The Braves are better in all three phases of the game than last year, including their lineup, which was nearly unstoppable to end 2021. The injection of Ronald Acuña, which has yet to happen, has a lot to do with it, but there are also two other critical pieces that I expected to elevate this group. So far, they’ve done just that, looking like the 2020 versions of themselves.
Because of the domestic violence dispute that occurred in May, the Braves were essentially without Marcell Ozuna for the entire season. He only played in 48 games, but even in those, his production was much less impactful than expected, hitting just .213 with seven homers. This was a guy who nearly won the Triple Crown two seasons ago, leading the National League in home runs and RBIs while batting .338, and that’s who has shown up so far in 2022.
Ozuna went nuclear last night, smashing a couple of home runs and a double. His average is now up to .375, and his OPS is well over 1.000. It’s a small sample size, and I don’t expect Ozuna to compete for an NL MVP award, but he’s still one of the better offensive weapons in the majors that the Braves were basically without for all of last season. Getting him back to form is a tremendous upgrade to the offense.
Another area where the Braves were their weakest last season was behind the plate. Because of injury, Travis d’Arnaud missed most of 2021, and like Ozuna, he wasn’t the best version of himself when he was playing, slumping to the tune of a .221 batting average and .671 OPS. Both of those marks are well below his career averages, so while it may be far-fetched to expect him to repeat his 2020 performance over an entire season, the Braves should still be much better off at catcher with him healthy. Following last night’s three-hit performance, d’Arnaud’s average for the season is up to .353 to go along with a .918 OPS.
There’s no telling what exactly to expect from Ozuna and d’Arnaud for the rest of 2022. At their best, they could both end up being All-Stars, but the Braves don’t need them to provide significantly more than they did last season. These two will be critical in Atlanta’s effort to repeat.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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