The underdog Atlanta Braves shocked the world and won their first World Series title in 26 years, a fitting end to an unforgettable season.
By Ryan Ford
The Atlanta Braves were crowned world champions after defeating the Houston Astros last Tuesday, concluding one of the more memorable MLB seasons in recent history. Records were broken, surprises were abundant, and stadiums were rocking, following a Covid-shortened season the year before. With the 2021 season now in the books, here are some of the more notable storylines from an electric year of baseball.
Braves Win It All
The Atlanta Braves ended the season on top of the baseball world, defeating the Houston Astros 8-0 in Game 6 of the World Series. This comes despite the loss of superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. to a torn right ACL back in July, ending his season just before the All-Star break. It was a rollercoaster regular season for the Braves, who were also without ace Mike Soroka (torn achilles) and star outfielder Marcell Ozuna (administrative leave) for most of the campaign. Needless to say, the 88-win Atlanta Braves entered the playoffs as longshots to make it through the loaded National League side of the bracket.
But that’s part of what makes baseball so special. The Braves caught fire at just the right time, defeating the 2nd seed Milwaukee Brewers, the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers, and the playoff experienced Houston Astros en route to their first World Series title since 1996.
Trade-deadline acquisition Jorge Soler won World Series MVP honors, slashing .300/.391/.800 with three home runs. His last home run put the Braves up 3-0 in the 1st inning of Game 6, a lead that the Braves never lost. Rookie starting-pitcher Ian Anderson deserves praise as well, as he sported a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings of playoff baseball, including 5 innings of no-hit baseball in Game 3 of the World Series, the second-longest no-hit bid by a rookie starter in World Series history (per ESPN).
Ohtani’s Historic Two-Way Season
The Los Angeles Angels acquired Shohei Ohtani following the conclusion of the 2017 season, and his tantalizing potential as the next two-way superstar put all eyes on the Japanese international signee. While we saw glimpses of his ace-level pitching ability paired with a powerful bat, injuries mostly kept Ohtani doing one or the other during his first few seasons in the league.
This season, however, Ohtani put together the best two-way baseball season since Babe Ruth. On the mound, Ohtani was dominant. He started 23 games as a pitcher in 2021, accumulating a 3.18 ERA and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Behind the plate, Ohtani was unstoppable, with 46 home runs, an OPS+ of 158 (with 100 considered average), and 26 stolen bases.
Ohtani wasn’t just the most valuable player in baseball this season (9.0 Wins Above Replacement), his performance was historic, and a bright spot for an Angels team that finished with another lackluster season.
Biggest Surprise Team
Far and away the most surprising team this year were the San Francisco Giants. According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Giants over/under win total opened at 74.5 back in March, and their odds to make the playoffs were slim. While the Giants had an encouraging season the year before, they played in the same division with the championship-favorite Los Angeles Dodgers and a loaded San Diego Padres team with championship aspirations of their own. Even the most optimistic Giants fan had no idea what was in store.
The Giants wound up with the best record in baseball, finishing the year with a record of 107-55, the most wins in franchise history. An excellent starting rotation, deep bullpen, and roster filled with old savvy veterans and exciting youngsters came together to dominate the regular season. Brandon Crawford turned back the clock and emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate at shortstop (.895 OPS, 6 DRS), while young starting-pitcher Logan Webb opened eyes with an All-Star caliber finish to the campaign (2.63 ERA since July) and dominant playoff debut (0.61 ERA in two games vs. Dodgers).
Unfortunately, their season came to a disappointing end in a Game 5 loss to the Dodgers in the NLDS. The Giants also took a big blow with franchise legend Buster Posey announcing his retirement shortly after the season. But with most of the team returning, and a farm system that ranks top 10 in baseball (per MLB pipeline), the Giants appear set to be a force in the National League for the foreseeable future.
Melanie Moyer '22,