This is what the Braves face as they open the season on Thursday versus the Reds at Truist Park. They will take it one game at a time, but their goal is clear: Repeat as World Series champions.
Here are five keys to doing so:
1. A complete effort
In baseball, it can be difficult for teams to sync up their hitters. One is hitting, another isn’t. Then that one begins to get hot, while the first one cools down.
The Braves need to remain relatively consistent in this area. When they’re at full strength, they have one of baseball’s best lineups.
But it’s one of the best because they can hurt you through any part of it. If Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson and Austin Riley are hot at the same time, watch out.
This is often tough to do. Hitters slump at different times, which is why the Braves are fortunate to have a deep lineup.
But their best chance to repeat is their best hitters
2. Stay healthy
You might ask: Well, they overcame injuries last year, so why can’t they do it again this season?
You can’t bank on winning another World Series after losing your most talented player. It often doesn’t work that way. Many components go into winning a title, and a lot must go right on the journey.
Usually, that means staying healthy. The Braves defied those odds last year, but their chances are much better if they have all of their key contributors on the field.
If this year’s Braves have a weakness, it might be their lack of depth. Injuries could put major strain on them.
3.. Some Alex Anthopoulos magic
If you’re a Braves fan, you hope general manager Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t need to acquire three outfielders at the trade deadline again. That would mean disaster struck.
But Anthopoulos has shown he’s always working. It’s one thing manager Brian Snitker, his coaching staff and the players appreciate about the GM. He always looks to improve the club. The smallest moves could turn out to be big.
The Braves could use some of that magic this season, though Anthopoulos did well in adding to the roster after it became clear Freddie Freeman would not be re-signing with the club.
4. The back end of the rotation must hold up
Sure, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson must pitch well for the Braves to win. That’s a given. But it’s just as important for the Braves’ back-end starters to perform.
A contending club can’t afford to consistently be worrying about two or three of its rotation members. Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa and the sixth starter must carry their weight.
Obviously some starters will struggle more than others, but the Nos. 4 through 6 starting pitchers -- if the Braves continue with a six-man rotation -- can’t all pitch poorly.
The Braves will be facing a couple tough lineups in the NL East, and others elsewhere in the NL. They don’t need questions in their rotation.
5. Time for the bullpen to shine
We have heard all about it. Kenley Jansen. Will Smith. Tyler Matzek. A.J. Minter. Collin McHugh. The list goes on, too.
The Braves could have the best bullpen and baseball. This doesn’t matter right now, though. They must prove that during the season.
In close games, a team’s bullpen matters. In close postseason series, it can be the difference.
Anthopoulos and the Braves invested a lot of money in building a deep bullpen. Now they hope that’ll pay off and that the unit will become one of baseball’s most feared bullpens.