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The World Series is knotted up at 1-1 and the Houston Astros are headed to Atlanta for Games 3, 4 and 5 against the Braves. What should you be watching?
Each team is operating with tired pitching staffs and are both without their aces for the remainder of the World Series as it shifts to Atlanta for three games.
What will I be watching in Games 3-5? What are the keys to the series now that it’s in Atlanta? Who do I think wins? Let’s discuss.
What I’ll follow closely as the World Series moves to Atlanta
Braves: How Atlanta overcomes the loss of Charlie Morton, who is out for the season after breaking his right leg in Game 1 of the World Series. He would have started Game 5 and, quite possibly, pitched out of the bullpen in a potential Game 7. The Braves are already experiencing the ripple effect from the injury, having to use four of their best relievers in Game 1 and having Max Fried labor through five innings in Game 2 to avoid further taxing the bullpen at the beginning of the series. It’s possible that Braves manager Brian Snitker is forced to use his bullpen differently in Games 3 and 4 knowing that it will see significant action in Game 5 with Morton out.
Astros: How the lack of a designated hitter impacts Houston’s outfield defense. Before Game 3, Astros manager Dusty Baker called it “a bit of a disadvantage.” Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker have arguably been their two best offensive threats this postseason while Michael Brantley is hitting .352 in 12 games, with Braves manager Brian Snitker comparing Brantley to former Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis before Game 3.
“How consistent he is and how he plays the game,” Snitker said. “He doesn’t stand out. The at-bats are crazy, how deep he lets the ball get. He’s just a total player. Very professional, and you could just tell — I’ve talked to a lot of people that know him real well and I’ve had conversations with him. I’m just a big fan.”
If the Astros decide to play all three, it would shift Tucker to center field, something he has rarely done this season. It would be hard to sit either one of the three, especially considering how well they are playing, though one rival scout says there is a strong argument for Chas McCormick to start in center field considering the importance of defense – and how crucial every run is – during the postseason while also saving Brantley’s bat for a key situation off the bench late in the game.
The keys to Games 3 – 5 of the World Series
Braves: Having the starters throw at least five innings in Games 3 and 4 to have the bullpen relatively fresh for Game 5. But also getting Austin Riley hot. To be fair, he’s been better of late — he’s 4 for his last 14 — but he was previously in an 0 for 13 slump. To beat the Astros, the Braves will need all hands on deck. That means from the starters pitch deep into games and the bullpen, headlined by Will Smith, Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek, to continue to pitch meaningful innings. But they need the offense to score runs, and a lot of them, and that starts with Riley and Freddie Freeman. The series, quite frankly, depends on it.
Astros: Navigating the outfield predicament, but also getting Alex Bregman back on track. He is 3 for his last 22 in the postseason and looks lost at the plate, which is unlike him considering he is a supremely confident player. For example, he hasn’t been shy about sharing that he wears the No. 2 since he was the second pick in the 2015 MLB Draft — behind only Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. The Braves’ pitching staff is vulnerable without Morton and having Bregman bounce back would allow an already loaded Astros lineup to exploit it and open this series wide open.
“He’d definitely enjoy this. He would call me, and then the first thing he would do is call me Mr. Dusty Baker, and then he’d start laughing,” Baker said. “Going over the conversations we would have had, we probably wouldn’t have much about baseball. First thing he asks, he asks me about my mother. That’s the first thing he asks me, ‘How’s your mom doing?’ Like I said, he promised my mom when I was 18 years old.
“He’d always ask about my son. That’s his main man, my son. I’ve got a picture on my wall that we had in Cincinnati at the Freedom Games when my son might have been 10, 12, at the national anthem. He’s looking down at my son. My son is looking up at him. Then I got my hand over my heart. So they’re partners.”
World Series prediction
I entered this series with the Astros in 6, and despite the Braves splitting the first two games in Houston, I feel even more confident about the Astros’ chances. Let’s call it the Charlie Morton effect. The story of the Braves’ season has been overcoming injuries – Ronald Acuña Jr and Mike Soroka – but losing Morton may be too much for them to overcome. I’ll still say Astros in 6, but with even more confidence.