Despite finishing with 101 wins and probably being an all-around better team in 2021, the Braves came up short after a disappointing loss to the Phillies in the NLDS. It’s a testament to how difficult going back-to-back in baseball is, which is why it hasn’t been done since the 2000 Yankees, who won three World Series in a row. However, I think for the first time in quite an extended period, Braves fans can live with the 2022 result because they will always have the memories of 2021.
So, I thought it would be a fun exercise during a very slow period in the offseason to talk about the moves that got the Braves to that point. It was a long road that began with a complete rebuild in 2015, but many of those transactions back then are why the Braves became World Champions six years later.
5. Drafting Ian Anderson 3rd overall in 2016
Ian Anderson’s 2022 campaign was a tremendous disappointment, and there’s no guarantee he even starts a game for the Braves again. However, Atlanta doesn’t reach their ultimate goal in 2021 without him. The Braves didn’t have much starting pitching depth, but their three-headed monster of Charlie Morton, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson were fantastic, especially Anderson. In four starts, Anderson only allowed three runs over 17.0 innings (1.59 ERA). He wasn’t able to go very deep in games, but that’s not uncommon in the postseason. All of his performances under pressure were impressive, but unquestionably the best moment of his career came in Game 3 of the World Series, when he tossed five innings of no-hit ball against a vaunted Astros offense. With the series tied at 1-1, the Braves probably don’t win the World Series without him pitching that perfectly, as they only won Game 3, 2-0.
4. Acquiring Dansby Swanson from the Diamondbacks
If you read my recent article where I discussed the top 5 trades in franchise history, the next couple on this list should look familiar. Swanson was acquired via trade from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Shelby Miller in what should be considered more of a heist than a trade. Atlanta also acquired Ender Inciarte in the deal, but this section is all about Swanson, who ended that 2021 campaign on fire and came up clutch in the World Series with two critical home runs — one in Game 4 to tie the game in the seventh, and another in the series-clinching Game 6.
Happy Birthday to Dansby Swanson, the shortstop for the World Series Champion Atlanta #Braves baseball club.
He'll be on highlight reels for a long time handling the final out of the Fall Classic, but his home run in Game 4 was the definition of clutch.pic.twitter.com/38OJJBYFqn
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) February 11, 2022
11. World Series game 6: Dansby Swanson 2-run home run (4.55% cWPA) pic.twitter.com/NSFACN9xN4
— MLB Metrics (@MLBMetrics) March 20, 2022
3. Acquiring Max Fried via trade from the Padres
Max Fried was acquired from the Padres via trade in exchange for Justin Upton all the way back in 2015. Six years later, he tossed six shutout innings in Game 6 of the World Series to lead Atlanta to their first championship since 1995. It was vintage Fried, who never lost an ounce of focus on the task at hand, even when the Braves were leading by 5+ runs. On the season, the lefty led the Braves staff with a 14-7 record and 3.04 ERA.
2. Drafting Freddie Freeman in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft
Everyone can have their own feelings about Freddie Freeman now that he’s donning Dodger Blue. I certainly am not cheering for him anymore, but I will still acknowledge the unbelievable things he accomplished in a Braves uniform. Without Freeman, the Braves don’t have a shot at winning the World Series, and they probably wouldn’t have even made the playoffs. He was the heart and soul of Atlanta baseball while he was here, and the consistency he brought to the park every day took pressure off of everybody else.
1. Acquiring Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario at the trade deadline
Okay, I obviously cheated here, but this could have taken up my entire list, so I clumped them all together as trade deadline acquisitions. Following the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuña, it felt like a lost year for the Braves. The team already wasn’t winning, and that was with them getting MVP-level production from Acuña. However, when Joc Pederson arrived a few days later, everything changed. He brought the vibes to the clubhouse with his bleached hair and legendary pearls. Pederson also came up with some huge plays in the postseason, hitting critical home runs in the NLDS and NLCS. All Rosario did was break records on his way to NLCS MVP, and Soler finished the job with three home runs in the World Series, leading to World Series MVP. I don’t know who deserves more credit for this, the players or Alex Anthopoulos, but there’s no way Atlanta makes it to the playoffs without these four guys.