3 reasons Braves are 2023 title contenders

December 29th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It will be interesting to see how 2022 is remembered by Braves fans many years from now. The year introduced us to Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, the incredible rookies who helped the team overcome a 10 1/2-game division deficit at the end of May and eventually win a fifth consecutive National League East title.

Other than 1993, Braves fans have never experienced a division race like the one that unfolded in 2022. Atlanta passed the Mets during the regular season’s final weekend to win the NL East crown. Injuries and ailments suffered by Strider and Max Fried influenced an NL Division Series loss to the Phillies.

Along with experiencing an immediate postseason exit, the Braves also said goodbye to both Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson this past year. Both will continue to be missed over the next few years. But here are three reasons the Braves are heading into 2023 as legit World Series threats.

1) A healthy Acuña and Albies

The Braves won 101 games with Ozzie Albies missing most of the season’s final four months and with Ronald Acuña Jr. nowhere near 100 percent. Now these two young difference makers will be back together on the field to serve as one of MLB’s most exciting duos.

Acuña seemed to be himself for about a month after returning from right knee surgery, and then we saw just moments of his excellence over the last three-plus months of the season. Having a full offseason and being further distanced from the ACL tear, the 25-year-old outfielder has the potential to immediately regain his status as an annual MVP candidate.

Albies broke his left foot in June and then fractured his right pinkie one day after spending three months on the injured list. It was essentially a lost season for the second baseman. His return will impact the Braves both offensively and defensively. And it just feels like Acuña and Albies bring out the best in each other when they are on the field together.

2) An improved rotation

Yeah, the faces are similar, but the minds and bodies of the young arms are more mature and experienced. Strider excelled over his four months as a starter this year, and he should be physically prepared to be a frontline piece over the entirety of next season. Some question whether Kyle Wright will match his 21-win season. Well, the win total really doesn’t matter. But if he’s at least somewhere between the 3.19 ERA and 3.89 expected ERA he produced in 2022, he’ll remain a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

As long as Fried and Strider are healthy, the Braves can feel good about having Wright and Charlie Morton fill the rotation’s next two spots. The big question is who will fill the fifth spot if the Braves don’t add another experienced starter before the season starts. Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka will battle for the spot. We don’t know how effective Soroka will be as he comes back after tearing his right Achilles for a second time.

Questions also surround Anderson. He missed time in 2021 because of a sore shoulder and he just never got on track last year. Still, given some of his past success, especially during the postseason, there’s certainly reason to believe he could at least be a serviceable No. 5 starter.

3) Top catching duo

Today’s catchers have a lot more power than the shortstops of the 1980s and early 1990s. So the comparison isn’t perfect. But teams are currently assessing catchers much like they assessed shortstops a few decades ago. If you are great defensively, you don’t have to be much more than an average offensive contributor.

Well, with Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud, the Braves have a pair of veteran catchers who can provide significant value both offensively and defensively. Yeah, William Contreras’ power will be missed. But this duo can compensate for his loss and also provide enough behind the plate to ensure the catching position will be upgraded in 2023.