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How prosperous starting rotation got Atlanta Braves to the World Series

Atlanta Braves
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves are in the World Series for the first time since 1999. Overcoming the devastating Ronald Acuña injury and a sub-.500 record at the All-Star Break, the Braves found a way to win the NL East. Once in the postseason, Atlanta took out the Milwaukee Brewers’ dominant rotation and then knocked out the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers to win the pennant.

The aggressive decision by general manager Alex Alex Anthopoulos to be buyers at the MLB trade deadline, acquiring Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson and Stephen Vogt, played a major role in Atlanta reaching this point.

That being said, the Braves starting rotation becoming a sturdy and prosperous force was the impetus for them winning the NL.

Atlanta Braves have a reliable starting rotation

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In years past, manager Brian Snitker had a plausible rotation that did the trick in the regular season, but it was always missing a little something when push came to shove. This season, he has it all: improving young starters, veterans and hurlers coming through in crunch time. First and foremost, Max Fried and Ian Anderson continue to blossom.

Fried picked up right where he left off in 2020, in what was a superb campaign on his part. This season Fried has induced a bevy of weak contact with his off-speed pitches, kept runners off the basepaths at a high level and provided length. Furthermore, he tossed two complete games in the regular season, which is unheard of in the 2021 MLB game.

  • Max Fried stats (2021): 3.04 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 158 strikeouts and .227 opponent batting average across 165.2 innings (28 starts)

Anderson was incredible in the 10 combined regular season and postseason starts he made in 2020; he has built on that success this season. Anderson has evaded trouble, kept the Braves in games and posted a 3.58 ERA in the regular season.

While Snitker has mostly maintained a short leash on his starters in the postseason, both Fried and Anderson have been efficient and effective en route to the team capturing the NL pennant. Meanwhile, veteran Charlie Morton, who was recently given a two-year, $40 million extension, has been more and more dominant as the season progresses. He’s posting strikeouts at a high rate, surrendering minimal baserunners and serving as the stabilizing veteran force in their rotation.

Right-hander Huascar Ynoa, when healthy, has been encouraging, as he’s posting strikeouts at a high rate and becoming a power pitcher. Fellow youngsters Touki Toussaint and Kyle Muller had their moments in the regular season.

All in all, the Braves have a reliable rotation with upside to the point where they can move forward with this staff in 2022. By the way, former ace Mike Soroka hasn’t even pitched since July 2020.

Starting pitching completed the Atlanta Braves’ roster

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves’ identity has been and always will be their high-octane offense. Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and friends make for one of the elite offensive and defensive cores in the sport. This remains the case even without a pair of elite hitters present in Acuna and Ozuna. The Braves are that loaded around the diamond.

The difference this time around is their offense is being complemented by a top-tier rotation. It’s a game-changer. No longer are the Braves reliant on scoring seven runs to win a playoff game. In fact, the Braves have scored five runs in only three of their seven playoff victories so far.

Ironically, it has been some of the new faces like Rosario and Pederson who are coming through with the clutch hits. Atlanta is winning because of starting pitching. They couldn’t win games with the offensive output they’ve received so far in any other season; starting pitching would’ve had them in a hole they subsequently wouldn’t have hit their way out of.

All the while, Atlanta has a grouping of steady relievers who are doing their part. A rotation providing length and keeping the score down takes some of the burdens off the bullpen to be invincible in the late innings; it provides room for error and keeps the relief corps fresh. The likes of Will Smith, Jesse Chavez, Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter have surrendered a combined two runs in 29 innings pitched this postseason. Yes, you read that correctly.

For the Houston Astros’ sake (the Astros won the American League and are the Braves’ next challenge), they have to be careful in that the Braves got to the World Series without their roster’s backbone playing to its career tendencies. What do a hot Braves’ offense and rotation look like? It’s horrifying for the opposition to ponder.

Why the Braves are here to stay

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves
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The 2021 Braves are a product of player development and a team sticking to its guns. For a half-decade, the organization possessed one of the best farm systems in MLB. They drafted well, cashed in big-time on trades made when they were rebuilding (for instance, the infamous 2015 Swanson for Shelby Miller trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks) and did a phenomenal job developing their young talent.

The bulk of the players on the Braves’ opening day roster came up through their minor-league ranks. This is a homegrown team that got to this point by believing in the talent in their organization and never wavering in that belief. The Braves haven’t made any rash trades or moved on from core members. Atlanta has only brought in players who complement their establishment (Charlie Morton and Travis d’Arnaud in free agency).

Offensively, the talent and production was always there for the Braves. Now the starting pitching is there, and it makes them a well-rounded team that’s going to be in the thick of the pennant race for the long run, like they’ve been in each of the last three years.

The 2021 World Series is a battle of homegrown lineups and teams with near-identical rotation chronicles, as the Braves and Astros each have rotations with improving starters.

To win the Fall Classic, the Braves are going to have to score more runs, as the Astros have a prolific offense. That said, the Braves’ offense is more than capable of better performance. They’re in the World Series to begin with because they’ve developed into a complete ballclub. That type of team can compete with anybody.