Every year, one Major League Baseball team conquers all and takes home the coveted Commisioner’s Trophy (1904 & 1994 excepted). Unlike the NFL, however, which is very much a “copycat league”—teams directly aping the mold of the champion—there is too much random variance (i.e. luck) involved in baseball to make that a reality.
That being said, I do believe there is always at least one lesson that can be taken from each Fall Classic. 2021’s nugget of wisdom? To use the famous Galaxy Quest motto: “Never give up—never surrender!”
The 2021 Atlanta Braves saw their brightest superstar—Ronald Acuna—get just 360 PA before a torn ACL ended his season in early July. A second key outfielder—Marcell Ozuna—contributed even less (208 PA) due to various health and legal situations. The pitcher—Mike Soroka—considered to be perhaps their best starter? Didn’t take the ball once in ‘21 after tearing his Achilles for the second time. Fellow hurler Huascar Ynoa was limited to 91 innings after punching a dugout bench in frustration and breaking his hand (yes—you read that correctly). In Game One of the World Series, Charlie Morton had his fibula fractured by a comebacker in the third inning.
The overall point here isn’t that the Braves overcame multiple injuries. I’d argue that all deep playoff runs have to weather those. Rather, it is that the Braves organization never threw in the towel or went into “wait ‘til next year” mode. An 88-win season usually doesn’t bode all that well to be hoisting hardware in early November—but it was enough for Atlanta to have a roll of the dice at it. Then, bit-players like Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, & Jorge Soler got hot, the bullpen suddenly could do no wrong, and, well, would you look at that...
At the All-Star break, the Braves were 44-45. At the trade deadline, they were 52-54—five games back of the AL East front-runners and in third place. It would have been so easy for the front office to pull the metaphorical plug on ‘21 and regroup—but Atlanta did the opposite. Sensing (correctly, it turned out) that the Mets & Phillies were not exactly powerhouses, the Peach State squad hung on and clambered firmly to the top in only the season’s final week.
So, my fellow Twins fans, I submit to you that the lesson from the 2021 World Series may be this: it isn’t always the stacked or seemingly built-for-October teams that win it all. Though I was only ready to celebrate my second birthday at the time, more mature fans of the 85-win 1987 unit can confirm this. Right now in Twins Territory, we are so bludgeoned by a playoff losing streak in defiance of all reasonable mathematical odds that it often seems as if anything less than a perfect roster doesn’t stand a chance in October. But that simply isn’t true. Sometimes, all a team has to be is “good enough”—to get into the postseason, catch some luck (this will happen to MN sports fans at some point), and make a surprising run to the top.
Of course, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor—something the Twins correctly deduced in 2021, trading away valuable assets to re-tool for the future. But the next time this team finds itself on the fringes of contention, I hope the front office remembers that World Series championships often come from unexpected places. Just ask the ‘21 Atlanta Braves (care of: Eddie Rosario).