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The Braves were never considered World Series material — until they went on and won it

The Braves took an extremely atypical path to the World Series. No World Series Champion has ever had a season like this, yet here the Braves are: Champions.

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I’ve said it a million times: Baseball is a weird sport. This is a deeply weird game and don’t we all know it now more than ever! The 2021 Atlanta Braves, who finished the regular season 88-73 (who only played 161 games because one of them got rained out and thankfully ended up being irrelevant) and had the lowest win total of any team in the 2021 Major League Baseball Postseason bracket, just won the World Series. Despite the fact that I went into all of these playoff series with the blissful feeling that the Braves were playing with house money, it is still extremely surreal to type out that the 2021 Atlanta Braves are World Series Champions. It really happened. It’s 1:38 AM Eastern Time as I type this and I’ve watched the video of Jorge Soler delivering a sequel to the 2005 Albert Pujols bomb a million times already. It really happened, y’all! The Braves really just won the World Series!

This absolutely didn’t seem like the year that it was going to happen. A more fitting year would’ve been 2020, which is when the Braves won the NL East for the third year in a row and finally broke their drought of Postseason wins. They bopped the Reds in the Wild Card Round, crushed the Marlins in the NLDS, and got up 3-1 on the Dodgers in the NLCS. Unfortunately, the moment in 2020 ended up being too big for that team and their moment in the sun had to wait. I know a lot of y’all thought that that was an opportunity lost, but I remember feeling pretty optimistic about the Braves heading into 2021. They had finally figured out how to win in October and learned a valuable lesson in the 2020 NLCS. It was only a matter of putting it all together at some point and we were hoping that 2021 would be the year that It happened.

But you and I both know that there were plenty of trials and tribulations that the Braves had to deal with. Some of them were surface level issues that every team has to deal with and then there was the downright awful stuff that had you thinking that this is not something that happens during a World Series-winning season. But through thick and thin, this Braves team never lost sight of what the goal was. They kept their head down, they individually took care of business whenever called upon, and continued to push and push and push until the only way forward was winning the whole thing. This season absolutely did not contain a linear path to a World Series title for the Atlanta Braves, but they managed to lift the Commissioner's Trophy at the end.

Settle in, because we’re about to take a long and winding walk down the even longer and at times brutal path towards an incredible and unbelievable World Series title for the 2021 Atlanta Braves.

Going all the way back to February 9, PECOTA’s initial projections had the Braves pegged as an 82-win team. Now granted, PECOTA probably would’ve been correct about this if not for some major changes just before that magical date of August 1 (and Ben Carsley of Baseball Prospectus did write up a really good article explaining why PECOTA, well, hated the Braves), but you can definitely say that on February 9, 2021, the Atlanta Braves did not look like a World Series team to most observers.

Once the season got underway on April 1, the Braves didn’t look like they were changing any minds. They lost four straight games, won four straight, then lost four straight again. The first game of that latter streak was the game where Alec Bohm got credit for a run that he never touched the plate for. The next three games ended up being an ignominious sweep at the hands of the Marlins. The Braves had stumbled out of the gates and while it was early, this did not look like a World Series team in early April. Still, there was plenty of time and we’d repeatedly hear from both manager Brian Snitker and the players themselves that they were just anticipating to turn the corner and start clicking.

It turns out that we’d be waiting for a while. They got unofficially no-hit by Madison Bumgarner and the Diamondbacks on April 25 — and it was equally terrible since the Braves got outscored 12-0 and mustered only one measly hit over a whole entire doubleheader against the team that would ultimately finish last in the NL West. The transition from April to May was an awful one. In the midst of an ugly three-game sweep in Florida at the hands of the Blue Jays, they lost Travis d’Arnaud for a huge chunk of the season. His presence behind the plate would be sorely missed until mid-August. As the Braves continued to struggle, things got awful off the field. Marcell Ozuna’s injury was bad enough, then things got worse for him and I’ll leave it at that. These were dark times for the Braves, for sure.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Toronto Blue Jays
Six months after this happened, the Braves would be World Series champions. Unreal.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

June didn’t treat the Braves much better. The Braves played the Red Sox and scored 16 runs over the two-game series, only to lose both games 10-8 after calamitous outings from the bullpen. Atlanta couldn’t muster anything longer than a three-game winning streak, as they continued to collectively spin their wheels in the mud. The month came to a crushing end when the hope of a return for Mike Soroka turned into yet another disaster, as he re-tore his Achilles on the first day that he was out of his walking boot. They weren’t playing consistently good baseball, they had lost two of their impact players already and then they lost Mike Soroka once again. June 2021 was not a championship month for the Atlanta Braves.

Then July rolled around and things somehow managed to get worse. Specifically, July 10 ended up being one of the darkest days of the season. Ronald Acuña Jr. had basically been carrying the Braves up until the point on that day at the ballpark in Miami when he couldn’t carry them anymore. The Braves had not only lost their best player, but they had lost one of the best players in all of baseball. The next day, they lost to fall under .500 once again and they entered the All-Star break on an immense downer. At that moment, the World Series felt about as far away as Mars is to any point on this planet that we live on.

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves
Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte helped to hold down the outfield fort before help finally came.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

However, things started turning around. By the end of July, Alex Anthopoulos made the moves that will be remembered as legendary in Braves history. No Braves fan who’s around today will ever forget the collective efforts of Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall. The arrival of those guys put a charge into this team and helped give this club a belief that spread all over the organization. Still, the general baseball landscape wasn’t really too impressed. The Braves didn’t make any major waves with their deadline deals. They were a better team then than they were before the deadline, but this still wasn’t considered to be a World Series contender by any means.

Then the Braves finally started turning the corner. That absurdly historic loss-win pattern that kicked off the second half of the season following the All-Star break finally ended on August 4 with a 7-4 win over the Cardinals, and the Braves finally made it over the .500 hump a couple of days later. On August 13, the Braves won their first of nine games in a row. The streak catapulted them into first place in the NL East and as it turned out, the Braves ended up staying there for the rest of the season. For the first time all season, the Braves were alive and kicking but at the same time, nobody realistically had them penciled in as World Series contenders. It was a fun story to see them bounce back, but surely this story was going to end at some point before the Fall Classic, right?

If it was going to end, it wasn’t going to end in September. The Braves played well enough to keep a decent cushion atop the NL East and eventually got hot towards the end of the month — finishing it with an emphatic sweep of the Phillies to clinch the division. Against all odds, the Braves were going back to the Postseason as divisional champs for the fourth straight season. They were going to get another crack at this thing after somehow surviving an absolute shambles of a regular season. So naturally, there was no reason to believe that this would carry all the way to a World Series title. Cinderella stories in sports are fun, but they rarely ever happen. The magic dust eventually evaporates and reality sets in. If the Braves were going to get to the World Series, they’d have to get past the NL Central champions in the form of the Milwaukee Brewers and their pitching would surely be too strong for Atlanta.

Philadelphia Phillies v. Atlanta Braves
That flag will be red when it goes up on the light tower soon.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Instead, the Braves turned the conventional thinking on their head and beat the Brewers with great pitching of their own. Charlie Morton and Max Fried won the day, and the bullpen came up huge for the Braves as well. The series was capped off with Freddie Freeman adding another signature Postseason moment to his impressive career resume, as he went deep off of Josh Hader in the eighth inning Game 4 to put the Braves ahead for good. The Braves had done it: They’d somehow managed to return to the NLCS. Still, even though it was miraculous that they’d gotten this far for a second year in a row, it was going to end soon. The 106-win Dodgers had conquered their hated rivals in the form of the 107-win Giants and now there was seemingly nothing stopping them from getting a shot to defend their title as World Series Champions. This was the moment for Los Angeles, not the Waffle House guys from Atlanta.

Once again, the Braves continued to overturn any and all obstacles in their 2021 path — including the team that knocked them off in 2020. The Braves got up 3-1 again and after Los Angeles dominated in order to make it 3-2, the Dodgers were certainly going to shrug it off like they did last year and pull out the series win in seven. But the series returned to Atlanta and the Braves ended it in Atlanta. That was the game where Eddie Rosario put the capper on one of the most incredible LCS performances that you will ever see and it was also the game where Tyler Matzek challenged one of the best players in all of baseball with the game on the line and slayed the dragon in dominant fashion.

National League Championship Series Game 6: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Atlanta Braves Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Braves had won the pennant and returned to the World Series for the first time since 1999, but this was still not a team that was World Series material. They may have gotten hot, but the Houston Astros as an organization were used to this type of thing. This was Houston’s third World Series appearance in five years and this was going to be the redemption season after their 2017 title was tainted with scandal. If the stage was set for anybody to walk away with the World Series title once this season was done and dusted, it was the team that was on a mission to silence all of their doubters.

Instead, the Braves proved that they were ready for this to be their moment. Soon-to-be World Series MVP Jorge Soler started off the World Series with a leadoff homer three pitches into Game 1. Charlie Morton struck out Jose Altuve on a broken leg. Morton’s unfortunate injury would’ve been debilitating for normal teams. However, this Braves club had proven that they were anything but a normal team. In a season where losing impact players was so common, this was less of a crippling blow than it was just another speed bump to cross over. The Braves had dealt with bad luck like this all season, so they were more-than-prepared to deal with it when everything was on the line.

2021 World Series Game 1: Atlanta Braves v. Houston Astros
Here you see Charlie Morton throwing a strikeout with a broken freakin’ leg.
Photo by Darren Georgia/MLB Photos via Getty Images

After getting the split during the first Houston leg of the series, the Braves went home and won two straight in impressive fashion to get to yet another 3-1 lead in the series. They won the NLDS 3-1, they were up 3-1 in the NLCS for two years in a row and now they found themselves in that same commanding position in the World Series. So naturally, the Braves lost Game 5 and did it after squandering a 4-0 lead following a first-inning Grand Slam from Adam Duvall. On cue, those old nervous rumblings that popped up following their Game 5 loss in the NLCS returned to the surface following their Game 5 defeat in the World Series. The “Atlanta Sports Curse” never existed but judging by the number of times I saw Super Bowl LI get brought up again, it was understandable to think that whatever invisible force that was in charge of the fortunes of sports teams was once again starting to do their work against Atlanta. It was a nice run, but The Other Shoe was surely about to drop, right?

This team ended up being very, very different. After winning Game 1 in Houston to start things off in all-capital letters, they won Game 6 in Houston to end this thing with an exclamation point. Jorge Soler returned to the scene of his baseball murder in Game 1 and repeated the crime in Game 6. Tortured Atlanta sports fan Dansby Swanson contributed to the massacre by sending a dinger of his own to the Crawford Boxes. Freddie Freeman added two more RBIs in two separate at-bats — one was nearly a homer and the other one did in fact land in whatever Minute Maid Park considers to be home run territory. Max Fried was the maximum version of himself and the bullpen continued to look unrecognizable to the same crew that struggled through the early portion of the season. It all blended perfectly to turn this game into a victory lap for the road team.

2021 World Series Game 6: Atlanta Braves v. Houston Astros
Soler knew he had sent it into outer space.
Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It was very fitting to see how the home runs shook out since it’s basically a walk down recent Atlanta Braves history. Jorge Soler represented the new blood that helped to revive what was a dormant Braves team even in late-July. Dansby Swanson represented the new wave of talent that started to give the franchise hope after the organization bottomed out and committed to a rebuild. Then Freddie Freeman represented the link from this current era of Braves baseball to the last era of Braves baseball that was good, but never great enough to get deep into the Postseason. Those three men each hit homers in the clinching game of the 2021 World Series and now they’ll never have to buy dinner for themselves anywhere in Braves Country since someone will offer to pay for it.

When Freddie Freeman caught the throw from Dansby Swanson for the 27th and final out of Game 6 of the 2021 World Series, that was the first real moment where it was truly undeniable. They weren’t considered to be true World Series material at any point from February through October. So it makes sense that on November 2, 2021, the Braves finally and firmly cemented their status as World Series material. Despite every single piece of bad luck that happened to this team in 2021, this is now a season that will sit right beside 1995 when it comes to Atlanta Braves history. They’ve tasted glory, and nobody can take away the fact that these players are all World Series Champions.

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

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