HOUSTON -- Momentum? In this World Series? Please.
Long a popular talking point in sports, whether being bandied about by players, coaches, managers, media members or fans, we'll hear about momentum. It might be during a game, it might be regarding a series, but someone inevitably brings up one team having "the momentum."
Given everything we know about both teams, there are bound to be many twists and turns. One team will have a huge inning. Then the other will. One team might string together a few games before the other answers. The Braves won Game 1 with relative ease. The Astros did the same in Game 2, a 7-2 victory that seemed all but over in the bottom of the second inning.
And Uncle Mo had absolutely no hand in either result. I won't speak authoritatively on other sports, but in baseball he very, very rarely does.
And this series is going to be a fickle mistress. Here's why.
Evenly matched offenses
Both offenses have a high ceiling with firepower to have big power games. We saw it from the Braves in Game 1 when they homered twice. The Astros led the AL in average and on-base percentage and we know how much power they can pack with the likes of Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker and Jose Altuve. With teams getting on base and hitting for power, we know the big inning is always on the table.
I noted the Astros led the AL in on-base percentage. It was .339, which means they still make outs 64.1 percent of the time. As such, while the offenses are capable of putting up big innings, they are also going to be prone to putting up zeroes in strings of innings.
Either team being able to strike with a crooked number or go into a mini mid-game slump means there will be shifting in the series that people will want to dress up as momentum changes. In reality, it's just baseball being played at a high level by two different teams.
Pitching staffs in similar situations
Neither team has a lockdown ace. We've seen both teams employ bullpen games at certain points in the playoffs. We've seen starters exit games early, causing issues with bullpen overuse.
Braves Game 1 starter Charlie Morton fractured his fibula and is done. They are now down to just Max Fried and Ian Anderson from their rotation. Anderson's starts this postseason have gone for five, three and four innings, respectively. The Astros have gotten some quality work at different times from the likes of José Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Framber Valdez, but each of the three has had a meltdown game, too (Garcia has had two).
In terms of reliable bullpen arms, both teams have them. They just don't have many. It's not an assembly line of lockdown relievers on either side. On the Braves, it's probably their three lefties (A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith) and the Astros have fallen into a similar setup with Ryne Stanek, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly. But you can only survive so long with just three relievers, so there will be the opportunity for late offense.
And again, it'll be masqueraded as "momentum."
The Astros looked dead in the water in the ALCS early in Game 4, but they stormed back and won it with a seven-run ninth inning. They would win the next two games to secure the pennant. They had "momentum," right? Except they were down 5-0 before they knew it in Game 1 of the World Series.
So then the Braves had all the momentum. But the Astros struck for one in the first and four in the second in Game 2.
None of this has anything to do with the fiction that is "momentum" in baseball.
Moving forward, we've got ourselves a five-game series, basically, with the Braves having home-field advantage, though the Astros get the advantage of being at home for the final two, should they be necessary.
It'll be Anderson vs. Garcia in Game 3. Judging from everything we discussed above, it doesn't seem like we're going to see both in the fifth inning. The bullpens will have a day of rest on Thursday, so the hunch is both managers are aggressive in pinch hitting for the pitcher spot if there's any traffic early and using their top bullpen arms.
But then that mucks up Game 4 and neither team really has a starter for that. It was a planned bullpen game for the Braves, who will also have to do that in Morton's spot in Game 5. The Astros will do the same in Game 4 before going back to Valdez for Game 5.
Another story to watch is Yordan Alvarez. The AL team loses its DH in the NL ballpark. Will the Astros play Kyle Tucker in center, flanked by Valdez and Michael Brantley? That's a rough outfield, then, defensively, but it maximizes offense when these games could be slugfests.
Regardless, this series looks like it's going to be a beautiful mess with lots of back and forth. There's no momentum. It's just fun baseball unfolding in unpredictable ways. In this incredibly fun season fresh off a shortened, funky one, I wouldn't have it any other way.
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