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2022 MLB Playoffs Preview: Atlanta Braves

The reigning World Series champs are hungry for a repeat

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The reigning champs enter this year’s postseason with an improved and deeper squad than the one that won it all in 2021. Needing all of their 101 wins to run down the Mets in the race for the NL East crown and a first-round bye, the Braves enter October as one of the favorites to win it all.

Unlike in the championship 2021, Ronald Acuña Jr. is active for this postseason run, but Brian Snitker will once again likely deal with some major absences. Ozzie Albies remains a long-shot to begin the playoffs on the active roster, and rookie standout Spencer Strider’s status is up in the air for the NLDS, despite encouraging recent reports.

Record: 101-61

Manager: Brian Snitker

Top hitter: Dansby Swanson (6.3 fWAR)

Top pitcher: Max Fried (5.0 fWAR)

It’s hard to find an organization with a more seamless inclusion of young players onto their squad than the Braves had in 2022. William Contreras, Vaughn Grissom, and rookie of the year candidate Michael Harris II combined to produce 7.9 fWAR over 252 games, with all three are already locked up on long-term deals. Grissom’s production not only gives the Braves a more comfortable scenario to negotiate with free agent star Dansby Swanson and his team-leading 6.3 fWAR, but it will also be pivotal in case Albies is unable to go in the postseason.

Behind Austin Riley, Acuña, and company, this team’s recipe for success revolves around one world: Slugging. The Braves led the league in SLG (.431) and total bases (2443), and with Matt Olson’s 78 extra-base hits combined with Swanson’s career year at the plate, you wouldn't think this team lost an MVP-level bat heading into 2022 with Freddie Freeman departing for the Dodgers.

All of this slugging comes at a cost for the Braves, by far the worst team in BB/K ratio among the postseason squads, ranking 25th in the entire sport (0.31). For the purposes of context, the top three consist of the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers.

On the pitching side of things, Max Fried may be the most underrated ace in baseball. At this point, it is well-established that the southpaw is the top man in a formidable Braves rotation, but he often gets lost in the conservation with flashier pitchers atop the Mets and Dodgers’ rotation, and with fellow NL East starter Sandy Alcantara on his way to the Cy Young award.

However, Fried continues to evolve and is coming off a 2.48 ERA over 185.1 masterful innings, earning him his first All-Star nod. Fried’s 2.70 FIP was the sixth best in all of baseball ahead of standout names such as Alcantara, Shane McClanahan and Dylan Cease.

Harris II’s sole completion for the Rookie of The Year award resides on his own team. Spencer Strider joined the rotation mid-season and did nothing but shove, posting a 4.9 fWAR in only 131.2 innings; his 1.83 FIP would lead the sport if he qualified.

It’s unclear at this point if Strider will be back in time for the NLDS, but the recent reports are encouraging, and the brilliant rookie should be able to contribute in some capacity if the Braves are able to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Charlie Morton has been more inconsistent than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, with a really poor start and finish to the year, but he remains a quality veteran for the middle of the rotation, and Brian Snitker will hope he can regain his mid-season from, as the former Ray posted a sub-1.00 WHIP in the month of August. Kyle Wright rounds out this healthy rotation with a 127 ERA+, finally showing the form that prompted this organization to draft him with the fifth overall pick back in 2017.

Collin McHugh, Jesse Chávez, Dylan Lee, and AJ Minter all posted sub-3.00 ERA figures, forming an impressive bridge to the loser Kenley Jansen, who’s probably been the weakest link of the bunch despite his 41 saves. The Braves’ closer blew seven save opportunities, and simply isn’t the same dominant closer of old, despite still being a solid option.

The offense may be the headliner of this ball club, but run prevention was the furthest thing from a liability, with Atlanta trailing only the Dodgers in ERA in the National League with a 3.46 mark.

Something we must highlight about the Braves in this year’s postseason is that with the way the bracket is set, the reigning champions will escape Mets and Dodgers in the NLDS, and face the winner of Phillies and Cardinals. Now, the Padres could beat the Mets in a best of three, and make this a moot point, but knowing you don’t have to worry about a 101-win team, virtually your equal, in the first round of the postseason, well, it’s a big plus. The Phils and Cards are fine squads, but statistically, neither compares to the Mets nor the Dodgers.

The Braves are a pretty complete team, and would likely be World Series favorites in a number of other seasons, but in such a top-heavy 2022 with the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers, it’s harder to make that statement. But the Braves are on the short-list, and they’ll have every chance to defend their title.