Sunday night the Atlanta Braves will try to clinch their first World Series championship since 1995. The Braves won Game 4 on Saturday and hold a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Houston Astros. The last win is always the toughest, though Atlanta is in excellent position to win a title right now. Here's how you can watch Game 5.
Truth be told, the Braves have not received a dominant performance from one single player in the World Series like, say, Madison Bumgarner carrying the Giants in 2014 or David Ortiz carrying the Red Sox in 2013. It has been a collective effort and that means there is still no obvious World Series MVP leader heading into Game 5. It could be any one of a number of players.
With that in mind, here are the leading candidates to take home the Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player award as the series heads to a potentially decisive Game 5. As you'd expect given the state of the series, our list skews toward the Braves.
1. The Braves bullpen
There have been World Series co-MVPs (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling for the 2001 Diamondbacks). There have even been World Series co-co-MVPs (Roy Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Steve Yeager for the 1981 Dodgers). So why not take it one step further and honor an entire bullpen unit with the World Series MVP award? Nothing would be more fitting for baseball in 2021.
Braves starters have thrown 12 2/3 innings in the World Series compared to 22 1/3 innings for the bullpen so far. Those numbers are skewed a bit by Charlie Morton's freak leg injury, which forced him to exit Game 1 in the third inning, and also Atlanta not having a reliable No. 4 starter and going with a bullpen games in Game 4, but that's sorta the point. The bullpen has done the heavy lifting.
Take a look at what the Braves have gotten from their bullpen through four games this series:
That's 22 1/3 innings with a 1.61 ERA against the offense that led baseball in runs scored and OPS+ during the regular season, and all those guys did it in late October, with a full season's and postseason's worth of fatigue on their bodies. And remember, Game 5 will be another bullpen game because of Morton's injury. These guys have more work ahead of them.
If we must single out a single Braves reliever, then Kyle Wright gets my vote. He soaked up 4 2/3 innings behind opener Dylan Lee in Game 4 and has allowed just one run against six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in the World Series. Wright leads all pitchers (on both teams) in innings in the series and he has a good chance to finish as the innings leader if the series ends Sunday.
"The situation we put him in was probably something we didn't want to do, honestly, but how he limited damage," Braves manager Brian Snitker said about Wright's performance in Game 4. "His stuff was so good tonight too. He's really, really good. Kyle is the reason we won the game, how he kept that thing in check and allowed us to stay around in that game. That was huge."
Really though, this has been a collective effort, with the three-headed setup monster of Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and AJ Minter combining to throw 10 1/3 innings. We've seen World Series co-MVPs and World Series co-co-MVPs. In a series where no single player has really stood out as an MVP candidate, Atlanta's bullpen collectively deserves the nod, as unusual as it would be.
2. Jorge Soler
I picked Soler to win the World Series MVP award before the series and he's making me look smart. For starters, Soler clubbed a leadoff home run in Game 1 and . As in, he is the first player to go deep as the very first batter in the World Series. Pretty remarkable seeing how this is the 117th World Series.
More importantly though, Soler clubbed the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning of Game 4 on Saturday, propelling Atlanta to the commanding 3-1 series lead. By championship probability added, it is the second biggest hit of the 2021 season (among all teams!), narrowly trailing Dansby Swanson's game-tying homer one batter earlier.
Soler did not start Game 4 -- he figures to be in the Game 5 starting lineup against lefty Framber Valdez -- though there's precedent for the World Series MVP not starting every game. In 2009, Hideki Matsui started only three of six World Series games for the Yankees because there was no designated hitter in the National League park. Starting a game on the bench isn't disqualifying.
I think it's fair to say Soler's leadoff homer in Game 1 and go-ahead homer in Game 4 are two of three most memorable hits in the World Series so far (along with Swanson's game-tying homer in Game 4), and memorable often equals MVP. The stats justify it too, even though Soler does lag a bit in plate appearances compared to the other regulars.
3. Austin Riley
Despite his memorable home run, Soler does not lead hitters in championship probability added in the World Series. He's second to Riley, who's driven in three runs in the series, all important. He doubled in a first-inning run in Game 1, giving the Braves an early 2-0 lead, and he drove in his team's first run in Games 3 and 4. The Game 3 run proved to be the game-winner.
Riley hasn't hit a memorable homer or even drawn a walk, though he has five hits in the World Series, and three of them had a very significant impact on the game. Also, Riley's had an impact defensively as well. Most notably, he saved at least one run with a diving catch in the second inning of Game 4. The Astros were unable to break that game open in part due to Riley's glove.
Contributions from previous series can sometimes sway the World Series MVP voting and Riley had a few clutch hits against the Dodgers in the NLCS. That won't hurt his World Series MVP case, if nothing else. One more big hit in the World Series-clinching game could very well make Riley the World Series MVP favorite.
One of only three players with three extra-base hits in the World Series (along with Soler and Jose Altuve), d'Arnaud socked a long solo home run to give the Braves an important insurance run in the eighth inning in Game 3. He also hit a game-tying solo homer in the second inning of Game 2, though Atlanta would go on to lose that game.
In addition to the two homers, d'Arnaud has caught every inning for the Braves in the World Series (and the postseason in general), so he deserves some credit for the club's excellent pitching performance. He's been the guy behind the plate calling pitches and helping navigate a difficult Astros lineup. D'Arnaud was probably the favorite to be named World Series MVP prior to Game 4.
Rosario has not driven in a run in the World Series and he hasn't been as otherworldly as he was in the NLCS (how could anyone expect him to do that again?), though he has been very good overall,. It's certainly the signature defensive play of the World Series so far.
"I feel right now I am Super Rosario," Rosario joked when asked about the catch following Game 4. "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."
With the World Series MVP race as close as it is, Rosario is one big hit away from taking the award, which would make him the first player to be named LCS MVP and World Series MVP in the same year since, well, Corey Seager last year.
Honorary Astro: Michael Brantley
The World Series is not over. Historically, teams that take a 3-1 lead in the World Series have gone on to win the series 87 percent of the time, but 87 percent is not 100 percent. It was only five years ago that the Cubs erased a 3-1 series deficit against Cleveland, should you need an example. You'd be a fool to think the Astros couldn't rip off three straight wins starting in Game 5.
Altuve has two home runs in the World Series (the only two home runs hit by the Astros in the series, if you can believe that), though he is 4 for 18 (.222) overall with a .268 on-base percentage, putting him a little further behind his Astros teammates in the World Series MVP race. Kyle Tucker is having a fine series, going 5 for 15 (.333) with a double and two stolen bases.
Right now, I'd say Brantley has the best case among Astros players to win World Series MVP. His six hits lead all players (on both teams) in the series, giving him a nice head start, plus he's a middle of the order guy who will get chances to drive in runs should the Astros make a comeback. Obviously Brantley has an uphill climb here, but we must acknowledge a comeback is possible.
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