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Awaiting the World Series on the Day Before

In today’s Five-Tool Newsletter, we’ll spend some time looking back at the two Championship Series while also keeping our eye on the ball that’s ahead.

Editor's note: Early this morning, you may have received a second edition of the newsletter we published Saturday, which focused on the Astros. The newsletter was sent in error. Alas, we are not Dansby Swanson nor Martín Maldonado!

Minute Maid Park, the day before the World Series

Minute Maid Park, the day before the World Series

During my sophomore year at Penn State, I wrote in a column for The Daily Collegian, which was published the day after Opening Day. It was ultimately about my relationship with my dad, and how baseball has always connected us. I was homesick and baseball-crazed.

Parts of the piece were clichéd, and there’s one sentence that makes no practical baseball sense—so it goes when you’re a green writer figuring things out at the college paper. But as I sat down to write today’s newsletter, I couldn’t get the beginning of that column out of my brain. It reads:

"Running around the Daily Collegian’s office yesterday, I graced everyone with my lovely singing voice. After hearing the fifth rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” at the beginning of April, they wanted to chop off my tongue.

"Christmas morning came at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, and not because I woke up to snow on the ground. Baseball season had begun."

In this cheesy analogy, the night before would’ve been Christmas Eve, yet now I think the Monday before Game 1 of the World Series is the more fitting stand-in for Dec. 24.

Like Christmas Eve, this Monday is always both exhausting and exhilarating. We know we’re nearing an end that we don’t want to come to, and yet we also don’t want to wait for that climactic conclusion.

(Quick aside: SI’s Madeline Coleman sent me a text today that says, “Hallmark’s countdown to Christmas has started,” along with more exclamation points than the Yankees have World Series rings. I rolled my eyes. At this rate, the Christmas season will soon be longer than baseball’s.)

So here we are awaiting the first pitch of the 117th World Series. A matchup between the Braves, a team few expected to be here, and the Astros, the team few wanted to be here. Today is a day of reflection and anticipation, so that’s what today’s newsletter is all about. We’ll spend some time looking back at the two Championship Series while also keeping our eye on the ball that’s ahead.

With that, let’s get to the good stuff.

Have any questions for our team? Send a note to mlb@si.com.

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek (68) pitches during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game six of the 2021 NLCS at Truist Park.

Tyler Matzek

1. THE OPENER

“In August of 2019, Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos got an email from his vice president of scouting, Dana Brown, suggesting the team sign a 28-year-old lefty out of independent ball. Also, the guy was recovering from the yips.”

This is how Stephanie Apstein begins her story on Tyler Matzek, 31-year-old reliever, who got the six most important outs of the Braves' season. It’s about far more than just Game 6 of the NLCS or Atlanta’s finally erasing 22 years of playoff ineptitude. Instead, this is the story of a former first-round draft pick who crashed out of baseball a few years ago and then pulled himself from the wreckage, made it back to the majors and helped his team capture the NL pennant.

Read Stephanie’s entire story here.

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2. ICYMI

Wondering what the deal is with Joc Pederson and his pearl necklace? We’ve got you covered.

Pearls Before Swing: The Man Behind the Joctober Bling by Stephanie Apstein
Joc Pederson's necklace is the new fashion statement of the postseason. His jeweler has never seen anything like it.

Miss this incredible profile on Atlanta manager Brian Snitker from August? Here you go!

He's Old-School. He Doesn't Do Analytics. And He's Thriving. by Chris Ballard
Braves manager Brian Snitker waited 40 years to get his shot. There may never be anyone like him again—and that may be exactly why he’s had so much success.

Want to read more about the Astros? Check out these stories.

How Dusty Baker, Brent Strom and Martín Maldonado Seized the ALCS by Tom Verducci
Through the power of observation, the trio figured out how to flip the series from a Red Sox slugfest to an Astros World Series berth.

There’s No Stopping Houston’s Hitters by Matt Martell
Houston's impressively oppressive lineup wore down Boston and improved as the series progressed. That’s unlikely to change in the World Series.

3. WORTH NOTING

The Braves have yet to catch a baserunner stealing this postseason. The Dodgers successfully swiped 11 bases in the six-game NLCS while Milwaukee went 2-for-2 in the Division Series. Look for the Astros to be similarly aggressive in the World Series.

Houston stole just 53 bases in the regular season, the second-fewest in the American League, but we saw in the ALDS against the White Sox that the Astros will take the bags if opponents aren’t paying attention. They went 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts against Chicago, with four of them coming in Game 4, a demoralizing knockout blow for the overmatched White Sox.

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Will Laws

With the start of the World Series a day away, in this space today and tomorrow I’ll cover how each Game 1 starter matches up with the opposing lineup.

First up is Framber Valdez, who’ll toe the rubber for Houston. The 27-year-old lefty is coming off a dominant, worm-burning ALCS Game 5 performance—his 13 ground ball outs tied for the most induced by a pitcher in the playoffs since 2015—and there’s reason to believe he can carry over that success into the World Series. Atlanta’s hitters ranked 25th with a 93 wRC+ against lefthanded pitchers this season, meaning they were 7% worse than the league average. If the Braves are to break through against Valdez, look for them to capitalize when he moves away from his trademark sinker and dials up his preferred secondary pitch—the curveball (30.8% usage). Atlanta was the fourth-best hitting team against curves this season, with Adam Duvall and Austin Riley ranking as the third- and fourth-best batters, respectively, against them.

Oct 20, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario (8) celebrates scoring in the third inning a during game four of the 2021 NLCS at Dodger Stadium.

Eddie Rosario

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

As Eddie Rosario heads to the World Series, here’s one final, jaw-dropping note on his NLCS. The outfielder was more than just great. He was arguably the best hitter ever in the NLCS. His 1.647 OPS was the highest of anyone with more than 25 plate appearances in the series. His 14 hits tied a record. And perhaps the most telling metric? He is the rare player with a series win probability added above 1.0—in other words, one of the few to consistently come up big enough in so many crucial moments that he swung his team’s chances of winning by more than an entire game, all on his own. That had happened just once in the ALCS, with Bernie Williams in 1996, and once in the NLCS, with Will Clark in '89, before Rosario.

Go back to the canon of clutch performances: Albert Pujols in 2004 (1.0 WPA), Terry Puhl in 1980 (1.0), David Freese in 2011 (0.7), Ozzie Smith in 1985 (0.8), Rickey Henderson in 1989 (0.7), Steve Garvey in 1984 (0.8). All iconic! Yet what we just watched Rosario do was more impactful than any of them.

That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at mlb@si.com.