2022 Atlanta Braves: Division Title Keys

The 2022 Atlanta Braves have pushed themselves to the limit and beyond. Their predecessors from the previous season had a similar experience, and it brought them a world title. However, the 2022 Atlanta Braves have seen a season that, in some respects, has been even better. Time will tell if they are successfully able to defend their championship. But, in all honesty, the team has absolutely nothing to hang its collective head about. They’ve set a ton of franchise records, seen rookies turn into leaders, and did it all in the backdrop of both a lockout and the departure of a franchise legend. So, times have been good in Atlanta.

The team has experienced its first 100-win season since 2003 when they won 101. They are the most powerful offensive team in the National League, ranking first in homers (248) and average exit velocity (89.9). Productivity-wise, the team is second in the NL in RBI (742) and fourth in wRC+ (110). True, they’ve had their ups and downs, however, they have pulled together when it truly counted. A final home stand sweep of the New York Mets attests to this. Now, we will take a deeper dive into the team’s success and find out more about how they’ve overcome major obstacles for the second straight year.

Key #1: The 2022 Atlanta Braves Find a First Baseman

We begin with the departure of Freddie Freeman. After many years of establishing himself as the core of the Braves franchise, the superstar left for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It came as a complete shock to many. However, in Freeman’s place, came Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics. Being born in Atlanta, Olson seemed like a perfect fit to take over at first base. In fact, he seemed like such a lock that the team immediately signed him to an eight-year extension. Perhaps he has not been perfect, but he has done more than enough to warrant his spot on the team.

In terms of specifics, Olson has played in all 162 games this season. He has provided plenty of power (33 HR) and productivity (101 RBI). True, his .239 average needs work, but he has certainly shown off his talent in other arenas. He currently ranks in the 97th percentile for average exit velocity and in the 95th percentile for hard-hit balls. In fact, he’s tied with Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox for the seventh most hits over 95 miles per hour in the big leagues. He has as many barreled balls this season as Mike Trout. So, despite all of his strikeouts, Olson has definitely made a lot of sharp contact this season.

Key #2: A Rookie Explosion

Another positive for the 2022 Atlanta Braves has been in the rookie corps. No team in baseball has a rookie contingent with a higher fWAR (5.7). On the offensive side of things, they have the highest BABIP among first-year players (.361). A wRC+ of 134 falls just shy of the Seattle Mariners 141. Pitching-wise, Braves rookies went 20-13 with an NL-leading 3.17 ERA. To put it plainly, the 2022 Atlanta Braves have enjoyed an embarrassment of first-year riches. When they gelled, they did so with great gusto, helping push the team further towards their fifth straight division crown.

Spencer Strider’s Sizzling Summer

Individually, there have been two rookie leaders: Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II. Strider has been an absolute revelation. In only 20 starts, he led all National League rookie starters in wins (10) and strikeouts (165). His K/9 rate of 13.84 was not only the best among rookies with at least 100 innings pitched but was the best in all of baseball. Finally, his fWAR of 4.2 is in the top 10 of that same category, beating out guys like Zack Wheeler, Brandon Woodruff, and even Clayton Kershaw. Truly, Strider has been a key component to the 2022 Atlanta Braves march to a division title.

Michael Harris II’s Rise to Stardom

Next, we have Michael Harris II. Harris, another Atlanta native, seems like he was born to compete at the highest level. Fleet-footed, instinctually excellent, and quick on the offensive trigger, Harris has shot to superstardom in a matter of months. Among rookie NL outfielders, Harris’s 4.8 fWAR is easily the best. To put it in perspective, the runner-up at the position has an fWAR of 2.7. In 114 games, Harris has slashed .297/.339/.514 with a wOBA of .367, a wRC+ of 136, and a BABIP of .361. He’s stolen 20 bases, launched 19 homers, and made some of the most spectacular defensive plays by a Braves outfielder since Andruw Jones. In short, Harris is another reason why the team is back on top.

Key #3: Determination and Grit

But aside from all of this is simply the 2022 Atlanta Braves will to win. At the beginning of June, this team was four games below .500 and staring down a 10 1/2 game deficit. The Mets were in complete control. The Braves had just finished being defeated in a rather embarrassing walk-off to the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the game, manager Brian Snitker called a team meeting. During the proceedings, he espoused his belief in the team and reminded them of who they were. After that, the 2022 Atlanta Braves were a completely different unit; namely, one bent on winning.

The Braves went on a two-week tear, taking home 14 consecutive victories and vaulting themselves right back into playoff contention. They went 21-6 in June, 18-8 in July, 18-10 in August, and 18-8 in September. Calling them one of the best squads in the league during this stretch would be an understatement. For a team that did not win a series until their sixth of the season, this was a massive turnaround. Truly, the baseball gods have seen fit to bless this franchise with gifts of gold, ice cream machines, Harris, Strider, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, and much more.

Braves Country

There’s a general consensus around Braves Country that this particular division title is better than the last four. The main reason for this is the sheer amount of work that was put into it. The enormity of this accomplishment is rivaled only by the fact that the Mets, in stark contrast to recent tradition, did not endure a second-half collapse. Both teams wound up with the exact same record, yet one fateful weekend at Truist Park sealed the Mets fate. In turn, the Braves now find themselves embarking on another postseason journey as division champions. Hopefully, it will end in the same way the previous one did.

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images

Players Mentioned:

Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, Rafael Devers, Mike Trout, Spencer Strider, Michael Harris, Zack Wheeler, Brandon Woodruff, Clayton Kershaw, Andruw Jones, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley