|Posted by theprincipality on April 13, 2022 at 11:25 AM|
It's been six months since that amazing night in Houston, when (as if you needed reminding) the Atlanta Braves ended 26 years without a championship. It's a strange feeling starting a season as the team to beat. Sure, in the NL East we've had targets on our backs before, but this time the entire league is ready and waiting to take a shot at the World Champions. It's a challenge, but it's a great position to be in and with a bit of luck we won't disappoint in our quest to repeat.
What's happened since then has been very hard for Braves fans. Our beloved first baseman, Freddie Freeman, has left us for pastures new. It felt like a long two years as the Braves and Freeman tried to agree an extension to his contract, but as the off-season wore on, it became more and more apparent that the two sides were not going to find some common ground. Then of course Freeman was in high demand from some very rich suitors, which included the Yankees, Red Sox and the Dodgers. By this point the Braves were never going to compete on contract value alone, so if he were going to stay in Atlanta it needed to be on the intangibles such as his young family and love for the city in which he played his whole career.
Of course, if it were going to be on the intangibles, Freeman would have signed long ago, so credit to Alex Anthopoulos once again for being proactive and trading for the best available replacement in Matt Olson from the Oakland As. By all accounts, Olson will be a great fit. He is a talented defensive first baseman with great power potential, as well as hitting for average. The question is whether or not he will bring the same leadership qualities to the clubhouse that Freeman had in abundance. So when Olson signed, it signalled the end for the Freeman era. It was only fitting that his final contribution was to take the throw at first base that ended the World Series. We wish him the very best of luck in Los Angeles.
You would have had to be living on the moon with your fingers in your ears as well not to have heard about the lockout that lasted most of the winter. In the sport's first work stoppage since the 1994/95 player strike, the owners locked out the players when the two sides failed to come to an agreement over a new collective bargaining agreement. Personally I found it a case of two sides being equally as greedy as each other. In the past I've been critical of the Players Association (MLBPA) in these sorts of negotiations. Even the rookies earn more in a year than many people do in a lifetime, whilst the superstars command salaries of over $30m a year and try to justify the amount they earn by saying their careers are shorter. Poor Manny Machado and his shotr career with a $300m contract!
Of course, it's not just the players being greedy though. The owners have a lot to answer for here as well. Whilst the top teams have payrolls in excess of $200m a season, the revenues for those teams extends well into the billions. For the owners to risk work stoppages and the subsequent bad feelings amongst fans over what to them is small change also seems petty. In the end it was a classic case of brinksmanship, as the lockout threatened both the revenues of the teams and the livelihoods of the players. But at the end of the day, the biggest losers of any work stoppage is always the fans. Thankfully an agreement was reached with only a week of the 2022 season lost, which will ultimately be made up over the next 155 games. MLB should ensure that this situation never comes around again!
And so what of the Braves? Freeman aside, the bulk of the championship-winning team has returned. Olson is a like-for-like replacement for Freeman in an otherwise unchanged infield, with Duvall, Acuna, Ozuna and Rosario returning in the outfield. World Series hero Jorge Soler has departed for the Marlins and clubhouse hero Joc Pederson has also found a new club, but it was always assumed these players would only be rentals anyway. On paper, pitching has been bolstered by the addition of Kenley Jansen as closer, which should take the pressure off Will Smith (who we forget struggled in the 2021 regular season). Fried, Morton and Anderson return to the rotation, with Kyle Wright and one other to fill the remaining spots. The team should be competitive once again in what is a stacked NL East.
However, though we are only 5 games into the season, what has been shown so far has been less than inspiring. Fried and Anderson both struggled in their opening starts, whilst the bullpen had difficulties closing out the wins we have already got. The offense is yet to get going, although Olson has been a bright spark and drilled his first home run for the Braves off a 100mph fastball in the win over Cincinnati. Preseason, Mark Bowman predicted we might be good for a 100 win season. I think that is wishful thinking! I think it will be another close fight between the entire East division, with everyone beating everyone else. The Mets are particularly loaded this year, having picked up Max Scherzer to partner Jacob deGrom in a deadly one-two combination. Perhaps they will suffer from their usual mid-season collapse!
The success or failure of the Braves depends, in my view, entirely on whether a clubhouse leader emerges to replace Freeman. October was a wild ride that saw us hit the highest of highs and create a chemistry on the field like never before. However, I don't see who the natural leaders are anymore and that worries me. Nonetheless, I've been worried before and Snitker has worked his magic, so once again I just have to keep the faith.