Following the World Series in 2021, the Braves had to answer a lot of questions. They lost their leader and arguably the best player on their team in Freddie Freeman. Key pieces such as Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler left in free agency. For a team that only won 88 games in the regular season last year, that’s a lot of firepower to replace when trying to repeat, but the Braves have answered every question and then some in 2022.
Upgrades to the lineup
The Braves lineup is infinitely better than what it was a year ago, which is pretty incredible. Matt Olson was never going to immediately replace Freddie Freeman’s production, but he remains one of the better first basemen in baseball; just ask the Mets. That, along with the loss of Ozzie Albies, are the only “downgrades” to the lineup, but the rest of the group has been upgraded considerably.
First and foremost, Ronald Acuña is back. He hasn’t played like the MVP he was before the ACL injury, but he’s still elite, and something tells me he’s going to be at his best in the postseason when he can leave it all on the field.
In center field, Michael Harris II has taken over and become one of the top 30 players in baseball. He should win the Rookie of the Year award… unless Spencer Strider, who we will talk about later, has something to say about it.
Finally, the emergence of William Contreras has added another element to this offense. The catcher position is a weak point offensively for most teams, but not the Braves. Their tandem has combined for 38 long balls, and both are capable of serving as the designated hitter.
The offense has been upgraded, but the most significant improvements to this year’s team have come to the pitching staff. It’s almost laughable Atlanta was able to win the World Series with the guys they started in the playoffs. Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Ian Anderson were the “Big 3.” Those guys performed admirably, particularly Ian Anderson, but the Braves were starting Kyle Wright (before he became the Kyle Wright we know now), Tucker Davidson, and Dylan Lee in the World Series, and they somehow beat the Astros in six games.
That won’t be the case this time around. Fried remains the leader of the staff, but he’s been joined by another elite pitcher — Spencer Strider — who has been the best pitcher in baseball since the Braves added him to the rotation in late May. After those two comes Kyle Wright, and all he’s done is become the first Atlanta pitcher since 2003 to win 20 games. Charlie Morton, who has pitched in some of the biggest games in baseball history, is now the Braves’ fourth option. The way this group has upgraded since last season is astounding.
The improvements don’t cease with the Braves’ rotation. Atlanta’s bullpen was outstanding during last year’s postseason run, but it’s better this time around, and frankly, it’s not even close.
As good as Atlanta’s starting pitching is this year, they only have to go 4-5 innings to give the team a great chance to win. After that, Brian Snitker can turn to Collin McHugh, Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter, and Kenley Jansen. All four of them have been unbelievable of late, and McHugh, Iglesias, and A.J. Minter are all capable of pitching multiple innings.
What’s even crazier is the top-end talent doesn’t stop there. Dylan Lee has been spectacular this season, Jesse Chavez turns into Mariano Rivera once he puts on a Braves jersey, Tyler Matzek is like the eighth-best guy in the bullpen, and Jackson Stephens has also been a fantastic find by Alex Anthopoulos.
Throw out whatever stats you have; nobody has more firepower in the bullpen than the Braves, which is oftentimes what decides a playoff series.
You can look at the standings and conclude that the Dodgers or Astros are better teams, but the reality is nobody has been better than Atlanta over the last four months. The Braves have the best record since June 1st and have clearly improved in all facets since winning the World Series last season. Can you say the same thing about the Astros and Dodgers? I’m not sure you can.