Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker and star Freddie Freeman lauded the team's resilience in overcoming obstacles on the road to winning their first World Series since 1995.

The Braves claimed the best-of-seven World Series 4-2 thanks to a 7-0 win over the Houston Astros in Game 6, becoming the eighth side in a row to clinch the title away from home.

The triumph is Atlanta's first championship in 26 years, while it comes after they lost star outfield Ronaldo Acuna Jr. in July due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury along with starting pitcher Charlie Morton to a fractured fibula in Game 1 of the World Series.

Atlanta had off-field issues too, with two-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna placed on the commissioner's exempt list after being arrested and charged with aggravated assault in May.

The Braves traded in Alex Duvall and acquired Joc Pederson in July, with both hitting three home runs during the postseason, along with 10 and nine RBIs respectively.

"These guys never gave up on themselves. We used a lot of guys," Snitker said during the post-game ceremony.

"We lost a lot of pieces over the course of the summer. It was just the next man up. These guys never stopped believing in themselves.

"They never stopped working. I've got a rock star coaching staff that make sure these guys stay consistent every day. They always played the game the way you're supposed to play it."

Freeman, who has been with the Braves since 2010 and won last season's National League (NL) MVP, hailed the side's resilience.

"I think the most gratifying thing is this team, we hit every pothole, every bump that could've happened this year," Freeman said. "Injuries, everything that could've gone wrong. We overcame every single one of those things.

"This group came very single day, prepared and worked and worked and worked and ended up world champions."

Freeman, who padded the lead with a seventh-inning solo home run, added: "This is what you dream about every single year. You come to spring training wanting this to happen and it happened this year.

"It means everything. We've been waiting for a championship in this city for a long time. I'm glad we delivered it."

Snitker has spent all of his 45 seasons in professional baseball with the Braves, including the past six years as manager.

"It takes a lot to make this happen," Snitker said. "I'm very proud of our organisation and this club. There's nothing better. We're world champions."

Jorge Soler was named World Series MVP after hitting three go-ahead home runs across the six games. He becomes the second Cuban to claim the honour, behind Livan Hernandez with the Florida Marlins in 1997.

Soler also becomes the sixth player to hit three or more go-ahead home runs in a World Series, joining Babe Ruth (1926), Lou Gehrig (1928), Gene Tenace (1972), Curtis Granderson (2015) and George Springer (2017).

"I was just really focused during that at-bat," Soler said about his third-inning go-ahead three-run blast. "I feel like he'd thrown my every pitch he had in his arsenal so I just kept fouling the pitchers off and eventually got to that 3-2 count and he hung the slider and I was able to drive it."

The Atlanta Braves returned to the summit of MLB, claiming their first World Series crown in 26 years after blitzing the Houston Astros 7-0 on Tuesday.

Atlanta had the chance to clinch on home soil on Sunday but were denied by a desperate Astros franchise, who overturned a four-run deficit to prolong the best-of-seven series.

But the Braves were not to be denied in Game 6 as home runs from Jorge Soler, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman secured a 4-2 series victory and their first World Series since 1995.

The drought-ending success delivered a fourth World Series title to the Braves, with all four championships being clinched in different cities – Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Houston.

After two scoreless innings in Houston, the Braves seized control thanks to a three-run third inning at Minute Maid Park, where the bats of Astros stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez fell silent.

Soler was the instigator, his 446-foot three-run homer off Luis Garcia seeing him become the fourth player in Braves history to hit a three-run homer in a World Series after Hank Aaron (1957), Lonnie Smith (1991) and Ryan Klesko (1995).

 

The red-hot Braves did not let up in the fifth as Swanson delivered a two-run homer after Freeman's double had allowed Soler to score earlier in the inning.

Entering the game, Freeman had eight career postseason home runs, with half of them coming in 2021 and the Braves star tied a franchise record.

Freeman matched Fred McGriff with his fifth homer of the playoffs – a joint Braves record for most home runs in one postseason after going long in the seventh inning.

Braves ace Max Fried became the first starter in history to have six-plus strikeouts, zero walks and no runs in a potential World Series-clinching game.

Chris Taylor made history by homering three times to keep the Los Angeles Dodgers alive in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) with an 11-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.

Facing elimination at 3-1 down in the NLCS, the World Series champions trailed 2-0 early before 11 unanswered runs headlined by Taylor's trio of home runs, going four-from-five for the game with six RBIs.

Taylor joined Enrique Hernandez as the only Dodgers player to ever have a three-homer postseason game. The 31-year-old moves to an equal-postseason high 12 RBIs, along with four home runs and 12 hits. All four of Taylor's home runs have come in games when the Dodgers were facing elimination.

A.J. Pollock also finished the game with two home runs, including an eighth-inning three-run blast, going three-from-five.

The Dodgers become the third team in postseason history to have two players with a multi-home run game in the same postseason game. They also set a new franchise record for hits in a postseason game with 17, tying their postseason home-run record of five.

The Braves threatened to run away with the series after Freddie Freeman's first-inning two-run blast with Dodgers starting pitcher Joe Kelly withdrawn soon after.

But LA responded with home runs from Pollock and Taylor in the third inning from Max Fried to claim the lead.

Taylor extended the Dodgers lead with a two-run home run in the sixth inning, adding a third homer in the seventh inning to open up a 7-2 lead.

Pollock put the icing on the cake in the eighth inning, before Kenley Jansen closed it out.

The Dodgers had trailed the Braves 3-1 in last season's NLCS, before triumphing in the next three games and ultimately winning the World Series.

 

Red Sox at Astros

The Houston Astros can secure their spot in the World Series for the third time in five years when they host the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series leading 3-2.

Eddie Rosario starred as the Atlanta Braves moved within one win of the World Series thanks to a 9-2 victory over defending champions the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

Rosario delivered four hits, four RBIs and three runs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS), including a ninth-inning three-run homer to ice the victory, giving the Braves a commanding 3-1 series lead in the MLB playoffs.

Atlanta raced to a 4-0 lead after three innings via solo home runs from Rosario, Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman, before Joc Pederson drove in Rosario.

A.J. Pollock hit a two-run single in the fifth inning to offer hope of another Dodgers fightback following Tuesday's 6-5 win, but the Braves pulled away again led by Rosario – who became the first-ever player with two four-hit NLCS games. The 30-year-old is hitting at .600 with nine-for-15 in the NLCS.

Rosario needed a double from his ninth inning at-bat to complete a cycle and become the second player in MLB history to achieve the feat, but instead settled for a game-sealing three-run blast. 

According to Stats Perform, Rosario is the first player in major league playoff history to have two four-hit games in a three-game span in a single postseason.

Teams with a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series have won 75 of 89 times. To make matters worse for the Dodgers – who are on the brink of elimination and being dethroned, Justin Turner limped out of the game with an apparent hamstring injury.

The Houston Astros shut down the Boston Red Sox behind Framber Valdez as they delivered a five-run sixth-inning rally to cruise to a 9-1 triumph and a 3-2 lead in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Valdez pitched eight innings, allowing only three hits and one earned run with five strikeouts, with the Red Sox only managing three hits for the game at Fenway Park in Boston.

Yordan Alvarez, who had a second-inning homer and finished with three hits, drove in two during the fifth inning, along with Jose Siri with a fly ball to open a 6-0 lead.

The Astros had won 9-2 in Game 4, meaning the Red Sox have allowed nine or more runs and been held to five or fewer hits in back-to-back wins for the first time ever at Fenway Park.

Houston, meanwhile, are the first team in MLB postseason history to be trailing in a series and then win back-to-back games on the road by seven-plus runs, according to Stats Perform.

 

Braves at Dodgers

The Braves can secure their first World Series appearance since 1999 when they face the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday.

The Atlanta Braves came through in the bottom of the ninth inning for the second consecutive night as Eddie Rosario's two-out single secured a 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS). 

After winning 18 fewer games than reigning World Series champions the Dodgers during the regular season, the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the NLCS with two wins at home by the slimmest of margins. 

Rosario hit the first pitch from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen back up the middle, driving home Dansby Swanson from second with the winning run on Sunday.

It was the fourth hit of the night for Rosario, making him the fifth player in postseason history to record at least four hits in a game, including a walkoff. 

The dramatic finish was appropriate for a game that was tight throughout. 

The Dodgers wasted no time getting their offence started, as Mookie Betts singled to lead off the game and Corey Seager followed with a home run. 

A man who performed most of his October heroics for the Dodgers had an answer, though, as Joc Pederson hit yet another postseason home run – his 12th – to tie it up in the fourth. 

The Dodgers jumped back on top in the seventh when Chris Taylor dumped a sinking fly ball in front of onrushing Atlanta centerfielder Guillermo Heredia, who had just entered the game as part of a double switch. 

Even worse for the Braves, the ball got by Heredia, allowing an additional run to score as the Dodgers went up 4-2. 

Some aggressive base-running levelled up the game in the eighth, as Rosario manufactured a run by tagging up on a Freddie Freeman fly out to left field, then came around to score with an acrobatic slide after Ozzie Albies singled. 

Atlanta's Game 1 hero, Austin Riley, then drove a double to the wall in deep left centre to score Albies and make it 4-4. 

After the Braves held the Dodgers scoreless in the top of the ninth, Atlanta's offence came through once again in the end. 

Game 3 is in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

 

Astros at Red Sox

The American League Championship Series (ALCS), tied 1-1, shifts to Fenway Park on Monday as the Houston Astros send Jose Urquidy to the mound against Eduardo Rodriguez and the Boston Red Sox. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers fought back on Saturday, getting to San Francisco Giants starter Kevin Gausman early and knocking him out later in the game as the reigning World Series champions evened their National League Division Series (NLDS) with a 9-2 road victory. 

The Dodgers got their offence back on track after being blanked by Giants starter Logan Webb in Game 1, pounding out 11 hits at Oracle Park before heading home for Monday's Game 3 in the MLB playoffs. 

Oddly enough, it was Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias who got everything going with a run-scoring single in the second inning as Los Angeles earned a 2-0 lead that the Giants answered with one in the bottom of that inning. 

Both teams' bats stayed quiet until the sixth, when the Dodgers drove Gausman from the game and broke it open with two-run doubles from Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock. 

They piled on three more against the Giants' bullpen in the eighth thanks to a Will Smith solo homer and RBI singles from Matt Beaty and Corey Seager. 

Urias did his job on the mound, too, limiting NL West champions San Francisco to one run in his five innings of work before four Dodgers relievers finished it off. 

Urias lowered his postseason ERA to 2.68 in 19 career appearances while improving his record to 7-2. The seven wins equal former Giants ace Madison Bumgarner for the most postseason victories by a pitcher aged 25 or younger. 

In the other NLDS matchup, Max Fried was brilliant on the mound as the Atlanta Braves evened the series with a 3-0 defeat of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fried allowed just three hits and did not walk a batter while striking out nine in his six innings of work before three Atlanta relievers finished off the shutout. 

The Braves scored twice in the third inning on an RBI single by Freddie Freeman and a double by Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley added a home run in the sixth for insurance. 

The series moves to Atlanta on Monday for Game 3.

 

Rays at Red Sox

After pounding out 20 hits in a 14-6 Game 2 rout to even the series, the Boston Red Sox will look to keep it going as they return to Fenway Park for Monday's Game 3, with Nathan Eovaldi set to start against the Tampa Bay Rays' Drew Rasmussen. 

Toronto Blue Jays sensation Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres headline the starters for the 2021 MLB All-Star Game.

The starters for the upcoming All-Star Game, scheduled for July 13 at Coors Field – home of the Colorado Rockies, were revealed after two rounds of fan voting on Thursday.

Guerrero (aged 22 years and 119 days) will be the youngest Blue Jays player to start an All-Star Game, while he is also the youngest player to start at first base since George Scott in 1966.

Son of an MLB Hall of Famer, Guerrero is only second to Ohtani (28) for home runs this season with 26, while he leads the majors in RBI (66), on-base percentage (.442), OPS (1.117) and three-plus hit games (11 – level with Trea Turner).

Ohtani, 26, is set to become the first Japanese-born player to start an All-Star Game since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010.

The Angels' Ohtani has the most homers this season, while he owns a 3.60 ERA and 83 strikeouts across 60 innings on the mound.

As for Tatis, the 22-year-old shortstop will be the youngest player to start for the Padres in an All-Star Game.

Tatis entered Thursday's action leading MLB with an incredible .705 slugging percentage, while leading the National League (NL) in homers.

Elsewhere, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers will become the first shortstop/third base combo in Boston Red Sox history to start the All-Star Game.

Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. will join Eddie Matthews as the player in franchise history to start multiple All-Star Games before turning 24, while Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker will give the Cincinnati Reds multiple outfield starters for the first time since 1956.

 

All-Star Game starters:

American League

C: Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals)
2B: Marcus Semien (Toronto Blue Jays)
3B: Rafael Devers (Boston Red Sox)
SS: Xander Bogaerts (Boston Red Sox)
OF: Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels) 
OF: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees)
OF: Teoscar Hernandez (Toronto Blue Jays) 

National League

C: Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)
1B: Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
2B: Adam Frazier (Pittsburgh Pirates)
3B: Nolan Arenado (St Louis Cardinals)
OF: Ronald Acuna Jr. (Atlanta Braves)
OF: Nick Castellanos (Cincinnati Reds)
OF: Jesse Winker (Cincinnati Reds)

Opening Day.

A term synonymous with baseball across the United States and the globe. For fans, it is nothing short of a national holiday.

The highly anticipated start to the season on April 1 is an occasion steeped in history, with tradition front and centre.

This year's Opening Day means more than most. It is the latest signal of American life and sport returning to normal amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic led to an enforced break and a reduced 60-game regular season schedule behind closed doors, with a limited number of fans allowed to attend the playoffs as the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to end their 32-year World Series drought.

But 2021 will see the return of the usual 162-game calendar and more importantly, spectators in the stands. All but one of the 30 teams will start at reduced capacity – the Texas Rangers hosting a full house for their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As America's pastime begins anew, we preview the upcoming season, in which the Dodgers look to defend their World Series crown, using Stats Perform data.
 

Kershaw gears up for a franchise-record start

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93million deal – will be on the mound when the Dodgers open their title defence against the Colorado Rockies.

It will be Kershaw's ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after injuries prevented him from beginning the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, the eight-time All-Star getting the nod ahead of Walker Buehler and high-profile recruit Trevor Bauer, the reigning National League (NL) Cy Young winner.

Future Hall of Famer Kershaw boasts a 5-1 record on Opening Day, with a 1.05 ERA (6/51.2), 59 strikeouts and eight walks. The 2014 NL MVP's only loss came in his previous start in 2018 as he allowed eight hits and one earned run, while tallying seven strikeouts in six innings against the San Francisco Giants.

Since 1913, when ERA became an official stat, Kershaw has managed the lowest Opening Day figure among pitchers with six starts – 1.05. The 32-year-old's ERA is ahead of Bob Feller (1.21), Jim Palmer (1.40), Hal Newhouser (1.41) and Walter Johnson (1.51).

As for the star-studded Dodgers, they are 74-62 (.544) all-time on Opening Day, winning nine of their 10 season openers since 2011, losing only in 2018.

Their 9-1 (.900) Opening Day record over this stretch is the best in the league, ahead of the Houston Astros (8-2), Baltimore Orioles (8-2), Seattle Mariners (7-3), Detroit Tigers (7-3) and New York Mets (7-3).
 

All eyes on Tatis and Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr. heads into the 2021 season fresh off signing his eye-popping 14-year, $340m contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Padres – winners of two NL pennants – are pinning their hopes on MLB's new poster boy delivering a first World Series to San Diego.

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last year, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis – the youngest Padres player to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days) in 2019 – became the fastest player in franchise history (24 team games) to reach the double-digit home run mark in a season in 2020 after hitting his 10th and 11th homers in August.

In the postseason, Tatis homered twice against the St Louis Cardinals in October, becoming the youngest Padre to ever homer in a playoff game (21 years and 273 days) and the third-youngest player in MLB history to homer twice in a postseason match, behind Carlos Correa (21 and 20 days old) and Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days old).

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Across his two Opening Day appearances, Tatis has three hits in seven at-bats and two runs while slugging at .571. The Padres will be hoping he can improve on that when they host face the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By comparison, Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper and New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton love Opening Day.

Harper – the 2015 NL MVP and six-time All-Star – has nine hits, five homers and six runs in eight appearances, while 2017 NL MVP Stanton has 13 hits, four homers, 10 runs and 12 RBIs through 10 games.

Blue Jays recruit George Springer, a World Series winner with the Astros, has also impressed on Opening Day following five hits, three homers and six RBIs in six games.
 

Can Abreu and Freeman go back-to-back?

Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu was crowned the American League's best in 2020.

Becoming the 28th player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year in his career, Abreu beat Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians and Yankees star DJ LeMahieu.

Abreu – the fourth White Sox player to win the award – was second in MLB with 19 home runs and fourth in the AL with a .317 batting average.

Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves trumped Dodgers star Mookie Betts and Padres sensation Manny Machado to the NL honour.

Freeman's 1.102 OPS was the second highest in MLB, trailing only Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, while he led the majors with 51 runs scored and was second in the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640).

Does it bode well for the pair in 2020?

In a season after winning the MVP award, a player averages 135.9 hits, 21.5 homers, 80.5 runs and 79.5 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .516.

There have been 13 players to win back-to-back MVPs; 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera (AL) was the last to do so in 2012 and 2013. The most recent player in the NL was Albert Pujols (2008-09).
 

The end of Cleveland as we know them

After 106 years, this will be the last season the franchise will be known as the Indians, following the example of the NFL's Washington Football Team, who dropped their Redskins nickname in 2020 amid a long-time controversy.

Since 1915, Cleveland have won two World Series – in 1920 and 1948 – with their current streak of 71 seasons without a World Series title the longest active run in the majors.

In 1954, Cleveland went 111-43 (.721) in the regular season, before being swept in the World Series by the Giants. It stands as the highest single-season win percentage in AL history, and the best by any MLB team in the past 100 years.

Cleveland have had a winning record in each of the past eight seasons (2013-20), making them one of four MLB teams with an active streak of eight-plus (also Yankees 28, Cardinals 13, Dodgers 10). It is tied for the second-longest streak of winning seasons in franchise history (10 straight 1947-56; eight in a row 1994-2001).

Three Cleveland players have won the AL MVP Award – George Burns (1926), Lou Boudreau (1948) and Al Rosen (1953) – while five have claimed the AL Cy Young Award: Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Corey Kluber (2014 and 2017) and Shane Bieber (2020).

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