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Everything You Need to Know Before the World Series

We preview tonight’s Game 1 and lay out all the important stories heading into the 117th Fall Classic.

"Today's the day! The sun is shining, the tank is clean."

Sorry, I’ve always wanted to lead a column by quoting that incredible work of voice acting from Allison Janney as Peach in Finding Nemo. In all seriousness, this is a glorious time to be a baseball fan, and nothing—not even an unforeseen clean tank—could dampen our spirits.

Alex Bregman and Freddie Freeman

Game 1 of the World Series begins tonight, with the Astros hosting the Braves at Minute Maid Park. This is a matchup we didn’t expect, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. The Astros, wearing their heel turn as a badge of honor, are the villains baseball otherwise lacks. Their cheating and continued dominance afterward recalls the Brady–Belichick Patriots—except Houston is more fun to watch, and Dusty Baker is an infinitely more lovable leader. How conflicted the feelings of many baseball fans must be! For the good of the game, how can we possibly root for the Houston Asterisks? And yet, how can we possibly root against Baker, whose baseball bucket list is, as Tom Verducci writes in this morning’s Daily Cover story, “one of the longest, most beguiling, most unbelievable bucket lists of any baseball life,” to check the one box he’s still missing. (As always, read anything Tom writes!)

And then, Atlanta is an exciting underdog, an 88-win team that outlasted the Phillies to win the NL East and made it through the 95-win Brewers and the 106-win Dodgers to get here. Manager Brian Snitker is worth rooting for, too, considering how long it took him to get to his current job. A World Series ring would also boost Freddie Freeman’s burgeoning Hall of Fame case; he has plenty more to accomplish before he reaches that level, but with an MVP, a World Series title and another five years as one of the game’s premier first basemen, followed by a steady decline, would do a lot for his résumé. (Not to mention, a strong series could also translate to more $$$ when he hits free agency the day after the Fall Classic ends.) This team also has lefty reliever Tyler Matzek, who, after overcoming a bad case of the yips, came in to save Atlanta in the NLCS, and a lot of pearls! Also, wouldn’t a World Series win be a great boost to get third base coach and defense-instructor extraordinaire Ron Washington back as a big league manager—the job he so desperately deserves.

So, here we are, ready for the best time of the year. There are so many angles to analyze and stories to tell, and we’ve got the best team in baseball to do it. Three of our writers, Tom Verducci, Stephanie Apstein and Emma Baccellieri, are at the World Series to give you the deep, insightful and entertaining coverage that you expect from SI. We’ll also have the rest of our MLB staff, Will Laws, Nick Selbe and me, providing additional work remotely. Let’s have some fun.

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

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1. THE OPENER

“His managing is defined by having won more games without winning the World Series than anyone in history.” His story is about more than the one thing it's missing.

We already mentioned Tom Verducci’s excellent profile of Dusty Baker, but I cannot recommend it enough. Tom takes you through the unparalleled life of the Astros manager and reveals how Baker’s five decades in baseball have led to this moment.

Read Tom’s entire Daily Cover story here.

2. ICYMI

Want to read some more before tonight’s World Series Game 1? Here you go!

'Hell No. We're Doing It Tonight': How One Conversation Shifted Atlanta's Season by Emma Baccellieri
Reminder: Dismiss 69-year-old Ron Washington as “old-school” only at your own peril.

Tyler Matzek's Improbable Journey to Immortality in Atlanta by Stephanie Apstein
Atlanta erased 22 years of playoff ineptitude Saturday thanks to a former first-round pick who crashed out of baseball just a few years ago.

SI Recommends

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.

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 Boston slugfest to a Houston World Series berth.

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

World Series Predictions: Who’s Going to Win? by SI staff
Will it be the Astros or Braves hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy?

Watch World Series games with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!

3. WORTH NOTING from Emma Baccellieri

Tonight’s game should offer a clash of batted-ball styles. Houston starter Framber Valdez is not just a ground-ball pitcher but an extreme ground-ball pitcher: His 70% ground-ball rate was the highest in baseball, by a big margin, as no one else with 100 innings pitched crossed even 60%. That typically works out pretty well for him. But it might not be as effective as usual against this Atlanta offense: The Braves were one of the least ground-ball-prone teams in baseball this season. At a 40% clip, they hit grounders less often than every club but the Giants, and they were particularly adept when it came to avoiding grounders that turned into double plays. The league average for a team this season was 111 GIDP; Atlanta had just 81.

In other words, get ready to find out what happens when the unstoppable ground-ball machine meets the immovable anti-ground-ball offense.

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Will Laws

The World Series is finally upon us. Tonight, the Astros will host Game 1 of the Fall Classic, which will air on Fox at 8 p.m. ET. Yesterday, I covered how the Braves could try to exploit Framber Valdez, so today let’s see how Houston's explosive offense matches up against Charlie Morton.

Morton has a seemingly inextricable connection with the Astros—and not only because of his two-year stint in Houston highlighted by his 2017 World Series Game 7 heroics. This will be the third consecutive postseason in which he’s pitched against his former team. He made three starts against them as a member of the Rays, and earned the win in each contest (including the decisive Game 7 of last year’s ALCS), allowing just one run while tallying 20 strikeouts in 15 ⅔ innings. He averaged just 8.3 whiffs per game against a Houston core built on talented contact hitters, but in 133 combined career plate appearances against Morton (regular season and playoffs), the only Astros batter to homer off him is Jose Altuve, who’s done so twice in 18 at bats. Funny enough, light-hitting catcher Martín Maldonado has had the most luck against him, reaching base a whopping 14 times in 21 plate appearances with two doubles, six walks and two strikeouts. Perhaps he picked up on something while serving as Morton’s batterymate when the two overlapped in H-Town in '18.

Apr 26, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker (43) in the dugout against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Snitker

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

The Snitker family definitely will be getting a World Series ring: The question is just whether it will go to Atlanta manager Brian, or his son, Houston hitting coach Troy. Which creates a bit of an emotional situation for wife/mother Ronnie. “I don’t know that she knows what she’s getting into,” Brian said with a laugh Monday. “I definitely think she’s a work in progress for how she’s going to deal with all this,” Troy said.

But one point that the pair agreed on? That they’re both here because of her. Brian spent decades in the minor leagues waiting for his chance to manage in the Show; Ronnie took on the work of keeping everything together while the family dealt with the low pay and grueling lifestyle of the minors. (For more, read Chris Ballard’s excellent profile of Snitker from this summer.) “If it wasn’t for her, he or I wouldn’t be here, honestly,” said Brian. “She’s allowed Troy and myself to follow our dream, and we’re both very appreciative.”

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.

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