Most of the season, it just seemed this wasn’t their year. The Atlanta Braves dropped their first four games, and soon injuries piled up. They lost their most dynamic player before the All-Star break. They were stuck below .500 in August.
Yet out of nowhere, suddenly, these Atlanta Braves transformed themselves and took off.
Jorge Soler, Freddie Freeman and the Braves breezed to their first World Series championship since 1995, hammering the Houston Astros 7-0 Tuesday night in Game 6.
Max Fried threw six shutout innings in the signature pitching performance of the Series. Soler, a July acquisition who tested positive for COVID-19 in the playoffs, backed him early with a monster three-run shot for his third homer against the Astros.
Freeman hit an RBI double and then punctuated the romp with a solo home run in the seventh that made it 7-0.
By then, it was a total team effort. Ailing star Ronald Acuña Jr., the dynamo of Atlanta’s future, bounded from the dugout to join the celebration for Freeman, the longtime face of the franchise.
Soler tapped his heart twice before beginning his home run trot after connecting off rookie Luis Garcia in the third inning, sending the ball flying completely out of Minute Maid Park. Dansby Swanson also homered and by the final out, nothing could stop them.
Steadied by 66-year-old manager Brian Snitker, an organization man for four decades, the underdog Braves won the franchise’s fourth title.
Major credit for the Braves, too, goes to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Undaunted by Acuña’s knee injury, he pulled off a flurry of July trades that brought the Fab Four to the outfield — NL Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Soler.
But even in the Analytics Era, guided by a GM fully versed in new-age ways, the path these Braves took wouldn’t add up in any computer. Especially with how things looked in midseason.
“At that time, we were searching,” third baseman Austin Riley said before Game 6. “I think there’s no question about that.”
Minus Acuña, Atlanta wasn’t over .500 for a single day until the first week in August. The Braves finished 88-73 for the 12th-best record in the majors and fewest victories among playoff teams; their win total was the lowest for a World Series champion since St. Louis’ 83 in 2006.
Favored in spring training to win their fourth straight NL East title, the Braves lost Acuña to a torn knee in July. Earlier, 2020 Triple Crown contender Marcell Ozuna was injured and later placed on leave while Major League Baseball investigated him under its domestic violence policy. Projected ace Mike Soroka never got back from an Achilles injury.
Plenty of fans around the country were rooting hard against Jose Altuve and the Houston crew. Many continue to heckle them as the “Cheatin’ Astros” for an illegal sign-stealing scheme on the way to their 2017 title, and those feelings might last forever.
Truist Park was packed and the outside plazas were jammed over the weekend, and pulsating crowds filled Minute Maid Park.
Quite a change from last October. Only a limited capacity was permitted for that World Series as the Dodgers beat Tampa Bay at a neutral-site stadium in Arlington, Texas, which followed a total shutout for fans during a regular season shortened because of the coronavirus.
Now, all of baseball waits to see whether spring training is on deck in a little over three months. A squabble between owners and players threatens soon to shut down the sport.
In the meantime, the sport can savor a year in which things, slowly, started to get back to normal.