Coming off a “Cinderella” World Series win in 2021, the Atlanta Braves continued their domination in the MLB and won 101 games last year, surpassing their win total from 2021 by 13 games. The Braves entered the postseason with high expectations to win back-to-back World championships.
However, the Philadelphia Phillies, who were on a “Cinderella” run of their own, curtailed the Braves’ hopes. The Braves look forward to building off their success from last season and chopping their way into another championship.
Entering the 2023 season, the Braves will retain a majority of their core players and look to utilize them for years ahead. In the offseason, the team offered a 10-year $212 million contract to third baseman Austin Riley, an eight-year $72 million contract to National League (NL) Rookie of the Year outfielder Michael Harris II, an eight-year $75 million contract to NL Rookie of the Year runner-up pitcher Spencer Strider and an eight-year $168 million contract to Matt Olson, who the Braves acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics last March.
Olson, who arrived in Atlanta with the lofty expectation of replacing former longtime first baseman and franchise player Freddie Freeman, looked to build off of his 2022 campaign at the plate, in which he hit 34 home runs and maintained a .240 batting average. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner also hopes to improve his fielding play from last season.
The Braves traded for Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy in December 2022. Murphy is a force to be reckoned with behind the plate and is considered one of the best catchers defensively in the MLB. As a part of the three-team-deal that sent Murphy to Atlanta and All-Star designated hitter and catcher William Contreras to the Milwaukee Brewers. Though this trade marked one of the team’s notable losses from the 2022 season, Murphy and veteran Travis d’Arnaud are expected to be one of the best catching duos in the MLB.
Other notable losses include relief pitcher Luke Jackson to the San Francisco Giants and outfielder Adam Duvall to the Boston Red Sox — both played key roles in the team’s 2021 World Series run. To replace Jackson, the Braves acquired Joe Jiménez from the Detroit Tigers. Longtime shortstop Dansby Swanson also signed a lucrative contract with the Chicago Cubs this offseason, and Tyler Matzek, another relief pitcher who was a key contributor to the 2021 run, will miss the entire 2023 season to Tommy John surgery.
Despite the team’s highly-successful 2022 campaign, key players suffered injuries. Outfielder Eddie Rosario underwent eye surgery in April 2022 and missed nearly three months. All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies broke his foot during a game against the Washington Nationals. In just his second game back from injury in June, Albies broke his right pinky finger and missed the remainder of the season. The Braves need to have all of their players healthy if they wish to stay competitive in the NL this season.
Positionally, the Braves boast one of the best outfields in the MLB. Star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who had a big comeback season after suffering an ACL tear in July 2021, is expected to be at full strength entering the 2023 campaign. The 25-year-old outfielder is considered a “dark horse” to win the NL MVP award.
Likewise, Harris II is positioned to follow up his NL Rookie of the Year campaign with another big year in 2023. Rosario, who has fully recovered from his eye surgery, is expected to positively contribute in the outfield and at the plate. Newly-acquired outfielders Kevin Pillar and Sam Hilliard, along with the returning Ehire Adrianza, are expected to serve as quality depth pieces, replacing Duvall and center fielder Guillermo Heredia.
Outfielder Marcell Ozuna remains on the roster despite a sustained finger injury, domestic violence arrest and fans accusing him of being under-performing. Fans widely speculated that the team would cut ties with Ozuna. The outfielder, however, is slated to remain on the team in 2023 and split time in left field with Rosario.
To the surprise of many, the Braves named veteran and utility player Orlando Arcia the Opening Day starter at shortstop. Despite the team having long-term solutions at many positions, the club entered Spring Training with several open ones. To replace the departed Swanson, there was an ongoing competition for the starting shortstop position. Twenty-two-year-old Vaughn Grissom, who appeared in 41 games with the Braves last season after Arcia, was favored to win the starting job.
When asked about the surprise move, third base and infield coach Ron Washington said at a press release that Grissom and fellow shortstop prospect Braden Shewmake have “a very, very, very bright future. It just didn’t happen this spring.”
The Braves need to solidify their fifth starting pitcher in the rotation. Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd, Ian Anderson and former All-Star Mike Soroka are in contention for the spot.
Soroka suffered yet another setback early in Spring Training with a hamstring strain. He made his spring training debut on March 22 against the Detroit Tigers, finishing with 36 pitches, one strikeout, one walk, three hits and one earned run.
Anderson’s recent struggles with command have come as a surprise to many, especially after his key contributions to the team’s playoff runs in 2020 and 2021. Braves manager Brian Snitker claimed that Anderson is still young and that he believes time in the minor leagues will be beneficial.
“I’m just hoping he can get himself back going,” Snitker told Braves Beat newsletter author Mark Bowman.
At the mound, ace pitcher Max Fried and Strider will assert themselves at the top of the rotation, with veteran pitchers Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright taking the third and fourth spots, respectively. Dodd and Shuster are considered the favorites for the fifth starting spot.
Backing up the starting pitchers, the bullpen is expected to be a strong point for the Braves, despite the losses of Jackson, Matzek and closer Kenley Jansen. Jiménez, Jesse Chavez and returning A.J. Minter are expected to be the setup pitchers. Middle relievers Dylan Lee, Collin McHugh and Jackson Stephens who are returning as well will be expected to contribute to a strong bullpen. Atlanta also hopes to get contributions from injury-prone Kirby Yates, who led the NL in saves in 2019, and Raisel Iglesias, who the Braves had acquired from the Angels via trade in 2022.
The Braves are expected to compete for a sixth consecutive NL East Division title in 2023. However, other NL contenders threaten their championship hopes. The 2022 NL Champion Phillies improved their bullpen and added Treat Turner in 2022, one of the best shortstops in the league to accompany a high-powered offense and solid pitching rotation. Despite losing star pitcher Jacob deGrom to the Texas Rangers in free agency, the New York Mets brought back an overwhelming majority of the team that also won 101 games last season. In the west, the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers are once again expected to be among the top contenders in the NL.
Although the road to another World Series title will be challenging, the Braves are in a great position to make another run.
Samir Ajy (he/him) (24C) is from Atlanta, Georgia and is majoring in political science on a pre-law track. In his free time, Samir enjoys watching sports, playing ultimate frisbee and watching comedy-based movies.