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Previewing the Braves-Reds season-opening series

Previewing the Braves-Reds season-opening series

It was questionable whether or not MLB would even start on time this year, as a league-wide lockout threatened to ruin the 2022 season. Thankfully, after nearly 100 days, the sport got its act together, and now we’re just a day away from Opening Day.

I created a new Braves Top 35 prospect list over the offseason, and last week I evaluated the team’s position groups for this season. But now it’s time to preview Atlanta’s upcoming series versus Cincinnati. Along with my Braves farm coverage throughout the 2022 campaign, be sure to check back here, as I’ll also be writing up previews for each upcoming Braves series this year. Let’s get started.

Cincinnati Reds @ Atlanta Braves

GM 1Thu, April 77:08 PMESPN 2Tyler Mahle (CIN) vs. Max Fried (ATL)
GM 2Fri, April 86:20 PMBally SportsReiver Sanmartin (CIN) vs. Charlie Morton (ATL)
GM 3Sat, April 96:20 PMBally SportsVladimir Gutierrez (CIN) vs. Kyle Wright (ATL)
GM 4Sun, April 1012:35 PMBally SportsHunter Greene (CIN) vs. Ian Anderson (ATL)
Reds @ Braves series schedule (April 7-10)

The Braves begin its 2022 campaign with a primetime ESPN 2 matchup versus the Reds on Thursday, as it looks to defend its World Series title from last season. You can bet Truist Park will be a packed house during this four-game series, for Braves Country has been itching to see how this team can perform without its former franchise player, first baseman Freddie Freeman. The favorable matchup with Cincinnati is certainly ideal to kick off the year, as I’m sure manager Brian Snitker will keep his starters on a rather short leash during this season-opening series.

A brief look at the Reds as a team…

The truth is, the Reds are a pretty dismal group on paper. Per FanGraphs recently-published positional power rankings (a source I’ll be using a lot during these series previews this year), Cincy will definitely be counting on its offense to lead the way in 2022, for its group of pitchers this year not only ranks within the bottom-half of the majors, but it’s also filled with question marks thanks to injuries and a plethora of unproven players; the Reds starting rotation is projected to rank 18th in WAR, while its bullpen 17th.

Then again, how much can you really depend on a lineup that no longer has three of its projected top five performers? In case you missed it, the Reds traded all of Jesse Winker (to SEA), Nick Castellanos (PHI) and Eugenio Suarez (SEA) at the end of this offseason, a trio that’s expected to collectively accrue 6.7 WAR in 2022, per ZiPS. For now, at least Cincy still rosters second baseman Jonathan India, who will likely be the team’s lead-off hitter. India is a former top-10 prospect in the Reds system and is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he won the NL Rookie of the Year award, thanks to a .269 AVG, 21 home runs and 12 stolen bases (122 wRC+) in 150 games – good for 3.9 WAR. The 25-year-old is projected to be the leader on offense this season and post even better numbers in Year 2. After India, Cincy wields several potential 2ish WAR players in catcher Tyler Stephenson (projected for 2.4 WAR by ZiPS), past-his-prime first baseman Joey Votto (1.6 WAR) and shortstop Jose Barrero (1.7 WAR) – although, the latter of those three will begin the season on the 10-day IL due to a hand injury. Stephenson – who’ll likely bat fifth for the Reds – is coming off a strong Spring Training performance and in his second full season in the majors this year should be a quality bat. The 25-year-old hit .286 in 2021, while slugging 10 homers and 21 doubles, earning him serious consideration for Rookie of the Year. All in all, this Cincinnati lineup is pretty shallow, especially given the team traded a ton of proven talent over the winter. However, thanks to its home ballpark, it’s likely the offense that could wind up being the only thing that keeps the Reds from the very bottom in the majors.

On the pitching side, things get really grim for Cincy, depending on health and whether or not some of its young guys can stick it in the big leagues. In terms of any type of “ace”, righty Tyler Mahle will be that guy, at least for now. The 27-year-old Mahle is entering Year 5 as a regular major league starter, and up until 2021 he’s been mostly just average. Although, last season’s breakout could be a sign of great things to come for the Reds, as Mahle posted a 3.75 ERA and struck out 10 batters per nine in 33 starts.

Luis Castillo (shoulder) and Mike Minor (shoulder) are both entering 2022 on the IL, with the former expected to return sometime in mid-to-late April and the latter considered day-to-day. Either could be great – it all depends on how their respective shoulders react once they get back on the mound. Prospect Hunter Greene – who’s slated to open the season in the majors and potentially start Game 4 of this series – is a potential big time contributor in 2022. The 22-year-old is coming off a solid campaign at both the Double-A and Triple-A level last year. With Triple-A Memphis in 2021, Greene pitched to a 4.13 ERA in 14 starts, to go with 10.8 K/9.

Cincy’s bullpen also doesn’t appear to be too inspiring. Former Brave Lucas Sims headlines the relief core for the Reds, but he’ll begin 2022 on the IL because of an elbow ailment. After Sims, there’s really only one other bullpen arm that I’m interested in, and that’s righty Luis Cessa who was a beast last season with both the Yankees and Reds, posting a 2.51 ERA in 53 appearances overall. According to reports from the team, Cessa should be receiving plenty of save opportunities in 2022. The Reds also have veteran Hunter Strickland on its opening day roster, so he could be in the mix as well. The list of names after Sims and Cessa paint a rather ugly picture. Of the 14 other pitchers projected to tally any innings out of Ciny’s bullpen this season, only one (Art Warren) is expected to finish with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Keys to this series…

  • Given it’s the season opener, there’s not too much to write about in terms of any matchup-type storylines, other than the starting pitching probables. Mahle versus Max Fried should be a great one to kick off the 2022 campaign. Both guys had nearly identical seasons in 2021, as each pitcher was worth exactly 3.8 WAR last year. Mahle doesn’t have quite the repertoire that the Braves lefty does, as Fried currently wields four above-average offerings in his tool belt, but the former did manage to average roughly two more strikeouts per nine last season. Game 4’s probables look fun too, with Greene taking the bump for Cincy and Ian Anderson for Atlanta. Any time a prospect makes his MLB debut its exciting.
  • Other than the pitchers, really I’m just happy to see Braves baseball back. There are so many storylines to follow in 2022 – like how great will Matt Olson be as he replaces Freeman at first?… will Austin Riley build off his breakout 2021 performance?… has Kyle Wright finally arrived? There are so many questions that need to be answered, as the Braves appear to be going all in on a potential repeat as champs. Last season was definitely a magic one, but something tells me 2022 could be even better if all of these pieces come together. See you guys on Thursday! Go Braves!

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