the bump. If their bats deliver the way they can, Atlanta could wind up celebrating two days later than hoped.
Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are a combined 6-of-34 in this series. Freddie Freeman has a single extra-base hit. Austin Riley, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson don't have any big flies. Atlanta hasn't been hurting for offense (18 runs in five games), but it has plenty of avenues to find more of it.
Houston's experience could still prove the deciding factor. Same goes for the possibility that one or more of Jose Altuve (5-for-23), Alex Bregman (2-for-18) and Yordan Alvarez (1-for-16) rights the ship.
Still, the Braves have two chances to close out this series, and our crystal ball says they won't need more than one.
Game 6 Prediction: Braves 7, Astros 4