2021 World Series: Cheaters vs. Chops
October 26, 2021
A few quick thoughts before Game 1 of the 2021 World Series.
First, it's not an ideal series: The Cheaters vs. The Tomahawk Chops. Yay.
Me, I'm rooting for the Cheaters. I figure most teams cheat, Astros got caught, oh well. But the Tomahawk Chop is loud, stupid, incessant, racist. Shut it down. And right now, the best way to shut it down—the only way, really—is to shut down the Braves. So go 'Stros.
But can the Astros do it? The Braves, after all, have already taken down, rather handily, the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers. Surely they can add the 95-win Astros to their belts.
Maybe. But if I had to bet, I'd bet on the Astros.
In the regular season, the two teams had pretty good pitching staffs. The Braves seem to have a few more standouts but overall the two teams were neck and neck in the stats. The Astros had the seventh-best ERA in the Majors (3.76), the Braves the eighth-best (3.88). Astros' team WHIP was 1.23, Braves 1.24. Astros struck out more (1,456 to 1,417), but the Braves walked fewer (516 to 549). I'm not seeing a big advantage for either team on the mound.
But at the plate? Astros.
With the possible exception of the Red Sox, the Astros had the most well-balanced offensive attack in baseball this season. They ranked first in singles (962), third in doubles (299), and ninth in homers (221). The Braves got them beat with the long ball, ranking third overall with 239, but rank only 14th in doubles (269), and shockingly, 29th in singles (779). Only my Mariners hit fewer singles than the Braves. And if you combine singles and doubles, the source of relentless “keep the train moving” offenses that often do well in the postseason, the Astros rank first while the Braves rank 24th. This is also where you can't point to the Dodgers or Brewers and go, “Well, the Braves handled them, so they'll handle the Astros,” because the Dodgers ranked 18th in singles and doubles and the Brewers ranked 27th. The Astros offense is designed to constantly put pressure on a team. They put the ball in play. They had the second-fewest strikeouts in the Majors and the ninth-most walks. They're relentless.
Of course, that's over the 2021 season, and this is a short series, and, as the saying goes, anything can happen. Eddie Rosario might continue to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle. Or someone else might step up. Or Astros' bats might grow cold.
But if I was a betting man, I'd bet on the 'Stros. Go Cheaters! Stifle the Tomahawk Chop!
GAME 1: So far I couldn't be more wrong. The Braves scored on the third pitch of the night, in the first three innings, and again when they needed to widen their cushion. They outhit the Astros 12-9 and won 6-2. Everything about the Astros evening was “almost.” He almost got the ball, he almost tagged that guy, the ball almost went out. Both teams left nine men on but it felt like the Astros were way worse. They were always behind and could never break through. It was a blue-ball evening. But they did break Bravers' starter Charlie Morton's leg with a comebacker. Dude still threw 16 more pitches. That's Bob Gibson territory.
GAME 2: OK, this is more along the lines of what I was thinking might happen. In the first, Altuve doubled, Brantely sacrificed him to third, Bregman sacrificed him home. In the second, with one out, we got: single, single, infield single, single to left and an error/mental lapse by Eddie Rosario who threw to third base with no one covering. Then a two-out single for another run. That made four runs on five singles. The Astros led the Majors in singles this year, and by a long shot, and they didn't strike out much, and if you keep putting the ball in play, the Eddie Rosarios of the world will make mental lapses. That said, the Astros got as many hits in this game as they did in the first game (9), they just strung them together better. And the Braves were unlucky. A lot of their early swings were rockets right at someone. The World Series is tied at one game apiece, but the games themselves have rarely been close. In both games, one team took an early lead, a 3+ run lead by the second inning, and never relinquished it. Now we move to Atlanta.
This article is cross-posted at eriklundegaard.com.