Legends On Deck

The Fall Classic Heads South

For the first time in MLB history, two teams from the American South will face off in the World Series.  The Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros will begin the Fall Classic on Tuesday, at Minute Maid Park in Houston.  While the top ranked Georgia Bulldogs and rising #14 Texas A&M Aggies serve as the primary pastime of so many this October; for the next week, it will be all eyes on baseball.

No major league ball club called a Southern city home until MLB granted an expansion franchise to Houston in 1962.  The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966 and the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972.   Expansion came to Florida in 1993 (Miami Marlins) and 1998 (Tampa Bay Rays).  And, with the growth of cities like Nashville and Charlotte, they remain high on the list for MLB expansion.

Despite the lack of big league franchises, some of the game’s earliest stars were Southerners.  Most notably, Ty Cobb (Georgia), Tris Speaker (Texas) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (South Carolina).   They played their professional careers well outside their native region.  Today, Houston and Atlanta are two of the largest metro areas in America and have fan bases that span across state lines.  “Braves Country” spreads across most of the Southeast.  Fans can be found all throughout Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and up into the Carolinas and Tennessee.  Astros fans span the territory of eastern Texas and Louisiana.

Astros Ascending

When the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017, their success was based on a total rebuild of the organization.  The Astros enjoyed many years of mild success during the “Killer Bs” era (Bagwell, Biggio and Bell), but failed to reach the World Series until 2005.  They would be swept by the White Sox in that World Series.  In 2013, the “Lastros” lost 111 games.  They would develop a strong core of players during this rebuilding process (Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Springer).  Combing their explosive lineup with a dominant starting rotation (Verlander, Cole Kuechel and Morton) the Astros captured their first ever World Series Championship in 2017.

In 2019, the Astros would return to the World Series, losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games.  While Houston has lost a number of key pieces to free agency (Cole, Kuechel, Morton and Springer) and injury (Verlander) the core of their infield remains and they’ve rebounded nicely.  On the hitting side, the Astros have benefited substantially from two young outfielders, Yordan Alvarez (ALCS MVP) and Kyle Tucker.  Framber Valdez will be on the mound in Game 1.  Their rotation isn’t what it used to be, but the Astros will continue lean on a strong bullpen, as they have all postseason.

Hotlanta’s Got the Chops

The Atlanta Braves are often considered to be the MLB “team of the 1990s.”  During that decade,  won five National League Pennants, but only one World Series victory (1995).  Their starting rotation with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz is almost indisputably the greatest of all-time.  But, as the 90s came to a close, the Braves success also waned.

This year’s Braves team is several years in the making, but with a few twists.  Their most notable star, Ronald Acuna Jr., went down with a leg injury.  The team was hovering below .500 as late as early July.  At the trade deadline, the Braves completely remade their outfield, picking up Adam Duvall, Joc Peterson, Jorge Solar and NLCS MVP, Eddie Rosario.  Combined with a stellar infield that includes Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and rising star, Austin Riley, the Braves got hot and never looked back.

They also enjoy the benefits of solid, young starters in Max Fried and Ian Anderson.  Veteran Charlie Morton gets the Game 1 nod.

A Rivalry Renewed

While the Braves and Astros may have never met in a World Series, they are in fact, old postseason rivals.  The Braves defeated the Astros in the 1997, 1999 and 2001 NLDS. The Astros returned the favor in the 2004 and 2005 NLDS. The Astros would join the American League in 2013.

Settling the Score

In recent years, both franchises have been at the center of two separate controversies.  The Astros have had their 2017 Championship come under fire, as a result of the sign stealing controversy. But, in fairness to the  current team, many of their players have moved on to other teams and both their GM and Manager were relieved of their duties.   Not to mention, the Red Sox were wrapped up in a similar (but much less reported) sign stealing scandal in 2018.  This was largely glossed over by favorable, East Coast baseball writers.  This Astros team could deliver legendary Manager, Dusty Baker, a first ever (managerial) World Series victory.

The Braves, no fault of their own, were the talk of the early 2021 season.  Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to move the All-Star Game out of the greater Atlanta area, due a voting bill passed by the Georgia legislature (and signed by the Governor). The region lost out on millions of dollars of economic impact, due to corporate and political forces. Ironically, the Braves players and fans have the last laugh.  Imagine the look on Rob Manfred’s face if finds himself presenting the Braves with the Commissioner’s Trophy.

So many interesting angles to this year’s match-up.  Most importantly, it saves Americans the agony of having to root for either LA or Boston.  Enjoy the Southern Series!

Brian Koss
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