World Series Preview: Four Thoughts on Astros vs. Braves

Astros manager Dusty Baker faces the team that drafted him in the World Series.
Astros manager Dusty Baker faces the team that drafted him in the World Series. Photo by Jack Gorman
The Astros return to the World Series for the third time in five seasons on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. After spending five decades in the National League, the Astros have a storied history against the Braves including the postseason, much of it not terribly positive for Houston, but this is the first time the two have met in the league championship series.

While the Astros have a lot of familiar faces to baseball fans around the league, the Braves have a mixed bag of veterans and younger players, a number of them added after the trading deadline with injuries to key guys on the team. The Astros, on the other hand, have relied on a number of young players, particularly on the pitching staff.

As a result, it's difficult to predict how these two teams will respond when the lights go up, but we have some thoughts on what is to come.

Starting pitching vs. the bullpen.

This is a little misleading because the Braves do have a very good starting rotation including former Astro Charlie (freaking) Morton, and the Astros have gotten great starts recently from opening night starter Framber Valdez and rookie Luis Garcia. But, the truth is that strength of the Astros pitching has been their bullpen. The Braves have been quite good as well out of the pen, but not to the degree Houston has, particularly against a couple of the better offensive teams in baseball. Manager Dusty Baker will need to continue to cobble together starters and get great support from his bullpen whereas the Braves may be able to rely more on their starting arms.

Defense, defense, defense.

What is sometimes lost in the discussion of pitching is the critical importance of defense. Garcia got some huge plays behind him defensively early in Game 6. Had he not, the game could have gone a completely different direction. The Astros have been far and away the best defensive squad in the postseason, routinely robbing their opponents of runs with spectacular fielding, double plays and the cannon arm of Martin Maldonado. It made a huge difference in both postseason series thus far and is likely to do so again in the World Series.

Can the Astros mash without the DH?

One huge change is the loss of the designated hitter when the Astros travel to Atlanta. The DH has allowed the 'Stros to both keep Yordan Alvarez out of the outfield, where Michael Brantley is better, and keep both of those players in the lineup. It has also afforded them the opportunity to keep Maldonado in the lineup despite having only two hits in the entire postseason. Jason Castro is a far better hitter, but not half the catcher Maldy is. The Atlanta games will put Baker's experience in the NL to the test.

Proving ground.

Whatever hate the baseball world has for the Astros, a second title (never mind a fifth straight trip to the ALCS and three trips to the Series in five seasons) would make it difficult to question the greatness of this ballclub. Fans still will, no doubt, but baseball has cracked down significantly on sign stealing and only a handful of players from the 2017 championship remain on the team. It won't clean the stain from the franchise entirely, but it will go a long way toward proving something, if only to themselves.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke