Our European readers might not know too much about baseball, also known as America’s Pastime. Even if you are not a fan of baseball, it is hard not to be a fan of the Atlanta Braves, who just won the World Series. That’s because it’s hard not to root for the underdogs, and the Braves are perhaps one of the biggest underdogs ever to win the World Series, but they are not your traditional Cinderella story.
Before this season, the Braves have been a strong team that has been good enough to reach the playoffs for the last several years. They were quite a good team, but not one that people expected to win the World Series. That was true in previous years, but it was especially true in 2021. Before the All-Star Break, which occurs midway through the season in mid-July, the Braves were considered a longshot even to make the playoffs at all (only 7.3%!). In baseball, only ten of thirty teams make the playoffs, so the odds of making the playoffs are inherently low. The Braves’ losing record stood at 44-45, and Ronald Acuña Jr., their best player, suffered a season-ending knee injury on July 10. At that point, the season seemed like a lost cause. The bettors felt the same: betting odds had the Braves chances of winning the World Series at the 13th best in Major League Baseball. On July 29, the odds were .4%. Suffice it to say they have come a long way.
Part of the reason for their turnaround was the addition of four veterans following the Acuña injury, all of whom performed exceptionally well at different times. One such player, Jorge Soler, ended up being the World Series MVP after hitting three home runs during the 6-game series. And in the round before, another one of the mid-season additions, Eddie Rosario, was named the series MVP. It says a lot about the team that these newcomers were able to perform so well upon arrival. What’s more, Acuña was not the only major player taken from the Braves during their run. Mike Soroca, one of the best pitchers in the league, suffered a severe Achilles injury. Another pitcher, Charlie Morton, sustained a fractured fibula in Game 1 of the World Series when a batter hit the ball right back at the pitcher. Losing two of your best pitchers is not the way most teams win World Series.
Even though this was a team that people thought would contend in the playoffs at the start of the season, many counted them out as contenders as late as August. Injuries, not lack of talent, were what made people expect so little from them. Despite hitting so many obstacles on the way to the playoffs, the team somehow righted the ship and played well enough to reach the playoffs. But even there, they were not considered top contenders. After performing well and winning their first round 3-1, they next had to face the LA Dodgers, the defending World Series Champs. After the Dodgers had overcome the San Francisco Giants in an all-time great series, many expected them to steamroll the injury-stricken Braves to play in the World Series. But the Braves surprised the league when they won the series rather handily at 4-2. And when they faced the Astros, they were still big underdogs. The Astros are one of the least popular teams in the league because of their recent cheating scandal. Pretty much any other team would have been the fan favourite against the Astros, and the Braves were more than ready to pick up that mantle. After a comprehensive 7-0 victory on November 2, the Atlanta Braves defied odds and injury to win the Series 4 games to 2 and become World Series Champions. No one can say they did not deserve it.