The Atlanta Braves captured their fourth franchise World Series title and their first since 1995 last season, despite winning 19 division crowns since 1991. Their biggest challenge once the lockout is resolved will be to sign first baseman Freddie Freeman, who is a free agent and rejected the Braves’ initial qualifying offer.
Atlanta Braves 2021 Season Performance
The Braves found themselves with a record of 50-53 on July 28th following a 2-1 loss to the New York Mets which put them in third place in the National League East, six games behind the leading Philadelphia Phillies. After a nine game winning streak that capped a run of 18 wins against just four losses, Atlanta held a four and a half game lead in the division on August 22nd that was eventually stretched to six and a half games as they won 12 of their final 14 games. The Braves then headed into the playoffs with a lot of momentum with a record of 88-73.
That hot play extended into the postseason; even though they lost to the Brewers in their opening game of the playoffs, they rolled to the title without facing an elimination game, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1, the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 and the Houston Astros 4-2. The win broke a 26 year World Series victory drought despite winning the NL East 14 times from 1996 to 2020. They clinched the World Championship by jumping on the Astros for three runs in the third inning and adding three more in the fifth, while starting pitcher Max Fried held Houston to four hits while striking out six to keep his opponents off the scoreboard.
The Braves vaulted to the championship by going 36-19 the last two months of the season and posting a 46-35 record on the road for all of 2021 and winning seven of ten games away from home in their final trip to position them to finish atop the NL East. The team was led by a pitching staff that was fourth in the National League with a 3.88 ERA with Max Fried leading the way with a 14-7 record and an ERA of 3.04, while Charlie Morton went 14-6 with 216 strikeouts in almost 186 innings pitched.
Offensively, Atlanta was fifth in the National League with a .244 batting average, with Freeman hitting .300 with 31 homers and 83 runs batted in while 24 year old third baseman Austin Riley led the team in batting average at .303, home runs with 33, and runs batted in with a total of 107. Another 24 year old, Ozzie Albies, was right behind him as he knocked in 106 runs while notching 33 home runs for a team that was second in the National League with 239 round trippers.
Atlanta Braves Off Season Changes
When a team is coming off four consecutive division championships that culminates in a World Series title, there isn’t much incentive to make many changes, especially in the coaching staff or the front office. The Braves have done a great job after a stretch of 12 seasons when they captured just one division title and made two other playoff appearances- despite attempting to manage their payroll, the team has returned to former glory.
Outfielder Adam Duvall, who smacked 16 home runs and knocked in 45 runs in 55 games, was re-signed to a contract and the Braves also retained starting center fielder Guillermo Heredia and reserve utility player Orlando Arcia for one year and two years respectively. Manager Brian Snitker had his contract extended through the 2024 season, continuing his more than 40 year association with the franchise.
Much of the offseason activity the Braves engaged in was at the minor league level since those transactions aren’t limited by the lockout, which only applies to major league moves. They purchased four players from the minors, including right-handed pitchers Williams Woods, Brooks Wilson and Freddy Tarnok. They also brought in left fielder Drew Waters.
Atlanta Braves Key Additions
At a position where Atlanta was plagued with injuries in 2021, the Braves added some depth at catcher by signing 34 year old free agent Manny Pina from the Milwaukee Brewers. Pina has been a career backup throughout his six year major league baseball career, playing a high of 107 games in 2017 for the Brewers and might be needed with two Braves catchers poised to leave the team through free agency.
Pina had his best power year of his career in 2021, pounding 13 home runs but only managed a .189 batting average. He’ll add depth to the position, but the Braves will still be looking for an everyday player at catcher if they can’t depend on 32 year old Travis d’Arnaud.
Shortly before the beginning of the lockout, the Braves took a chance that 34 year old Kirby Yates, who led the major leagues in saves in 2019 with 41 while with the San Diego Padres, could return from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for much of the 2020 and all of the 2021 season. The Braves have a number of relief pitchers who are free agents, so the signing of Yates could add some depth to a bullpen that could lose some arms for the 2022 season.
Darren O’Day played for the Braves in 2019 and 2020 and saw limited action while posting an ERA of just 1.25 in 21.2 innings of action. He spent 2021 with the New York Yankees where the 39 year old pitched a little over 10 innings and has been assigned to Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate Gwinnett for the time being.
Freddie Freeman will test the free agent market, but the 31 year old has spent his entire career with the Braves and they are still hopeful to avoid his departure by making a successful offer once the lockout is resolved and negotiations can continue. The first baseman was an integral part of the team’s World Championship run and will be difficult to replace if he goes elsewhere, so Atlanta will most likely make a concerted effort to keep him in the fold; it could end up costing them close to $150 million over five years.
Another key part of Atlanta’s 2021 effort was starting pitcher Drew Smyly, a 32 year old lefthander who made 23 starts and six relief appearances, posting a record of 11-4 with an ERA of 4.48 with 117 strikeouts in 126 innings. Although the Braves are deep with pitching, both at the major and minor league levels, they’ve had difficulty keeping them healthy, so the loss of Smyly would be another hurdle to overcome.
The Braves played a lot of players in the outfield last season and one of those was Jorge Soler, who also filled the role as a designated hitter while appearing in 55 games during the 2021 season. He is a free agent and will probably get some serious consideration from teams when offers begin to fly once teams are allowed to make any moves. The 29 year old hit 14 home runs and drove in 33 while posting a .269 batting average in 2021.
There are a number of other Braves players farther down on the depth chart who are free agents, primarily because Atlanta declined to tender offers, but their departures could end up impacting the overall depth of the roster. Given the Braves’ recent ability to develop talent, the eventual impact may be minimal.
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Atlanta Braves Coach Analysis
Since being named manager in May of 2016 after the firing of Fredi Gonzalez, Brian Snitker has compiled a record of 441-390, a .531 winning percentage while leading the Braves to four division titles. He was named the National League Manager of the Year after leading Atlanta to their first NL East crown since 2013 and only their second dating back to 2005.
Snitker’s tenure with the Braves dates back to 1977, when Atlanta signed him as a free agent out of the University of New Orleans but he only lasted three years in their minor league system and was released in 1980. He remained with the organization as an instructor and until 2016 held a variety of positions with the Braves and their minor league affiliates, including as manager of the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves from 2013 – 2016.
His high mark in wins for the Braves came in 2019 when he led Atlanta to a 97-65 record and the NL East title, but they couldn’t deliver in the playoffs, losing three games to two in the National League Division Series (NLDS) to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2020, the Braves opened up a 3-1 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), but the Dodgers won three straight games to advance to the World Series, which they won in six games over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 66 year old is considered a players’ manager and has been very successful at pulling the right strings to bring the Braves back to becoming a perennial contender for the NL East title and the World Series. Although he finished fourth in the National League Manager of the Year voting in 2021, Snitker may have done his best managing job by keeping the Braves in the division race despite numerous injuries to their pitching staff.
Atlanta Braves Injured Players at the beginning of the season
Charlie Morton, the starting pitcher who departed the first game of the World Series with a fractured fibula after tossing two and a third shutout innings, underwent successful surgery and is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for opening day. However, with the prospect of a shortened spring training due to the lockout, his status for the beginning of the season could still be in question.
Recently acquired Kirby Yates is less than a year removed from surgery, so his ability to contribute at the major league level at the beginning of the season is unknown. If he’s healthy, there’s a good chance the Braves will place him in the minor leagues to ensure that Yates is capable of contributing quality innings for the parent club.
Pitcher Mike Soroka is coming off a pair of Achilles tendon surgeries and hasn’t pitched since three starts into the pandemic affected 2020 season. After recovering from the initial surgery, the 24 year old former All Star tore the Achilles again in May of 2021 and is now looking to make a comeback for the 2022 season, but is still questionable for opening day.
Right Fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. suffered a torn ACL midway through the 2021 season after hitting .283 with 24 home runs and 52 RBI through 82 games. He underwent successful knee surgery in July and is currently in the rehabilitation process, making him questionable to be available to begin the season in the starting lineup. Check their MLB Odds for this season.
Atlanta Braves Prediction for 2022 Season
With a young and talented core of pitchers and position players, the prospects look good for the Braves to again contend for the NL East title and to make a deep run in the playoffs. Signing Freddie Freeman, although it will put pressure on their payroll, will be a priority for 2022 and most followers of the Braves believe that the veteran will end his career in Atlanta.
As with most teams, avoiding injuries will be a key factor in whether the Braves can extend their four year reign atop the NL East. It looks like Morton has a good chance of returning to form and if Soroka can recover enough to contribute for most of the season, Atlanta will be tough to score on as they were in the World Series, giving up just four runs in their wins over Houston.
Offensively, the 2021 Braves were third in the National League in run production and fourth in runs allowed, making them a formidable foe in a three or four game series when playing with a healthy starting lineup. Atlanta’s reliance on the long ball can lend itself to offensive inconsistency with most of their losses in 2021, especially in the first two thirds of the season, coming as a result of offensive hitting droughts.
If the Braves lose Freeman and fail to land a replacement through free agency, they will likely fall behind the Mets as division favorites, especially after New York’s frenzied free agent acquisitions prior to the lockout. The big question is whether the Braves will be more like the team that began 2021 50-53 or the one that ended it with a 38-20 run in the regular season and 11-5 in the playoffs.
Although Freeman is testing the market, it’s unlikely that he will find a suitor that values him as much as the Braves, especially at the age of 31 and seeking a long term deal of at least four years. The prediction here is that Freeman will remain a Brave, probably for the rest of his career, giving Atlanta a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse who can keep the team in playoff contention for the foreseeable future.
Look for the Braves to battle the Mets for supremacy in the NL East, with free agency moves by Atlanta and their avoidance of injuries making the difference in the race. The Braves will make it to the postseason by edging New York in a close race for the division crown and riding their pitching to a third consecutive appearance in the NLCS. Check out their MLB Lines for the season.
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