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The World Series Is Atlanta's to Lose

In today's Five-Tool Newsletter, we look at the best team of the postseason and preview tonight's Game 5.

Maybe we should’ve known the World Series would play out this way. After all, the postseason does not come down to the best team winning, but to the team that’s playing the best. Right now, Atlanta is that team and has been since the playoffs began.

Oct 30, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) celebrates a home run against the Houston Astros with designated hitter Jorge Soler (12) during the seventh inningof game four of the 2021 World Series at Truist Park.

Jorge Soler and Dansby Swanson

Tonight, Atlanta has a chance to win its first World Series since 1995. The team has played nearly flawless defense, and its pitching staff has allowed more than four runs in a game just three times in 14 playoff games. Its lineup has provided enough offense to win close games, thanks to timely hitting—most recently from back-to-back home runs from Dansby Swanson (game-tying solo shot) and Jorge Soler (go-ahead blast).

Most essential to Atlanta’s success, though, has been its bullpen. Brian Snitker has used his relievers heavily throughout the playoffs, yet he hasn’t worn them out. The trio of high-leverage lefties, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and closer Will Smith, has allowed four runs combined across 34 ⅔ postseason innings. Their handling of the late innings has helped the team mostly silence two of the best offenses in baseball. The Dodgers led the National League with 5.12 runs per game, while the Astros led the majors with 5.33. Atlanta held those two lineups to 3.8 runs per game across the six NLCS games and the first four World Series games, and that includes one 11-run clunker vs. Los Angeles.

There is still plenty of time for the Astros to come back and win the World Series. Their offense looked deflated for nearly four games to start the ALCS before it came alive and scored seven runs in the ninth inning of Game 4. For as good as Atlanta is playing, its offense is averaging just 3.25 runs per game against Houston’s pitching. If the Astros win tonight to keep their season going, the World Series will return to Houston on Tuesday for Game 6 and, if they win again, they would have all the momentum heading into Game 7. Maybe it’s intangible, but the Big Mo sure feels real. Suddenly, the pressure would be on Atlanta not to blow another 3–1 series lead, which it did in last year’s NLCS. The Barves narrative would return.

And yet, most of what's happened so far in the World Series suggests Atlanta is going to win tonight. This may not be the better team, but it’s playing better, cleaner baseball. It’s been that way all postseason.

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

Oct 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter (33) reacts against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning during game three of the 2021 World Series at Truist Park.

A.J. Minter

1. THE OPENER

“On Oct. 8, the Braves, making their fourth straight postseason appearance under Snitker, lost Game 1 of the National League Division Series to Milwaukee, 2–1. The next 21 days have been the greatest 21 days of Snitker’s life.”

That’s Tom Verducci, writing about how this postseason has been the culmination of the 45 years Brian Snitker has spent with the organization. He is the Crash Davis of managers.

Read Tom’s entire story here.

2. ICYMI

Miss some or all of last night’s Game 4? We’ve got you covered.

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Oct 30, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario (8) reacts after a single against the Houston Astros during the third inning of game four of the 2021 World Series at Truist Park.

Eddie Rosario

3. WORTH NOTING from Stephanie Apstein

Eddie Rosario has been the best hitter on any team this postseason, but he has at times looked mortal with a glove on his hand. In Game 2, he threw to third base only to realize there was no one there. In Game 4, though, he made one of the plays of the night, a sprinting, reaching, gasping, no-look snare of a liner off the bat of Jose Altuve. Manager Brian Snitker laughed as he said the team would probably not show the video in instructional league. Rosario said, “I feel right now I am Super Rosario. I don't see the ball. I throw the glove and catch the ball. Everybody's happy. I'm happy. It's unbelievable what I did tonight. Wow, what a catch.”

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Will Laws

In his signature start of these playoffs, Framber Valdez made hay with his sinker against the Red Sox over eight innings of work. Houston’s de facto ace led off with 12 consecutive sinkers against Boston, setting the tone for a dominant evening full of ground balls and weak contact. The same plan did not work against Atlanta in Game 1. Jorge Soler smashed one of them into the Crawford Boxes to lead off the series. Out of 26 offerings on his primary pitch, he induced just one whiff.

Can the Braves key on Valdez’s bread and butter with Houston’s season on the line? We probably won’t have to wait long to get a glimpse of Atlanta’s approach. Soler, fresh off another series-altering homer in Game 4, will likely lead off again. Another early exit for Valdez, this time in front of Atlanta’s home crowd, would put the Astros in panic mode for the remainder of their stay in the series.

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

The Braves will hand the start in their potential clinching game to rookie Tucker Davidson—the injury replacement for Charlie Morton. Which means that when this series began in Houston, Davidson was in Gwinnett County, Ga., where he had been working out at the club’s alternate site since a Triple-A rehab assignment at the start of October. He took in Game 1 of the World Series in the lobby of a Courtyard by Marriott after a dinner from the Cheesecake Factory. (He “had a nice salad.”) A few hours later, he got the call that he was needed on the roster, and by the next morning, he had joined the team.

Now, the 25-year-old will make his first playoff start—and his first major-league appearance since June—with the World Series on the line.

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.