2022 Atlanta Braves Preview
Here is the much-awaited 2022 Atlanta Braves season preview. The 2022 Atlanta Braves come into the season with a burden that few previous franchise iterations have had. Namely, as the defending World Champions. Much as this makes the average player and fan smile, it also comes with a bullseye. Everyone in the league is making waves to try and knock the team off this pedestal. Fortunately for the 2022 Atlanta Braves, General Manager Alex Anthopolous has caused his own waves. A tremendous effort came through to create a squad that’s as good as, if not better than, last year’s champions.
However, as terrific as the offseason has been, the 2022 Atlanta Braves have had their progress marred by two obstacles. One thing is certain to have done so to virtually every big league club: the lockout. Some of the deals the Braves have made since then are borderline miraculous. The second obstacle to be considered is the loss of a legend. Since 2010, Freddie Freeman will not be in a Braves uniform for the first time. The blockbuster trade for Matt Olson, combined with Freeman’s move to the Los Angeles Dodgers, shocked Braves Country. The team is still incredibly dangerous, even without Freeman’s imposing presence. Let’s examine further and see, in truth, how potent they can be.
Braves Infield Preview
The 2022 Atlanta Braves have kept up their strengths, beginning in the infield. Three of the four members of that high-caliber 2021 infield are returning. The biggest surprise of last season, Austin Riley, will look to build on a career year. His .303 average, 33 homers, and 107 RBI were enough to pull in a top 10 in MVP voting. Alongside Riley are shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies, both perennial fan favorites. Swanson posted 27 homers and 88 RBI with a career-best 2.7 oWAR.
Meanwhile, Albies put up career numbers, breaking the 100 RBI mark for the first time. He made his second All-Star appearance and crushed 30 homers. He’ll be seeking improvement in the areas of his .259 average (.259) and 47 walks in 686 plate appearances.
These three are good all by themselves. However, the aforementioned Olson deal made this one of the best infields in baseball. Olson creates instant All-Star credibility despite the Freeman situation and ensures that first base remains unanswered. He had a monstrous 2021 with the Oakland Athletics, putting up career highs with a .271 average, 39 home runs, and 111 RBI. Olson’s runs scored and hit totals were also at their peak (101 & 153, respectively). He finished eighth in AL MVP voting and made his first All-Star appearance. If he can improve his defense, then the Braves should have minimal issues at the position.
Braves Outfield Preview
Next, we move to the outfield. The team has many players vying for spots, but we’ll focus on the ones that are most likely to be cut. We begin with the obvious: Ronald Acuna Jr., The superstar, has been out since last July when he tore his ACL attempting to make a catch. One of the talking points of the World Title run was winning without him. Now, he’ll be back, but the question of impact remains. Another returning name is Marcell Ozuna. He may settle nicely into the new DH role when he’s not playing the outfield. It would factor in his difficulties defensively, though he did post a positive dWAR for the first time since 2015 last year. When fans receive answers for Acuna and Ozuna is still unclear, but they are substantial parts of this season’s plans.
The rest of the outfield will feature some familiar faces. NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario signed a new, two-year deal with the team. While Rosario’s regular-season output wasn’t horrible, he did it for the cycle once. If he can get consistent playing time, he’ll be one to watch. The same holds for another resident Brave in, Adam Duvall. Plucked from the Miami Marlins at the deadline last season, Duvall had a definite role in the Braves’ massive outfield. He crushed 16 homers in 55 games with 45 RBI. His defense was impressive, earning him his first Gold Glove Award. While he’ll never hit for a high average, he should factor in nicely this season.
When it comes to backstops, the Braves are at a competitive disadvantage. Travis d’Arnaud should be the odds on favorite to win the starting job. Unfortunately, an injury-plagued and statistically poor 2021 dampened his prospects. The Braves signed free agent Manny Piña, who would be perfectly fine in a platoon with d’Arnaud. Piña is not an offensive powerhouse, but his defense is proper. Given time, he could burst out into the perfect partner for d’Arnaud. Although his first foray into the big leagues has not gone to plan, Young William Contreras could be given some time. Still, he is only 24 and has shown flashes of the player he could be.
Many of the terrific arms from 2021 are returning to the club. Not least of these is Charlie Morton, who returned to Atlanta after leaving in 2009. He won 14 games, posted a 3.34 ERA, and a terrific 132 ERA+. Joining him is World Series Game Six hero Max Fried. The young southpaw rebounded from a horrific start to win 14 games with an ERA just a bit over three. Together with Ian Anderson, they form one of the best pairs of youthful arms in the game. If Mike Soroka returns from an injury effectively, the Braves will be set for years. Others like Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson, and Kyle Wright may get ample playing time.
The Night Shift returns in full strength this season. The three-headed dragon of Will Smith, Luke Jackson, and Tyler Matzek are all back. They’re looking to ensure that last season’s excellence was not a mere fluke. However, two new additions will join them, making this venerated unit even better. Collin McHugh came off the free-agent market after a terrific 2021. He posted a sub-two ERA and a staggering 256 ERA+ in 64.0 innings. The second of these acquisitions is Kenley Jansen, who also had a fantastic year. His 38 saves were second in the league, and he comes to Atlanta as a former three-time All-Star. The team has already named him the primary closer. Add in young stars like A.J. Minter and Jacob Webb, and the recipe for a terrific bullpen comes together.
A Repeat Is in Order
All in all, the 2022 Atlanta Braves have the tools to repeat. It will take them to do so in a much more competitive NL East. Considering the absolute roller coaster of 2021, 2022 is looking much more stable. The division isn’t a foregone conclusion, but the Braves have every piece to win it once again. It’s simply a matter of fitting the puzzle together.
Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Travis d’Arnaud, William Contreras, Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Wright, Will Smith, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, Collin McHugh, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Minter, Jacob Webb