The Atlanta Braves ended the 2022 season as arguably the hottest team in Major League Baseball. A .662 winning percentage after the all-star break propelled the Braves past the New York Mets, leading Atlanta to its fifth straight NL East division title. Then it all came crashing down in the playoffs, as the Braves ran into the juggernaut that was the Philadelphia Phillies, losing the NLDS to their division rival in four games.
Luckily for the Braves and their fans, Atlanta has one of the best front offices in all of baseball, one that put together maybe the most balanced and deepest roster in the league. The Braves have it all, and that's the reason why they're one of the few teams that can compete for a World Series title each and every season.
This season will be no different, as the Braves have some of the odds to not only get back to the Fall Classic but to win it as well. Atlanta surprised some when it won the World Series in 2021 after an 88-win regular season. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Braves are the ones holding the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the 2023 season.
3. Addition of Sean Murphy
Sean Murphy emerged as one of the top catchers in baseball last season with the Oakland Athletics. After winning a Gold Glove Award in 2021, Murphy put it together at the plate last season.
Murphy had a .759 OPS, 57 extra-base hits and more at-bats than any other catcher in 2022, all while playing elite defense behind the plate. He was one of three catchers to receive an MVP vote along with J.T. Realmuto and Adley Rutschman.
The Braves didn't have problems at the catching position last season, employing Travis d'Arnaud and William Contreras. The two made a fantastic platoon, but having the luxury of an everyday catcher you can rely on is few and far between, and Murphy is just that.
Atlanta put all its eggs in Murphy's basket, giving up two of their top six prospects and Contreras, among other players, to acquire him from the A's this offseason. The Braves rewarded Murphy with a six-year, $73 million contract extension before he even put on an Atlanta uniform.
Murphy brings top-level defense at a premier position and a solid bat into an already stacked Braves lineup for 2023 and beyond.
2. Braves have an elite bullpen
Offense wins games, but pitching wins championships. Not only do the Braves have a solid rotation, but they carry one of the best bullpens in baseball as well.
Atlanta's bullpen had the fifth-best ERA in the MLB last season, with four relievers sporting a sub-three ERA in 50 or more innings. That doesn't include Raisel Iglesias, who the Braves acquired at the trade deadline. Iglesias immediately became Atlanta's best option out of the bullpen, allowing one earned run in 26.1 innings.
Unfortunately for the Braves and Iglesias, he'll begin 2023 on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation. He should slot into the closer role for Atlanta when healthy.
Atlanta should be fine without Iglesias thanks to several reliable options, including A.J. Minter, Joe Jimenez, Dylan Lee and Jesse Chavez. The Braves also have incredible depth, with veterans Nick Anderson and Kirby Yates waiting in the wings.
1. Emergence of Spencer Strider
The Braves already have one ace in Max Fried. It looks like they might have two with Spencer Strider.
Strider burst onto the scene last season, striking out 202 batters in 131.2 innings for a remarkable 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He only made 20 starts, which makes those numbers even more impressive. The only knock on Strider from 2022 is that he got roughed up in his first career postseason start, not making it out of the third inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Phillies.
There's no telling what a full season of starts for Strider with those types of metrics will look like. If he reaches close to 200 innings, there's a feasible chance he tops 300 strikeouts, something only five pitchers have done over the last 20 seasons.
The Braves look like they got an absolute steal in Strider, who they selected in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. Atlanta has already shown their faith in Strider, inking him to a six-year, $75 million extension with a seventh-year club option before the playoffs last season.
If the Braves are also able to lock up Fried they'll have one of the scariest rotations in baseball for years to come based on him and Strider alone. Fried is set to become a free agent after the 2024 season.
While the future of the Braves rotation as a whole may have some questions marks, there's no denying that Strider has the makings of being an elite starting pitcher for a very long time.