The Atlanta Braves shocked the world and hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy on Tuesday, closing out the World Series over the Houston Astros in six games. Despite losing their star player Ronald Acuna Jr. to a torn ACL on July 10, Marcell Ozuna to a domestic violence case, and Mike Soroka to an Achilles injury, the Braves found a way to overcome and conquer it all. While the New York Mets spent the most amount of days in first place in the NL East, Atlanta spent the least amount of days on top at 51 days. Even missing so much of the season, Acuna was second on the team with a 4.2 fWAR.
The day Acuna got injured, the Braves were 44-44 and lost the next day to fall to 44-45 going into the All-Star break. They were below .500 for the majority of the first half of the season and didn’t climb to above that line for good until August 8. At that time, their postseason odds sat at 7.3 percent. At the trade deadline, the Braves easily could have just sold or stayed pat seeing that they weren’t in a really prime position. But instead, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos went out and remade their entire outfield, trading for four outfielders in Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler. They all made their marks on the team as they completely turned things around on the season.
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Manager: Brian Snitker
Position: First in NL East
Postseason: Won World Series
Even winning the division, the Braves only won 88 games, and no one was buying into them doing anything in the postseason. They had to face the dominant Milwaukee Brewers‘ pitching staff in the NLDS. They won that series in four games, then had to run into the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers. After outlasting the Dodgers in six games, the Houston Astros were the next to come. As if winning the World Series couldn’t be any tougher, the Braves lost Charlie Morton in Game 1. But they found a way to pull it off, with the rest of the pitching staff picking up the slack.
Max Fried got lit up for six runs in Game 2 of the World Series but bounced back tremendously in the clinching Game 6. Over six innings, the southpaw didn’t allow up a run on just four hits while striking out six. Soler proved to be the best of the four trade acquisitions, although all of them were key in their own way. But the former Kansas City Royals designated hitter was named the World Series MVP after he went 6-for-20 (.300) with three big homers, including the go-ahead blast in the third inning of Game 6.
Most Valuable Player: Austin Riley
Riley had his breakout season this year after his first two seasons were disappointing. In fact, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Braves almost gave up on and traded the young third baseman for a veteran third baseman in the offseason. But they are certainly glad they didn’t, as he put up huge numbers while only missing two games and being a likely top-five MVP candidate in the NL. The former first-round pick led the team with 33 homers, was second in the NL with 107 RBI, second on the team with a .361 xWOBA and 4.2 fWAR, and tied first with a 135 wRC+. In the postseason, Riley went 18-for-65 (.277) with two homers, five doubles, and eight RBI.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Charlie Morton
After the Braves signed him in the offseason to a one-year, $15 million deal, Morton turned into their ace. He had such a great season that they gave the soon-to-be 38-year-old a one-year, $20 million extension in September. In 33 starts, the right-hander went 14-6 while leading the team with a 4.6 fWAR, the starting rotation with a 3.17 FIP, 28.6 percent strikeout rate, and a low 7.7 percent walk rate in 185 2/3 innings.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Matzek
Throughout the season and postseason, Matzek was one of their most dependable arms in the bullpen, coming all the way back from his case of the “yips” that started back in 2015. In 13 appearances in the playoffs, the left-hander surrendered just three runs on 10 hits and four walks while striking out 24 and recording four holds in 15 2/3 innings. His biggest outing came in the decisive Game 6 when he struck out Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr., and Mookie Betts in order in the seventh, with the Braves clinging to a 4-2 lead. In the regular season, Matzek held a 2.57 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and a 29.2 percent strikeout rate in 63 innings.
Best Hitter of the Year: Freddie Freeman
It’s only right to give Freeman some love in what might have been his last season with the Braves, as he becomes a free agent. His offensive numbers were nearly identical to those of Riley, as the 12-year veteran led the position players with a 4.5 fWAR and was tied first (with Riley) with a 135 wRC+. He had a .411 xWOBA and mashed two fewer homers than Riley with 31. Freeman was a more patient hitter than Riley as well, as the 32-year-old had a higher walk rate (12.4 percent) and lower strikeout rate (15.4 percent).
Best Fielder of the Year: Adam Duvall
Even though he only played 68 games after being traded to Atlanta, Duvall was great defensively. The Braves are also not one of the better teams defensively from a statistical standpoint, and Duvall was second to Riley with six DRS. Riley didn’t have great range (negative seven UZR), but Duvall had a plus 4.6 UZR. He also had a solid Outfield Arm Runs (ARM), leading the team at 4.6.
Comeback Player of the Year: Austin Riley
As mentioned, 2021 was Riley’s breakout season. His first two years were disappointing as he failed to hit over .240 and only had an 86 OPS+ in both seasons. This season, he drastically improved to record a .303 average and 132 OPS+.
For the Braves it is now on to trying to defend their first World Series title in 26 years. They will ride that high for a few weeks and/or months before getting serious again for the 2022 season. Bringing Freeman back will be at the top of the wishlist for the offseason, while they are returning most of their team, including getting Acuna back. The fact that they were able to win a World Series without Acuna leads you to believe that this won’t just be a one-and-done. This team definitely has staying power.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images