3 compelling reasons the Atlanta Braves could win the World Series

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: The World Series trophy is hoisted in the air during the 2018 World Series victory parade for the Boston Red Sox on October 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: The World Series trophy is hoisted in the air during the 2018 World Series victory parade for the Boston Red Sox on October 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Braves
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

It takes a lot to win a World Series, but I think there a few interesting reasons why the Atlanta Braves have what it takes.

It may be a little soon for such a piece. The Atlanta Braves have yet to start its series versus their NLDS opponent (most likely the St. Louis Cardinals), the first battle of what will eventually be a long and challenging war.

And that’s IF the Braves can overcome its opening series, something the organization hasn’t done since the 2001 postseason when the Braves swept its NLDS matchup against the Houston Astros (they would go on to lose to the Arizona Diamondbacks in that year’s NLCS).

But this Braves team possesses certain qualities they haven’t had since perhaps the early 90s (the franchise’s last title came in 1995). Granted, there are several things that must go exactly right… not to mention a fair share of lucky breaks that land their way.

Also, there are so many differences when it comes to postseason baseball. What it takes to win a playoff series can be a totally different animal, as opposed to winning a three-game series in the regular season.

There are two widely known aspects of postseason baseball — home runs and strikeouts — that have been generally accepted these days as very important musts when it comes to winning a World Series. The common narrative is that power-hitters and strikeout-pitchers are a requirement

When it comes to home runs… that appears to be true: Just look at the last five World Series winners — two of them (Houston Astros in 2017 and Chicago Cubs in 2016) led their respective postseasons in home runs, while the others (Boston Red Sox in 2018; Kansas City Royals in 2015; and San Francisco Giants in 2014) finished no worse than 3rd.

Year Team HRs Rank
2018 Boston Red Sox 17 2nd
2017 Houston Astros 27 1st
2016 Chicago Cubs 20 1st
2015 Kansas City Royals 17 2nd
2014 San Francisco Giants 7 3rd

Granted, teams that make it to that final series play at least four more games than the rest of the field, resulting in more opportunities.

But the point remains: in order to win a World Series a team must be able to hold its own when it comes to slugging home runs. Long balls are everything in today’s game.

But does the same really apply to strikeouts? Before doing my homework for this piece, my answer was a confident — yes. We see it play out every postseason: teams sort through their most dominant relievers and even starters, looking to create a favorable matchup.

This dynamic surely results in an advantage for the pitcher, right? There must be more strikeouts in the playoffs, and this worried me a bit when it came to the Atlanta Braves.

But to my surprise… the answer is no.

The environment isn’t as strikeout-heavy as it may seem. In fact, successful teams in the postseason aren’t really benefiting from an influx in strikeouts at all. The rate of punch outs by World Series winners are extremely comparable to that of an average team in the regular season.

Here are those same WS winners (from above) the last five seasons, along with how many games each winning team played in that season’s playoffs, plus each winners’ K-rate and how often each team struck out 10 or more batters in a game during that postseason.

Year WS Winner Games Played K-rate 10 or > Ks
2018 Red Sox 14 8.73 K/9 6-of-14 (42.8%)
2017 Astros 18 9.50 K/9 9-of-18 (50.0%)
2016 Cubs 17 8.12 K/9 5-of-17 (29.4%)
2015 Royals 16 9.72 K/9 8-of-16 (50.0%)
2014 Giants 17 6.97 K/9 2-of-17 (29.4%)
TOTAL 82 8.60 K/9 30-of-82 (36.5%)

The average K-rate in the majors (as of Tuesday, Sept. 24) is 8.80 strikeouts per nine — down just a hair since the middle of August, when it was 9.1 K/9. As you can see above, the past five World Series winners have maintained, on average, a K-rate of 8.60 K/9… surprisingly less than the current environment.

Now there are plenty of plausible explanations for such a thing. The competition is totally different in the regular season. Bad teams with bad hitters are facing great teams with great pitchers every single day (think Marlins vs. Yankees?).

Still, this myth that loaded starting rotations filled with strike-’em-out guys like Max Scherzer and Chris Sale are required to be successful in the playoffs just isn’t very accurate. Of course, it’s great to have several dominant pitchers in a postseason rotation, but it’s not exactly a must.

Maybe the Atlanta Braves don’t need to have a bunch of high K-rate type pitchers to win a World Series.

As of Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves had struck out 10 or more batters in a single game 54 times. Through those157 games, that’s a rate of 34.3% — just a tad below the rate of the WS winners in their respective postseasons (above).

This K-rate myth is just one example of the many postseason narratives that float around this time of year. The truth is: There are no set ways to win a World Series, nor is there a standardized format. 

However, there are a few interesting reasons why I think this Braves team has a great shot at winning it all.