The big and final stage is here! The 2021 World Series between the Astros and Braves begins tonight at Minute Maid Park. Houston advanced after defeating the Red Sox in six games, while Atlanta did the same against the 2020 champions Dodgers. After getting through two tough postseason series each, both teams are set to collide in a best-of-seven battle for the Commissioner’s Trophy.
As we have done throughout the postseason, it’s time to dive deep into the position-by-position breakdown for the final matchup of the 2021 campaign.
Martín Maldonado vs Travis d’Arnaud
Based on what both catchers have done this year, this is a close call. Maldonado has been among the worst hitters in baseball, while d’Arnaud has failed to look like his 2020 version. The aspect that we need to look at is their defense.
Not only is Maldonado among the most durable catchers of the game, but also he’s a game-changer with his glove and arm. On the other hand, d’Arnaud has been equally bad from the batter’s box and not good defensively. This time, Maldonado has the edge.
A fun fact that takes double value in a short series: Maldonado caught 40 percent of the runners that tried to steal a bag in the regular season. On the other side, the Dodgers swiped 11 bags in six games against the Braves in the NLCS, just to have a reference.
Yuli Gurriel vs Freddie Freeman
While this one might have been just as close as Maldonado-d’Arnaud based on the regular season, Freeman has been outstanding in the postseason over his last three series. Besides, he’s the man that carries the lineup of his team.
Freeman posted a .333/.462/.651 in his 18 most recent games in October, thanks to 21 hits across 63 at-bats with five doubles, five home runs, 14 bases on balls, and a 1.112 OPS. That’s a pretty good stretch that puts Freeman above Yuli this time.
Freeman is the lethal weapon and the best hitter on the Braves’ lineup. In fact, you can arguably say that Atlanta goes as Freeman goes. If the Astros can keep him away, I think they’ll do so much better.
José Altuve vs Ozzie Albies
Altuve was born to play in the postseason. As Hell in a Cell matches are The Undertaker’s yard, October is just the same for Altuve. If he doesn’t get you with tons of hits, he will get you with home runs and run production just like they did against the Red Sox in the Championship Series.
The 31-year-old is already a postseason all-time great and will have some individual records to chase in the World Series. Altuve feels comfortable in this scenario and he makes everyone know about that with his bat. Albies is great, but not even close.
I don’t want to close my eyes and ignore the fact that Albies is a very productive second baseman —I mean, he just hit 77 extra-bases in the regular season—, but Altuve might already be a future Hall of Famer and is a postseason veteran that does everything right offensively in October.
Alex Bregman vs Austin Riley
Even though there were doubts about Austin Riley and the odds for him to become a good everyday third baseman, he’s been an undeniable star this year. He appeared in 160 games and hit 33 doubles, 33 home runs, and compiled 107 runs batted in.
Despite striking out 168 times, he hit for a .303 batting average — Riley became just the fifth player in baseball history to strike out at least 165 times despite hitting for a .300 average.
Alex Bregman’s level is also unquestionable, but he hasn’t been able to match his usual great performance in 2021 (in part due to injuries).
In the Championship Series, both weren’t that consistent at the plate, but Riley was a key man in the Braves’ victory against the Dodgers. I insist, at his peak, Bregman is even better than Riley, but this time the latter gets the edge.
Carlos Correa vs Dansby Swanson
Do you remember what I just said about José Altuve? Well, it’s the same with Carlos Correa. Both Correa and Swanson just had their best offensive performances of their careers in the regular season, but Correa ranks above Swanson in bWAR and is better than the Braves’ shortstop in every offensive category.
The fact that Correa was quiet in the ALCS against the Red Sox makes him even more dangerous. He’s a perennial winner and knows this might be his final series with the Astros before hitting free agency. Watch out, Braves!
Carlos Correa gives you an edge for just being on the field. A pure, true leader that makes his teammates better and can carry a team during a series. If he gets his rhythm back, he’ll be a headache for the Braves’ pitchers.
Michael Brantley/Yordan Álvarez vs Eddie Rosario
The Astros will probably have Michael Brantley in left field for the first two games of the series. Then, with no DH in the National League, I can assume Yordan Álvarez will occupy his spot with Brantley in right field and Kyle Tucker in center (a very weak defensive configuration. Let’s see what Dusty decides). On the other hand, Eddie Rosario finished the NLCS as the Most Valuable Player. A very interesting conversation here.
Rosario just destroyed the Dodgers and has been outstanding since he joined the Braves from the Indians in exchange for Pablo Sandoval. But I’ll go with the Astros’ tandem here. While Yordan was crowned as the ALCS MVP, Brantley has 15 runs batted in over his last 18 postseason games.
On the Astros’ side, there’s a pure, world-class hitter like Brantley and a massive powerhouse like Álvarez. For the Braves, Rosario will be challenged to repeat what he did against the Dodgers.
Chas McCormick vs Adam Duvall
Jake Meyers has been battling a shoulder injury and suffered a setback during the ALCS, which loads his environment with uncertainty. So there’s Chas McCormick in center for the Astros at least for the first two games of the series. Depending on what aspect you prefer, the call can go either way. But since this can be a series full of runs, Duvall’s power at the plate means danger for Houston.
Despite the fact that Duvall hasn’t had a good career in the postseason, he just launched 38 home runs and registered an NL league-leading 113 runs batted in during the regular campaign. If Duvall gets hot with his bat, he could be a game-changer for Atlanta. With McCormick or José Sirí for the first two contests, the Braves are ahead in this one.
Kyle Tucker vs Joc Pederson/Jorge Soler
Tucker has been a star this season and his performance in the postseason hasn’t been the exception. The 24-year-old has two doubles, four home runs, and 15 ribbies across 10 games between the ALDS and the ALCS, including a three-run bomb on Game 6 vs Boston.
While Soler and Pederson have both so much power, they’re also strikeout prone. They struck out 259 times combined in 286 regular-season games and usually have problems against everything that’s not a fastball.
Kyle Tucker has been among the best, most productive hitters in the game since May. He plays good defense in right and has become a run-production machine. At 24 years old, Tucker will have the most important games of his life and might take advantage of the World Series to write his name into the Astros’ history.
Yordan Álvarez vs Jorge Soler/Joc Pederson
Easy one here. Yordan has the best of Pederson and Soler’s skills at the plate, which is big-time power. But at the same time, he’s more dangerous and less vulnerable at the batter’s box for the Astros.
For you to have an idea, seven of Álvarez’s 15 hits in the postseason were extra-bases. And he compiled nine RBI’s across 10 games in the past two series. He’s carrying a six-game hitting streak, including three multi-hit performances in a row. Yordan is on FIRE!
Though underestimated at times, Yordan Álvarez is in the same conversation as Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña, and Fernando Tatís Jr., at least offensively. The Astros have a star in Álvarez, and also the edge in this one.
As a singularity, no team in this World Series has a reliable fourth starter. The Astros will go with Framber Valdez, Luis García, and José Urquidy, while Zack Greinke remains a question mark. The Braves will use former Astro Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson with Tyler Matzek, Jesse Chávez, and Drew Smyly with the ability to cover multiple innings.
Unfortunately, Houston won’t have Lance McCullers Jr. available to pitch in the Fall Classic, so this time, the Braves seem to have more depth and more established names that can help them keep their bullpen fresh.
Without McCullers Jr. and Greinke struggling since late August, the Braves got to the World Series in a better position in terms of starting pitching.
If the Braves have the edge in starters, the Astros have it when it comes to the bullpen. Except for Yimi García, their relievers looked great and dominant against the Red Sox. Ryne Stanek, Ryan Pressly, Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier, and García give the Astros many options to dominate the late innings and have an edge in close games.
That wasn’t the case for Atlanta, though Matzek, AJ Minter, and Will Smith were unbelievable on the mound. The Astros have more options, more depth, and can survive (as they did in the ALCS) without a strong, deep starting rotation.
As I’ve said before, a good bullpen can win a short series for you. The Astros’ bullpen saved the team against Boston and —especially thanks to what Framber and Luis did in the last two games— it’s fresh to face Atlanta.