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Atlanta Braves 2022: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

The defending World Series champion Braves will look different but the hope is that Ronald Acuña Jr. will return to pre-injury form and help mount a stern title defense

The defending World Series champions … wait, can we hear that again? The defending World Series champions return to Truist Park with most of the same cast that lifted the championship trophy at the end of the 2021 season. It was a magical run, but on Opening Day, none of that matters anymore. What does matter is that Atlanta returns a great deal of the same talent to the field, though with one very tall exception in Freddie Freeman, who played his last game with a script "A" on his hat. Still, even without Freeman, Atlanta has a young, dynamic team and plays in a division that doesn't have an obvious heir to the crown that Atlanta has now worn four years in a row. The Braves have to hope it's not hard to field grounders while wearing rings.

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Braves

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"It's not just that they're good; they also know their roles and buy into Brian Snitker's system. And look at the experience on that coaching staff — that means a lot, too. They find pitchers that throw strikes and keep coming at you, and when they have to pitch to contact, they'll trust their defense — and rightfully so. Austin Riley is phenomenal at third, and Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are great up the middle. Ronald Acuña Jr. is the best player in baseball, just dynamic in so many ways. Every skill is off the charts. Max Fried is a legit ace; he'll throw righthanders inside with a good, hard fastball and then back-leg them with that big hook. Ian Anderson likes to live at the top of the zone with the four-seamer and come back with the curveball and changeup; he'll be a star for a long time. And the bullpen is unbelievable — right, left, it doesn't matter. Some of the setup guys might have better stuff than Will Smith, but he's the guy you want at the end of the game*. He's a guy who just wants the ball every day, and he was untouchable in the playoffs."

*Editor's note: Scouting report was submitted before Braves acquired first baseman Matt Olson from Oakland in a trade and signed closer Kenley Jansen in free agency.

Beyond the Box Score

Heart and Hustle Second baseman Ozzie Albies won the overall MLB "Heart and Hustle" Award, given out each year by the MLB Players Alumni Association. The award recognizes the player who best embodies the spirit of the game.

Atlanta Braves 2022 Baseball Cover

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Defense wins championships Infield coach Ron Washington's group took care of the baseball, as the Braves made only 71 errors during the 2021 season, third fewest in MLB. Advanced stats from Sports Info Solutions found that Atlanta got the most value from its infield shifts, taking away hits from opponents just by knowing where to line up the defense.

Shifting priorities In May 2021, the team had a meeting specifically concerning its infield defensive strategy. Before the meeting, Atlanta ranked at the bottom of MLB in how often they used the infield shift. From that point on, the team used the shift more than anyone else in the league.

Award-winning pitcher Max Fried picked up some precious hardware, nabbing both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards for a National League pitcher. Fried is no stranger to pitching in a stacked rotation. In high school, he was teammates with Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty.

Cooling off Like many organizations, Atlanta's pitchers are becoming less reliant on the fastball. In 2021, only 49 percent of pitches thrown were heaters, compared to 10 years earlier when 60 percent were. Over the same time period, MLB pitchers as a whole threw only 51 percent of their pitches as fastballs in 2021, down from 58 in 2011.

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Comeback kid As late as 2019, reliever Tyler Matzek was pitching for the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association. The former first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies made Atlanta's Opening Day roster in 2020 and then became a key piece of the bullpen after not having pitched in MLB since 2015. During the team's championship parade after the World Series win, Matzek walked along the parade route while most of his teammates rode a bus, but he was almost arrested by a police officer who didn't recognize him as part of the team.

Lack of sacrifice Excluding pitchers, Atlanta batters laid down only seven sacrifice bunts in 2021. As a point of comparison, they attempted to bunt for a hit against the infield shift seven times. With the potential addition of the designated hitter in the National League, fans of squaring up to drop one down might not have much to cheer for soon.

Projected Lineup

LINEUP

RF    Ronald Acuña Jr. (R)
2B    Ozzie Albies (S)
1B    Matt Olson (L)
3B    Austin Riley (R)
CF    Adam Duvall (R)
DH   Marcell Ozuna (R)
LF    Eddie Rosario (L)
C     Travis d'Arnaud (R)
SS    Dansby Swanson (R)

BENCH

C     Manny Piña (R)
INF  Orlando Arcia (R)
OF   Guillermo Heredia (R)
OF   Alex Dickerson (L)

ROTATION

LHP    Max Fried
RHP    Charlie Morton
RHP    Ian Anderson
RHP    Kyle Wright
RHP    Huascar Ynoa
LHP    Tucker Davidson
RHP    Mike Soroka*

BULLPEN

RHP    Kenley Jansen (C)
LHP    Will Smith
LHP    Tyler Matzek
RHP    Collin McHugh
LHP    A.J. Minter
RHP   Darren O'Day
LHP    Sean Newcomb
RHP    Spencer Strider

*Note: Mike Soroka is expected to miss at least the start of the season while recovering from an Achilles injury.

2022 Prediction: 1st in NL East