By HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OBSERVER
On April 1, 2021, the Atlanta Braves took the field to begin a season which was full of high expectations.
After a disappointing loss to the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS — which involved the collapse of a 3-1 series lead — the squad sought to redeem itself and earn a trip to the World Series.
Six months later, manager Brian Snitker’s team finds itself exactly where it hoped to be: winners of the Eastern division for the fourth consecutive year, owners of the National League pennant and — for the first time in 22 years — ready to compete in the annual fall classic.
To casual fans of baseball, the results manufactured by the Braves in 2021 were unsurprising. For the people of Atlanta, this season was an emotional roller coaster where — at one point in time — all hope was seemingly lost.
Atlanta began its season playing average baseball. Reigning MVP Freddie Freeman could not find a way to return to the 2020 form of himself, the Braves offense struggled to develop consistency in late-game situations and the bullpen found new ways to blow leads on a nightly basis.
On May 17, starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa punched the dugout bench, fracturing his right hand. On June 26, Mike Soroka suffered a recurring injury in his right Achilles tendon. Aa capable starting rotation was in shambles and morale around the clubhouse was low.
At the mid-season All-Star break, the Braves were 44-45 and sitting at third place in the NL East.
On July 10, disaster struck Atlanta when all-star power hitting and gold glove outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a torn ACL, effectively ending the young star’s MVP-caliber season.
It was at this point that general manager Alex Anthopoulus knew he had a decision to make: make moves at the trade deadline or chalk the season and begin building for a serious run in 2022.
Anthopoulus chose the aggressive route and went to work reconstructing a team who had already been counted out of postseason contention. Before the July 31 deadline, the Braves acquired the likes of Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Alex Jackson.
The new-look Braves went on a run which will be remembered by Atlanta natives for generations to come, posting a 44-28 record in the latter portion of the season, surging to first place in the east and clinching a berth in the 2021 postseason.
The celebrations were far from over. Despite entering the National League Divisional series as heavy underdogs against the NL Central-champion Milwaukee Brewers, Snitker’s team continued to build upon its “why not us” mentality, defeating the Brew Crew in just four games.
It was at this point that the revamped Braves had earned the opportunity to redeem themselves in the NLCS against a familiar foe: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For the second time in the 2021 postseason, Atlanta emerged from a series after entering as extreme underdogs. Behind the red-hot bat of recently acquired Rosario, the Braves defeated the Dodgers 4-2, earning their first National League Pennant since 1999.
Rosario, Snitker and the rest of the Braves organization are now presented with an opportunity that most any Atlanta fan might have found absurd should they have been asked in July. The opportunity to defeat the Houston Astros and bring a title home to a city which has been deprived of one since 1995.
On paper, there is no rhyme or reason as to why the Braves have gotten to where they are now. Just as they were in the previous two matchups, the squad enters the World Series as heavy underdogs. Maybe this is the perfect scenario for Snitker’s squad. Atlanta has nothing to lose and most of the baseball world has already counted them out.
This just might make the Braves the most dangerous team in sports.