The World Series starts tonight with Game 1 in Houston, where the Astros will face off against the Atlanta Braves.
The stakes are high for fans of each team. The Braves haven’t gotten this far since 1999, while the Astros have been in the series three of the past five years — including in 2017, when they cheated using an illegal, sign-stealing, trash can-banging system to call pitches.
The Astros have looked to put the scandal behind them, but many fans outside of Houston still see them as the bad guys.
“Many are painting this as good versus evil on the baseball diamond,” NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman told Morning Edition.
It’s not entirely black and white
The Astros faced punishment for the cheating scandal last year, even though they’re still paying for it with a lot of fans.
Meanwhile, the Braves have an appealing underdog story: They overcame injuries to some of their best players this season. Plus two faces of the franchise — manager Brian Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman — are team lifers. “We like loyalty in sports,” as Goldman put it.
On the other hand, some Braves fans still do the “tomahawk chop” arm gesture and chant, which are increasingly considered both offensive and outdated. Teams from the pro leagues to high school athletics are moving away from derogatory slogans and this particular expression of enthusiasm.
The teams took very different paths to the World Series
The Braves didn’t have a winning record in their regular season until their 111th game in early August. at which point they surged. Goldman says that’s the longest it’s taken a team to get to a winning record and then make it to the World Series. So they were by no means a sure thing.
Notable players: Third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Eddie Rosario, who was traded to the team in July.
The Astros have consistently played well since their tarnished 2017 season — for instance, they’ve played in the American League Championship Series for five straight years.
Notable players: infielders Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel; and powerful hitter Yordan Álvarez.
And a fun fact: Beloved Astros manager Dusty Baker started his MLB career playing for the Braves.
The oddsmakers favor the Astros
Goldman says fans could make the case for either team. Their pitching staffs are pretty even, and each is highly motivated, he notes. But Houston stands out on offense, plus has more recent experience playing in “the pressure cooker of the World Series.”