The Atlanta Braves were at the top of the baseball world in 2021, winning the franchise’s first World Series since 1995 after avenging the 2020 NLCS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the process. With expectations sky high in 2022, the surprise Philadelphia Phillies got the better of the Braves in the NLDS, spoiling a chance at back-to-back titles.
But the talent is still there for the Braves heading into 2023, especially with a full season of Ronald Acuna Jr. ahead, a star-studded lineup with multiple potential MVP candidates, and two pitchers who have a legitimate shot to win the NL Cy Young. Although the New York Mets and Phillies are potent this season, Atlanta has a legitimate shot to win the NL East this year, and most certainly will if a few of these bold predictions hold up ahead of MLB Opening Day on Thursday.
Spencer Strider Wins Cy Young
The Braves have a phenomenal starting rotation headlined by sophomore Spencer Strider, along with star Max Fried, Kyle Wright (when healthy) and Charlie Morton. But Strider might be the best of the bunch, after having an incredible rookie season in 2022.
He struck out over 35 percent of the batters he faced, became the fastest pitcher ever to 200 strikeouts, breaking Randy Johnson’s record, and become the first pitcher in history to strike out 200 batters without allowing 100 hits in a season. Quite a rookie resume.
He ended the season with an incredible 2.67 ERA, and if he hadn’t started the year in the bullpen, he would have had a real chance to challenge Sandy Alcantara for the NL Cy Young.
This year, Alcantara and Strider will duke it out, along with Mets superstars Max Scherzer and new addition to the NL Justin Verlander. Even Fried himself could challenge for the trophy, but if Strider can replicate last season, he’s got a great chance to win it.
Gold Glove For Matt Olson
Matt Olson has all of the tools to have an incredible 2023 season. He hit 34 home runs and drove in 103 RBIs last season, but only batted .240. Now that’s he fully acclimated to the Braves’ culture, he has a chance to become one of the best players in the Braves lineup and batting rotation.
Olson’s best season arguably came in 2021 with the Oakland Athletics, a year he slashed .271/.371/540 with 39 HR and 111 RBI, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting. For a bold prediction, let’s say Olson has the potential to hit 40 round trips in 2023, at least 120 RBIs, and plays excellent defense to earn him an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove award.
With stars such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley providing protection for him in the lineup, it’s very possible Matt Olson could lead the NL in homers in 2023.
Austin Riley Hits 40 HRs
Speaking of Austin Riley, the third baseman has just been getting better and better, and this is going to be the year he establishes himself as one of the best players in baseball. Riley had a legitimate MVP case last season, finishing sixth in voting and smoking 38 home runs for the Braves. He also slashed an excellent .273/.349/.528 and added an .878 OPS in 2022.
Although the NL is loaded with talent, including players on his own team that could challenge for the NL MVP, along with talent such as Fernando Tatis Jr, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and Juan Soto, a higher OBP could be just what the 25-year-old needs to make his case.
Ronald Acuna Jr. Wins NL MVP
This is the year for Ronald Acuna Jr. He’s finally fully healthy following his ACL surgery in 2021, and has the talent to hit 30-plus home runs and steal 40-plus bases. If the Braves win the NL East, which they have a great chance to do, he has a strong chance to win his first MVP award.
As long as Acuna, Olson and Riley can match what they did last season, the Braves should be in good shape. They are stacked at starting pitching, have legitimate superstars in the above three players, and also have a solid bullpen with A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Joe Jimenez.
This team wasn’t all too different when it won a World Series title in 2021, and if the stars align this season, the Atlanta Braves will most certainly be a contender to come out of the NL in 2023.
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