Braves’ World Series X-factors: Hot-hitting Eddie Rosario, Atlanta’s offensive power vs. Framber Valdez


Fresh off one big upset in the NLCS, the Atlanta Braves are hoping to topple expectations once again versus the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. 

For the Braves, it’s a chance to hoist the trophy for the first time since 1995 and win the fourth title in franchise history. It’s also a chance to flip the script of their serialized postseason failures. If the Braves come up shy against Houston, then it will mark 17 trips to the playoffs without winning a title. As unfortunate feats go, that’s a remarkable one. 

So to set the scene for the baseball events to come and to further home in the Braves’ side of things, let’s take a look at their x-factors for this series — i.e., the player, players, or player-related considerations on which the World Series could hinge from the Atlanta perspective. Baseball content forthwith? Baseball content forthwith. 

Part of the Braves’ post Ronald Acuña Jr. makeover at the deadline, Rosario was a key piece for the Braves during the regular season, as he batted .271/.330/.573 in 33 games after the trade. Then in the NLCS, he reached even loftier heights with a slash line of .560/.607/1.040 in six games against the Dodgers. For his efforts, he was deservedly named NLCS MVP

What he’s done since becoming a Brave, however, exceeds his established level of performance. For his career, Rosario owns an OPS+ of 108, which makes him a good not great hitter by the standards of corner outfielders. Obviously, anything is possible in baseball over the short run, and on that level there’s no reason Rosario can’t continue raking at unimaginable levels. Against the Dodgers, Rosario thrived against lefties and with two strikes. It’s going to be difficult for those trends to continue, but, again, anything is possible across the small sample. 

2. The Braves’ lefty relievers versus Houston’s righty bats

Manager Brian Snitker in the postseason this far has understandably leaned hard on a trio of left-handed relievers — closer Will Smith and setup guys A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek. None of the three is a lefty specialist in any sense. That’s obvious enough with Smith as the closer, but Minter and Matzek during the regular season each faced more right-handed batters than left-handed. That trend continued into the postseason. 

The upshot is that Snitker is going to rely on those three to get high-leverage outs in the World Series regardless of batter handedness. That may especially be the case if Snitker is losing faith in Luke Jackson‘s present capabilities. Standing athwart that approach will be Houston’s quartet of right-handed infield mashers: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Alex Bregman

The Braves’ bullpen thus far in the playoffs has thrown roughly half of the team’s innings, and that figures to be the case again in the World Series (particularly since they still don’t have a fourth starter). The three names above will no doubt be tasked with facing one or more of those Houston righty bats with the game or even the belt and title on the line. Who wins such a lefty-righty battle that typically favors the hitter will be telling. 

3. Whether the Braves can elevate against Framber Valdez

The Braves’ offense during the regular season ranked second in the NL in home runs. As well, they ranked second in slugging percentage but a more modest fifth in batting average and sixth in on-base percentage. The takeaway is that Atlanta in 2021 had a fairly power-reliant offense. 

That trend will run up against the leading tendency of Framber Valdez, who will start Game 1 for Houston and almost certainly get another start unless the World Series is a sweep. Valdez this season registered an unfathomably high ground ball percentage of 70.4. That’s mostly a function of his throwing a sharp sinker almost 60 percent of the time. Braves hitters will be challenged when it comes to getting on plane with Valdez’s late movement, and it’s worth noting that this season the Braves’ OPS on offense tumbled by roughly 50 points when facing groundball pitchers. 

Also, Jorge Soler, who’s one of the Braves’ best hitters when it comes to driving the ball in air, may be on the bench for Valdez’s second start. That game figures to be in Atlanta, where the DH goes away. Throw in the fact that Valdez will have the platoon advantage against Freddie Freeman, Rosario, and Joc Pederson, and the Braves’ power could be even more neutralized. Atlanta may be forced to cobble together runs against Valdez outside their comfort zone. That’ll be a challenge. 

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