Braves First Week as Defending Champions

Braves Defending Champion
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Saying that the opening week of the 2022 Atlanta Braves season has been a roller coaster is like saying that the sky is blue. It’s simple fact. On the one hand, multiple offensive components have shredded opposing pitching. On the other, multiple holes have appeared within the Braves starting pitching. It would be foolhardy to give up on the team at this point, especially considering all they accomplished last season. Many different niches exist for the squadron to hide in until such time as General Manager Alex Anthopolous sees fit to pull the trigger. Now, it’s merely a matter of waiting. For Braves fans, this is the hardest part.

However, again, this team is not worth hoisting away simply because of a rough first few games. Foundational players like Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson are in the midst of offensive woes. Eddie Rosario, one of the key offseason additions, is also experiencing his own brand of misery. Meanwhile, pitchers like Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Huascar Ynoa seem to be shafted by both a shortened spring training and the pressure of starting for the defending champions. Kenley Jansen gave up three runs in his first Braves outing but still recorded his first save. Thankfully, it’s a long season. For now, let’s dive in to the Braves first official week of defending their title.

A Rough First Series for the Defending Champion Braves

Thursday, April 7. A date which will live, to both paraphrase and contradict Franklin Roosevelt, in complete famousness. Well…for the City of Atlanta, at least. Yes, this was the day on which torrid mobs of Braves fans descended upon Truist Park for Opening Day. This writer was one of them. Though confined to the rowdy outskirts of The Battery Atlanta, it was still a terrific experience. Fans watched as the Braves took the field, clad in uniforms with golden outlines. Then, those same watched as staff ace Fried got roughed up by the Cincinnati Reds. A 6-3 loss on Opening Day is not the way anyone wants to begin the season.

The Braves bounced back, taking the next two games. Charlie Morton made his 2022 in terrific fashion, pitching into the sixth inning and striking out five. Despite the aforementioned negative first outing for Jansen, the Braves still managed a 7–6 victory. After this, Kyle Wright returned to the big leagues. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he rode a massive dose of momentum to six innings of scoreless ball. He only gave up two hits and struck out six en route to a 2–1 Braves win. Things were looking up for Atlanta…and then Anderson made his season debut. He only lasted into the third inning, giving up five runs. The bats, meanwhile, had gone silent against Reds rookie Hunter Greene. They lost 6-3.

An Even Rougher Second Series

Next the Washington Nationals came to Truist Park. These Nationals, who have minimalistic expectations this season, had their way with the champions in two of the three games. The first saw Huascar Ynoa, Spencer Strider, and Tucker Davidson combine to allow 11 runs as the Braves were pounded 11-2. In the second game, the bats sparked to life, crushing Nationals pitching for a staggering 16 runs. Marcell Ozuna, in particular, had a terrific night, battering baseballs to the tune of three hits. Two of these left the park. Albies, Adam Duvall, and Travis d’Arnaud also had three hit affairs. The third game in the series was a complete switch, with the bats returning to dormancy and Fried being tagged for two runs. The Braves lost 3-1.

Defending Champion Braves Offensive Joys and Woes

Now, as they embark upon their first west coast road trip of the season, the Braves have to be asking themselves about certain things. The offense takes top priority, at least in this writer’s view. Combined, the Braves are hitting .238 with an OPS+ of 108. While this is well above the current league average, it’s still only good for seventh and sixth, respectively. They’ve shown their power, hitting seven homers, tying them with the Philadephia Phillies for second most so far. 13 doubles are also a terrific sign of power, placing them in a tie for best in the league.

However, it’s the penchant for striking out that is the most concerning. Their 63 strikeouts are third most, trailing only the Nationals and San Diego Padres. Their actual strikeout percentage is right around league average. Nonetheless, with the way some players are approaching the plate, that could increase rapidly. That said, they do have the second highest walk percentage in the league, and have the hardest average exit velocity so far. They’re also doing well at barreling up the ball, as five of the starting nine players for their first game in San Diego have barrel percentages in the red. So, things are definitely trending in the right direction.

Pitching Problems…and Fixes

Let’s move to the mound. Pitching has not gone well for the defending champs here, to say the least. While Morton and Wright have shone, the rest of the team has been pretty nonexistent. Fried’s struggles have been well documented, as have Anderson’s and Ynoa’s. Luck might be playing a hand in this one, as the team has posted the third highest opposing BABIP in the league so far (.302). That said, a team ERA of 5.14 and an ERA+ of a mere 86 do not exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents.

One of the positives has been their ability to limit free bases. This comes as a result of the terrific outings from Morton, Wright, and recent rookie addition Bryce Elder, who dominated in the aforementioned 16-run shellacking. It’s also due to bullpen brilliance from newcomers Tyler Thornburg and Collin McHugh. The Braves’ walk percentage (7.5%) is well below league average, and they’ve only given out 20 free passes in 63 innings. In other words, this is a team that is well within the strike zone in every single game. It is now simply a matter of honing this ability and crafting a game where the grounders and fly balls go where they need to go.

Don’t Count the Chickens Just Yet

Overall, the team’s first week as defending champions has been somewhat dramatic, for better or for worse. The group doesn’t look lost, they simply look as though they are a tad dusty; or, in the words of this writer’s grandmother, “they haven’t gelled yet.” An inclination to agree sits deep in this writer’s mind. The reason for this is that the Braves are a sleeping giant. They were last year, and they are again this year. Fans acting like a 3-4 start is the end of the world need only to revisit April of 2021 and remember where the Braves wound up. Let’s not count the chickens before they’ve hatched.

Main Photo:

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Players mentioned:

Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Eddie Rosario, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Kenley Jansen, Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, Hunter Greene, Spencer Strider, Tucker Davidson, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, Travis d’Arnaud, Bryce Elder, Tyler Thornburg, Collin McHugh