Eight months after players reported to spring training down in Florida and Arizona, the stage is finally set for the climax of the baseball season. We didn’t exactly get a feel-good final; this World Series pits the universally-reviled Astros, less than two years removed from both their last pennant and the reports of their various cheating schemes, against the Braves, an 88-win team missing its most fun player.
What’s on deck?
World Series Game 1
Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves
(Framber Valdez vs. Charlie Morton)
Time: 8:09 PM EST
Venue: Minute Maid Park
The series looks to be a tight one, as 538 calls it a true coinflip, while FanGraphs marks the Astros as tiny favorites with 51-percent odds of winning it all. Betting markets lean Astros. On paper, given Houston’s seven-game lead in the standings on Atlanta, the Astros would appear to be favorites, but the Braves’ sizeable advantage in the starting pitching department likely evens the scales.
Case in point: The Braves will trot out ever-dependable veteran Charlie Morton to start the World Series, against Framber Valdez, a young lefty who had a strong regular season but has had a rollercoaster October.
Morton has been everything the Braves could have wanted when they signed him last winter. He was a workhorse throughout the season, totaling 185.2 innings with a 3.34 ERA, and has fared well in the playoffs, covering 14.1 innings across three starts with a 3.77 ERA and .630 OPS allowed.
Despite nearing his 38th birthday, Morton still possesses strong velocity, sitting just below 96 mph in his last start against the Dodgers and even brushing 98 at times. He’s also still in full command of his trademark curveball, which comes with top-of-the-line spin and limited opposing hitters to a microscopic .180 wOBA in 2021. Morton will rely heavily on the heater and breaker, though he will mix in a few sinkers against righties and cutters against lefties.
Valdez has a very limited track record compared to Morton, but to his credit did turn in his best season yet at the age of 27. Control problems still propped up at times, but Valdez did enough to put together a 3.14 ERA across 134.2 innings. He proceeded to get crushed his first two postseason starts, allowing a combined seven runs in seven innings, before bouncing back for a stellar performance in Game 5 of the ALCS, turning in eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox. Much like Morton, Valdez relies on a high-spin curve to generate whiffs, though Valdez typically sits around 93 mph with his two-seam fastball.
In terms of lineups, the Braves will have to decide whether to keep the lefty-swinging Joc Pederson in against Valdez. The return of Jorge Soler gives Atlanta a right-handed option for right field, though the Braves could decided to just roll with both sluggers in the lineup with the DH in play in Houston. For the Astros, the questions come at catcher and center field. Martín Maldonado has started consistently on the strength of his glove, but owns an ugly .225 OPS for the playoffs. Dusty Baker can sub in Jason Castro if the manager decides he wants more pop in the lineup. In center, Jake Meyers is questionable after injuring his shoulder back in the ALDS. Chas McCormick will fill in if Meyers still can’t go.
This may not be a dream series for anyone outside of Houston or Atlanta, but it’s still the World Series. There’s sure to be drama and high-level baseball on display. Even if it’s not the matchup many of us wanted, hopefully, you’ll find something to enjoy from this edition of the Fall Classic.