Baseball-Astros and Braves ready to renew rivalry in World Series

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Baseball-Astros and Braves ready to renew rivalry in World Series
© Reuters/Thomas Shea MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

(Reuters) – The Houston Astros, unfazed by a cheating scandal that led to their 2017 World Series championship, will return to baseball’s biggest stage for the third time in five years this week and are slight favourites to beat the Atlanta Braves.

The best-of-seven championship will renew a rivalry between the old foes given the teams met in the National League Division Series five times from 1997-2005 over a nine-year span before the Astros moved to the American League.

Houston will undoubtedly enjoy plenty of support from their fans but will get little to no backing from most observers given a handful of players remain from the team that were found guilty of cheating for stealing pitch signs en route to the 2017 title.

“Ever since the news came out, the bad news that we’ve had to deal with about what happened in 2017, I think we’ve all wanted to prove what kind of class of players that we are and team that we are,” said Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez.

“I wasn’t here with the team in 2017, but I’ve gotten booed just as equal as anybody else. We all have the same mentality that we really want to win a World Series to demonstrate that we are just a great team.”

An MLB probe revealed in January 2020 that Astros employees watched a feed from a centre field camera to decode signs, and banged on a trash can to tell batters what pitches to expect during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The Astros received a maximum $5 million fine, forfeited first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and their manager and general manager were each suspended one year before swiftly being fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

Houston had the better regular season record and will host the first two games of the World Series on Tuesday and Wednesday before play shifts to Atlanta on the weekend.

The Astros, who fell to the Washington Nationals in the 2019 World Series, are the more experienced of the two teams given the presence of seasoned players like infielders Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.

Atlanta, who secured their spot in the World Series after an upset of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, are returning to the championship series for the first time since they were swept by the New York Yankees in 1999.

The Braves hold an edge in pitching, with the potential to send Max Fried and Charlie Morton, the latter who won the 2017 World Series with Houston, out for the first two games.

Atlanta are a confident bunch having overcome a number of obstacles, including the loss of slugger Marcell Ozuna to a hand injury and legal troubles followed by a season-ending knee injury suffered by dynamic outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. in July.

“We have had like 40-foot potholes that we’ve hit, like humongous speed bumps, everything you could possibly see in a road we hit it, and we still somehow overcame all that,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

“And I think that’s what is what this team has is anything we got thrown at us, we overcame it.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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