How the Atlanta Braves stunned baseball to reach the World Series

In the bottom of the fourth, Eddie Rosario hits a huge three-run homer to right field to give the Braves an impressive 4-1 lead over Dodgers. (0:32).
The Atlanta Braves have won their first National League pennant in 1999, and are now in the World Series for the first time since the 21st Century.

It is not an insult to history or a revision of the past to say that the Braves started this October run as an afterthought. They were rated as the fourth-most likely to win the NL pennant by Vegas' oddsmakers, behind the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals and behind the wild card Los Angeles Dodgers. The team was defeated in Atlanta on Saturday night. Only two of the 36 ESPN wannabe prognosticators chose the Braves as the National League champion.

They are here, in the Fall Classic. This is a major achievement for franchise lifers such as Freddie Freeman, the star first baseman, and Brian Snitker who have been with the organization since the beginning of Georgian Jimmy Carter’s administration.

A small sample of postseason statistics will tell you so little. But sometimes, you can look at the box scores and a clear trend will emerge. The American League champion Houston Astros has averaged 6.7 runs per match this postseason, more than any other team. This is a good place to begin if you want to tell the story of Houston's "how they got there".

The Braves on the other side have no eye-jabbing statistics indicators that point them to the World Series. They aren't the most prominent playoff team in any stats, at least not on the traditional stats list.

Let's not forget about the 100th percentile that they have for winning the flag they just won. After posting the results from the previous night, I have been running probabilities through my simulation and logging them daily to track the changes. The Braves had a 17% chance of winning the pennant in the first run. This was before the start the playoffs.

They reached 100% after 16 days and 10 games. The only question now is "How?"

Day 1: October 8

Brewers 2, Braves 1, (NLDS Game 1)

NL pennant odds: 10% (down 7%).

"The Believing in Your Starters Game."

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Braves fell behind before they could take off. They dropped a tight first game in the National League Division Series in Milwaukee. This was a disappointing end to a great start by Charlie Morton. Morton pitched into seventh, but made a costly error to Rowdy Tellez in the seventh. Rowdy toldez hit a two-run homer off a 1-2 pitch.

One signpost was still planted.

Atlanta's starters faced more hitters in the postseason than any other playoff team.

This hasn't always been because the starter was dominant. The Braves had the highest playoff ERA of all four teams but its numbers aren’t impressive.

Morton was in excellent shape that day and entered the seventh inning with six scoreless innings, 77 pitches, and eight strikeouts. He didn't miss as many batters in the sixth but was able to walk Daniel Vogelbach. He then began the seventh with Avisail Garcia hitting him with a pitch.

Many current-day managers would have cut the cord at that point. Although the pitch count was low, the results were rapidly changing. Tellez, the 23rd batter Morton faced, was the fifth to face Morton for the third time. He launched a long homer to center that would be the last run the Brewers would score that day and the only one they would need.

Snitker stated after the game that he said he felt good. "I thought that he was in an area all year where we've let them go back."

It has been a long-running trend. Every time Snitker saw a chance to score another inning from a starter he tried -- even if it meant sending a pitcher up in a pinch-hitting position. This was the Braves' way of doing it all season.

Max Fried stated during the NLCS, "For us, we want to go out and lay everything on the line. And I think that Snit allows us to do that." "We try and be as honest and open as possible about our feelings at the moment. He takes that into consideration and will do his best to help the team.

Day 2: October 9

Braves 3, Brewers 0 NLDS Game 2

NL pennant odds: 18% (up 8%)

"The Max Fried Game."

AP Photo/Morry Gasch

In 2014, the Braves plunged headfirst into rebuild mode. There was no single moment that caused them to decide to tear it down. Since Chipper Jones' days, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were gone, there had been a steady decline.

The Braves began to rely less on these types of internal-developed players and more on expensive free agents. The Braves didn't want it that way. After a rapid start that turned into a disaster, John Schuerholz, the chief executive officer and Hall of Famer, demanded a return back to the old ways in 2014.

The team made a lot of moves that offseason to move veterans for younger players. These were the first steps in the rebuild. In one of these deals, Atlanta traded veteran outfielder Justin Upton for several young players. The best of them was Max Fried.

Fried has moved up in the big league aces' ranks and is now one of the most talented pitchers. In Game 2 of NLDS, Fried dominated the Brewers, working both sides and getting pitches on right-handers that opposing managers tried to send his way.

Craig Counsell, Milwaukee manager, said that there are only a few strikes. "There are no free pitches for the batters. He doesn't leave anything in the middle."

Fried was able to throw six shutout innings and 81 pitches. After struggling in the NLDS, Fried's postseason debut was one of the best. He allowed eight runs in 16.2 innings. Fried's 2021 postseason debut was a great reminder that Morton wasn’t the only big-game pitcher from Atlanta. Fried had this gem polished in Milwaukee. Snitker and all Atlanta baseball fans knew that Fried had another one.

Day 4: October 11

Braves 3, Brewers 0 - NLDS Game 3)

NL pennant odds: 26% (up 8%)

"Pearls in a Pinch"

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Teams that win with the "it factor" are more likely to share little things that help them bond. The white pearl necklace, which Joc Pederson has made the Braves' signature accessory, was the one that launched over a thousand pens for October.

After a game in the Braves' pinch-hit, three run homer, Pederson stated that he takes them off while he sleeps. He spoke about his pearls in a press conference about baseball. "I bought them from my jeweler. They are real pearls, and they have been authenticated by my jeweler.

Pederson was a midseason pick for Atlanta in response to the devastating knee injury that ended the season for MVP candidate Ronald Acua Jr. This loss exacerbated problems for an outfield still struggling with Marcell Ozuna's absence, who was placed on administrative leaves after being accused of domestic abuse.

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Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was present at the trade deadline to help the outfielders from the salary-dumping teams. He swooped up Adam Duvall from Miami and Eddie Rosario from Cleveland, as well as Jorge Soler, from Kansas City.

These additions did more than fill in some obvious roster gaps. The additions also changed the character of an already established team during a difficult season. We can't read too much into the success of a team like the Braves since this mix was created, but the pearls do really signify something.

Braves pitcher Ian Anderson stated, "We're all thrilled about what he has been able to accomplish from the personality that he is." He's stepped up in some big areas. Some guys are made for this, they say. "He's the epitome, I would say.

After struggling to get to.500 between August and dealing with the loss of two of their foundational offensive players, the Braves team had transformed into something else. That something was kind of amazing.

Day 5: October 12

Braves 5, Brewers 4, (NLDS Game 4)

NL pennant odds: 32% (up 6%)

"Fabulous Freddie!"

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Braves drafted Freddie Freeman in 2007. Seven years later, the Braves drafted Freddie Freeman. He was young, but well-established, and just about the end of his arbitration window. This is how a team might trade a player when it enters a rebuild.

The Braves instead explained what was happening to Freeman, stated that there would be some difficult times, but said they wanted him to be one player who fans could identify and around whom the club could build, providing continuity as well as leadership for the new talent.

Freeman stated that it meant the entire world to him in 2017. After the 2013 season, we made a promise to each other. It meant a lot to me to be picked, to believe in myself, and to help this team reach the playoffs.

Freeman signed a $135 million eight-year contract. It will expire at the end of this season. He has been everything the Braves wanted him be since then.

It was Freeman, who swung a pitch unfurled by Josh Hader, the Brewers closer, that boosted the Braves into the NLCS.

Freeman spoke of his eighth-inning solo homer, "I had many cool moments in my career," he said. "But I hope that this is not the last cool moment."

It was just one step closer towards the pennant. It was one step closer to where Freeman wanted to be when he had so much faith and support from an organization.

Day 9: October 16

Braves 3, Dodgers 2, (NLCS Game 1)

NL pennant odds: 49% (up 17%)


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The player drawing the most MVP chants at Truist Park in October is not the injured Acuna or the beloved Freeman (though Freddie has gotten them). It has been Austin Riley, third baseman.

In Game 1, Riley was a star in the NLCS. It was a 3-2 win for Atlanta in a game that started with Fried's sterling performance. Atlanta failed to score in the Dodgers bullpen game. Riley was the only one who made it turn.

It wasn't his first time, but he did something: Eddie Rosario scored the first inning with a wild pitch. Riley was at the plate. It was Riley's turn in the fourth inning. His homer off Tony Gonsolin tied it at 2.

In the ninth inning, Riley singled Blake Treinen. This gave the Braves their series opener. The crowd responded by saying "MVP!" MVP!

Freeman struck out four times during a game that was arguably his worst stretch of his career. It didn't matter because Riley's heroic performance showed that Freeman, even Acuna, has plenty to offer these Braves.

Snitker stated, "These guys just keep on playing and it's no one guy here, obviously." "And that's a really great thing," Snitker said.

Day 10: October 17

Braves 5, Dodgers 4, (NLCS Game 2)

NL pennant odds: 70% (up 21%)

"Red Hot Rosario"

John Bazemore/AP Photo

Eddie Rosario wasn't supposed to be part the plan. It looked like he was not going to be part any one's plans for much of last year. Despite Rosario's 32 homers and 109 RBIs in a Minnesota Twins playoff series in 2019, which earned him some MVP votes in that year's down-ballot. However, the Twins decided not to offer Rosario a contract last winter.

Rosario signed with Cleveland in February but only after he had been dangling for almost the whole winter. He finally signed about 10 days before spring training began. Rosario struggled with Cleveland and was almost salary-dumped by a Braves team looking for replacement outfielders at the trade deadline. Rosario was not a quick fix. He was hurt at the time of the deal and didn't make his debut for Atlanta until August 28.

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He has remained a rake-only player since then. Rosario had his first four-hit game in Game 2. This was the one that propelled the Atlanta offense to a win of 5-4 against Max Scherzer's Dodgers. The ninth-inning winner, Dansby Swanson's sharp single, was the last of those four hits.

Rosario would play the game of his dreams in Game 4 a few days later, getting four more hits and almost hitting for the cycle. He needed a double last time, but instead he homered for the second game. In Game 6, he broke the 1-1 tie by hitting a three-run homer right inside the right-field foul line. Truist Park was filled with thunderous cheers, and then he called out "Eddie!" Eddie!" Chant.

Freeman stated, "This entire postseason he has been pretty much unbelievable."

This is part of the amazing, strange and unpredictable nature of baseball. Rosario, a talented but temporary unwelcome player who would not have been a Brave had it not been for Atlanta's dissolution of its opening-day outfield. He finds a home and becomes one of the most popular players at the perfect time.

Rosario stated that he wanted more after Game 4. Rosario said after Game 4. "[I] am] just dreaming about the next thing."

Day 13: October 20

Braves 9, Dodgers 2, (NLCS Game 4)

NL pennant odds: 79% (up 9%)


Jayne Kaminoncea-USA TODAY Sport

The Braves' pennant chances actually fell a day later, after the loss to the NLDS Game 1 game. The series-shifting move was made possible by the Dodgers' stunning late-inning rally. They scored four runs in eight innings to take the lead. The Braves' pennant chance dropped to 56% with the 6-5 Los Angeles win. It was highlighted by Cody Bellinger hitting a game-tying homer that scored three runs on a pitch so high that it almost required him to jump in the air.

The Braves missed a chance at a 3-0 lead due to the momentum swing from the Dodgers' rally. The Dodgers were pitching Julio Urias (20-game winner), and the Braves were preparing a bullpen match.

Since the start of the playoffs, there has been something very special in the Atlanta bullpen. Snitker has ties his late-inning fortunes with the bullpen trio Tyler Matzek (M), Luke Jackson(J), and Will Smith (S). The plan has been more successful than anyone could have imagined.

Before the trio arrived in the late innings, the plan was to have regular-season starter Huascar Yanoa start and let him play for at most a few innings. Ynoa was diagnosed with shoulder tightness and was immediately removed from the roster.

Atlanta won 9-2, taking a commanding lead of 3-1 that placed the Braves at the doorstep to the World Series. This was in a game with no starting pitcher. Rosario's close-to-cycle didn't hurt but this was still a remarkable performance by the Braves' bullpen.

Two-thirds M.J.S. were present for the performance. It was a performance that included two-thirds of M.J.S. Snitker, however, has been able follow a similar formula to the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals. Snitker has at times reversed the order in which Matzek or Jackson appeared. However, the trio has been working together all October and shows little signs of slowing down.

The M.J.S. has been a dominant force in the postseason. The bullpen combined has a sub-1.00 ERA, a sub-.150 batting allowance allowed, with Matzek appearing in almost every game.

Day 16: 23 Oct.

Braves 4, Dodgers 2, (NLCS Game 6)

NL pennant odds: 100% (up 21%)

"No Place Like Home"

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L.A. managed to come back to life in Game 5 despite the fact that the Dodgers were looking largely lifeless and lusterless in the NLCS. Chris Taylor hit three homers and A.J. Pollock added two more, and L.A. won Game 5 11-2. This loss dropped the Braves' pennant probability to 61%, though it was likely a bit low considering the Dodgers were losing key components faster than the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

The Braves insist that this team is different than last year's, raising questions about Atlanta's collapse after a 3-1 series lead over Dodgers. It's even different than the team that was in the first half this season.

Freeman stated after Game 5 that "it's going to become the narrative it seems" "So until we kill this narrative, I don't believe we have any choice."

The Braves ended the story on Saturday.

All the pieces were in place for Game 6. Anderson pitched four innings and allowed one run using his changeup-heavy arsenal. In the fourth, Anderson was pinch-hit by Snitker. Ehire Adrianza replaced him and doubled with two outs.

The NLCS MVP Rosario lit up the place with a three-run homer just above the wall and just inside of the foul pole. It was loud enough to cause what may have been the most raucous roar in Cobb County, Georgia.

Other pieces also contributed. Before the M.J.S. bullpen could even get started up, A.J. Minter came on and threw 2 perfect innings. Jackson struggled but Matzek struck out with three consecutive strikeouts, scoring the tying runs. Mookie Betts, former MVP, was the last of the three. Freeman didn't play heroic ball in his largest game. He accepted the four walks that he was entitled to.

Smith completed it with Dansby Swanson playing on A.J. It was ended by a Pollock grounder.

While the Atlantans crammed into Truist Park made quite a lot of noise and made a lot of noise, they didn’t actually take an at-bat or throw a pitch. Their presence was felt. This was a marked change from last year when the Braves took that lead in front of three mostly dead crowds at a neutral baseball in Arlington, Texas.

These Braves fans will now be able to witness the first World Series games in Cobb County and the first in Atlanta since Bobby Cox & Co.

They won't be able to see them because of one player or one organizational strategy that has worked. They will be able to see them because the club has made progress, one step at a time, in trying to find the way to the place that every team dreams of.