Top five storylines for 2023 Atlanta Braves

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

On opening day, every team is 0-0. Fans all around the sport have optimism. Nothing has happened yet, so anything can happen.

There is a different feel to the Braves than most clubs.

They are seeking their sixth straight National League East crown. They have World Series aspirations, and a roster that makes those hopes realistic. Braves fans everywhere have been waiting for this team to debut in its regular-season form.

There’s so much possibility with the 2023 Braves.

Here are the top five storylines this season:

World Series or bust

On one hand, it always seems a tad unfair to label a team’s season as “World Series or bust.” The postseason features unpredictability and randomness. It can be a crapshoot.

On the other, the Braves have one of the best rosters – if not the best, depending on what case you want to make – in baseball. They have stars, but they also have depth. They have an experienced manager and coaching staff. They have one of the sport’s top executives making decisions.

They have it all.

Think back to last year: The Braves won 101 games and a fifth straight division title. This qualifies as an incredible season. But did any of it matter in the minds of fans during the final two games in Philadelphia, when the Phillies outclassed, and then eliminated, the Braves? Probably not.

A week or so – or longer, if needed – after a season ends, rational fans can usually appreciate a team for what it was and what it accomplished. The Braves had an unreal 2022 season and ran into a hot team. They gave fans tons of good memories.

But they were good enough to repeat as World Series champions, tough as it may be to do so.

This season, the Braves are once again talented enough to win a ring. Heck, they might have a better team this year.

And in professional sports, it’s difficult to keep a championship window open for a long time. The Braves must capitalize.

The lineup could be historically good

The Braves will send (in some order) Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Ozzie Albies and Sean Murphy to the plate.

The point: They are stacked.

Their lineup could be historically good, depending on how you define that. At its best, it could be one of the strongest lineups this century. No, not everyone will click at the same time. Yes, slumps will occur.

But the Braves have stars and depth. They arguably have three players – Acuña, Olson and Riley – who are realistic MVP candidates. Harris, Murphy, Albies and Eddie Rosario are no slouches. And if Marcell Ozuna hits? Watch out.

Going into a baseball season, you never know how everything will play out. So much can happen that goes against a popular narrative.

You can bet on this, though: If healthy, the Braves are going to score – a lot.

The Braves might feature a top-5 pitching staff

So often, we see stellar lineups undone by mediocre pitching staffs.

It’s one thing to know you can score six runs. It’s another to know you have to score six runs if you want a chance to win. (This is an extreme example, but you get the point.)

Braves fans can be relatively certain that Atlanta will feature a good pitching staff. But can it be great? Can it be one of the top five staffs in baseball at season’s end?

It’s certainly possible.

At their best, Max Fried and Spencer Strider are two ace-level pitchers. If he performs like he did in 2022, Kyle Wright will be another weapon. Charlie Morton is a good bounce-back candidate. Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd are promising prospects. At this point, Ian Anderson, Michael Soroka and Bryce Elder give the Braves depth.

And we haven’t even gotten to the bullpen.

If healthy, it could actually be baseball’s best group. Raisel Iglesias (closer), A.J. Minter and Joe Jiménez all have experience pitching at the back end of games. Collin McHugh offers versatility because he can pitch multiple innings. Lucas Luetge is coming off a couple great seasons with the Yankees. Could Kirby Yates return to pre-injury form? Nick Anderson and Dylan Lee are weapons out of the bullpen.

At its best, the Braves’ pitching staff could be dominant.

Did they make the right decision?

All offseason, we wondered who might start at shortstop for the Braves on March 30, 2023.

It will be Orlando Arcia. He won the shortstop battle, which ended when the Braves optioned Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Now we’ll find out if the Braves made the correct decision.

If they did not, they can reverse course. There will be ways to fix it. But for now, they’ve put their faith in Arcia, who has lots of experience at the position.

Meanwhile, Grissom and Shewmake will start the year with the Gwinnett Stripers and continue developing. Perhaps one, or both, could help the Braves this season.

The Braves’ front office has a pretty good track record since Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager. Anthopoulos and his team deserve some understanding and some leeway with this decision. If they felt it was the correct one, they obviously came to that conclusion for rational reasons.

Now we get to see how it all plays out on the field.

Any surprises?

Last season, Harris and Strider put together sensational rookie seasons before finishing first and second, respectively, in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Wright became a terrific big-league starter after years of going up and down between Triple A and the majors.

Who will be this year’s surprise?

There’s always at least one, right?

We think we know the Braves. After all, they have stars and established big leaguers all over the field, which means there might not be room for many unlikely surprises.

But maybe Shuster or Dodd far exceed expectations. Perhaps Soroka completes his comeback story, at least this step in it, and has an outstanding season. Maybe Rosario leads the team in every important offensive category.

Baseball always contains surprises.