3 reasons these Braves are better than 2021 champs

October 11th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Nobody knew how good the Braves really were before they won last year’s World Series. But there are a lot of folks who believe Atlanta is entering this year’s postseason with an even stronger team.

“We’re even more hungry to win another one, and we have the team to do it,” Braves reliever A.J. Minter said. “We have a way better team than last year in my opinion.”

Minter’s opinion will begin to be tested as the Braves begin a best-of-five National League Division Series against the Phillies at 1:07 p.m. ET at Truist Park.

Based simply on regular-season results, it’s easy to argue that this year’s 101-win Braves were more formidable than the 2021 World Series champs, who entered the postseason with 88 wins. The current Atlanta team also seems more battle tested. Along with having holdovers from last year’s club, this is a bunch that won a division race against a Mets team that also tallied 101 wins.

The Braves overcame the 10 1/2-game June division deficit and the seven-game deficit that existed on Aug. 10. Maybe more importantly, Atlanta showed its ability to rise to the occasion by sweeping a three-game series against the Mets during the regular season’s final weekend. Those three wins gave the Braves the tiebreaker in the NL East and consequently the easier path to this year’s World Series.

Here are three reasons why the Braves are better this year:

Deeper rotation
Charlie Morton was the Game 1 starter in two of the three postseason rounds the Braves played last year. Depending on Spencer Strider’s status, there is a chance Morton might not start until Game 4. Max Fried remains one of the game’s elite starters and as Kyle Wright collected 21 wins this year, he proved to be a legit frontline starter.

As for Strider, who signed a six-year extension Monday, he emerges as one of the game’s most electric pitchers as he became the first Braves rookie to record a 200-strikeout season in the modern era. Strider has recovered from his previously-strained left oblique. The question now is how far can the Braves push him as a starter in the NLDS?

Even if Strider can work out of the bullpen in one of the first two games and then possibly serve as an opener in Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS, the Braves' rotation would be deeper than the one filled by Fried, Morton and Ian Anderson last year, when Morton’s fractured leg led to Tucker Davidson being called up from the alternate training site to make his sixth career start in Game 5 of the World Series. (The Braves were also short 24 hours earlier in Game 4, when Dylan Lee made his third appearance and first start at the big league level.)

The Acuña Effect
Had Ronald Acuña not been injured before the 2021 All-Star break, the Braves may have never traded for Eddie Rosario, who won the 2021 NLCS MVP, or Jorge Soler, who was last year’s World Series MVP. But if given a choice between taking Acuña, Soler or Rosario into this year’s postseason, I don’t think it would take long to make a decision, especially now that Acuña has had a week to rest between the end of the regular season and start of the postseason.

Acuña struggled to find consistency after he came back this year from a torn right ACL. But when given a chance to rest his surgically-repaired knee, he showed flashes of why he can still be the game’s most dynamic player. Along with providing power and speed offensively, his presence with Michael Harris II in the outfield enhances the value of a talented pitching staff.

Sure, the Braves won without Acuña last year and yeah, he hasn’t been himself most of this season. But the occasional off-day during the postseason could allow this superstar to improve the .872 OPS he has through 94 career postseason plate appearances.

Deeper lineup
The Braves had eight players hit at least 15 homers this year for the first time in franchise history. They accomplished this despite Adam Duvall and Ozzie Albies suffering injuries that left them short of 15 homers, just one year after they both tallied more than 30.

It’s also worth noting that the Braves received 96 RBIs from the ninth spot in their lineup. This is the second-highest total in MLB history, trailing only the 1996 Rangers, who drove in 100 runs from the lineup’s last spot. Just five teams in MLB history have received at least 90 RBIs from the ninth spot. Two of those were the Braves and Dodgers this year.