The Atlanta Braves quite famously won 101 games last season, with wins No. 98, 99, and 100 forming a sweep over the New York Mets to all-but-clinch the 2022 NL East title. It took overcoming an incredibly slow start that climaxed with Atlanta being 10.5 games behind their rivals in Queens for it to happen, but they made it happen. It’s fun to type that out and it’s even more fun to remember that — about as painful as it is to remember the Philadelphia Phillies hitting what felt like 73 homers in four games as they went on to win the NLDS and then the NL Pennant. It was a bitter pill to swallow in the moment, but that’s baseball for you!
I’d actually argue that it was a pretty fitting chapter for the Braves when it comes to their history. Of course this team followed up a season where they snuck into the Postseason with 88 wins and ended up winning the whole daggone thing by turning into a 101-win buzzsaw that somehow tripped over their first postseason hurdle. I’m not going to say that it parallels how the 1995 World Series Champion Braves team (that may not have even been one of the best teams in that divisional dynasty era, on paper) was followed up by an incredible 1996 team that inexplicably wet the bed against the New York Yankees in the World Series that season, but it’s pretty close! The second act seemed like it was only going to continue the glory of the first act, only to end in disastrous fashion.
I’m saying all of that to say that it’s still good to have high expectations, even if there’s still a good chance that the wackiness of baseball could rear its ugly head by the time the season ends. This Braves team should have high expectations since they’re probably going to be really, really good once again. Personally, I haven’t really had that nervous feeling of anticipation heading into this season like I have for the past few ones — yeah, even after they won the World Series I had a bit of nervousness heading into the season since I figured there was a chance that they were going to flop right on their faces right out of the gate with a slow start. I wanted to just enjoy the early part of the season but deep down, I figured we were all going to be annoyed if they had a bad start again. I can count that one as a rare moment of clairvoyance.
As far as this season goes, I’m feeling very calm heading into the season. While the Braves are going to have fierce competition from the likes of the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies, it’s something that doesn’t really worry me as a fan. If anything, it excites me. These are teams that the Braves have dealt with before in the past, they know what it takes to beat these teams and that’s a good thing since they absolutely have what it takes to beat these teams. This team is loaded with talent from top-to-bottom and at nearly every position, too — just ask the good folks over at FanGraphs just how much they like this team heading into this season.
There’s so much to like about this team that it’s mind-boggling, really. Ronald Acuña Jr. is looking every bit like the dynamo that he was before his injury, Michael Harris II should be an electrifying presence in center field, Matt Olson has been swinging a bat made of nitroglycerin all spring and there's no way that Ozzie Albies can have another season as snakebitten as the one he just got done having last year so a bounce-back is feeling imminent. Austin Riley is likely going to continue slugging, the Braves have arguably the top catching duo in all of baseball in the form of Sean Murphy and Travis d'Arnaud, their rotation should be incredibly formidable with Max Fried and Spencer Strider heading things up and their bullpen is about as deep as it's ever been. Aside from the obvious holes in left field and shortstop, this team is bursting at the seams with talent.
Knowing all of that, it's very difficult for me to feel nervous heading into this season. Instead, it's just a matter of these dudes taking care of business and making sure that they're in the conversation to be playing meaningful baseball once October rolls around. I'd vastly prefer if this team didn't sleepwalk for the first two months of the season for a third year in a row but even if they do, we know that they have the confidence in both themselves as players and in their manager Brian Snitker that they'll eventually find a way to right the ship and get right once the Postseason rolls around. Again, it would be utterly fantastic if they just played consistently great for the entirety of the regular season but this squad's resiliency is another mark in favor of this team.
There's my reasoning for why the nervous anticipation has gone away as far of this season is concerned. There's not really a lot to be nervous about. I'd liken the feeling of this upcoming season to one of those years back when the Braves were dominating their respective division. Yeah, there might be other really good teams who may end up giving this team plenty of fits, but that's just it — they'll likely give Atlanta fits, but it's tough to see anybody overturning this team. This Braves team has the tangibles of talent, production capability and depth while also having the intangibles of resiliency, belief, and the experience of playing at the highest levels of the game. None of that is a recipe for nervousness and if anything, it's a recipe for pure confidence and excitement.
I'm not saying that this team's going to go 161-1 or anything like that, but my expectations are high and I'm going to act like it. Everybody in that clubhouse is there for a reason and hopefully we'll see that reason manifest itself as a World Series Commissioner's Trophy once the season is done with. If the second act in 2022 didn't end quite as well as the first act in 2021 did, then let's see 2023 end up being the encore that 2021 deserved. Let's have some fun this season, y'all!