MLB Opening Day Preview: LA, San Fran, NY, and the rest of the NL look to dethrone Atlanta
Atlanta, Georgia – Opening Day of the 2022 Major League Baseball season is days away, and the defending World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves, are at the top of the mountain with the rest of the National League looking to take them down.
The Braves were the most talked-about team during the offseason as they said goodbye to one of their best franchise players when first baseman Freddie Freeman (32) opted for Dodger blue in LA.
Their odds for a World Series repeat went down slightly once Freeman packed his bags, but they still have a great chance to contend this year after making a deal for Oakland’s Matt Olson, who they hope will fill the temporary void at first base.
They have most of their players from last year returning apart from the World Series MVP Jorge Soler, who went to the Marlins.
After signing Olson and fortifying their bullpen by bringing aboard former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and Tampa Bay's Collin McHugh, they’ll at least earn a decent playoff spot in October.
Best of the NL East
Staying in the NL East, the New York Mets are hoping that their pitching rotation will finally get them back to being a pain in the Braves’ back, now that they signed ace hurler Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130-million deal.
As long as fellow ace Jacob DeGrom can stay healthy, New York's rotation should help support a batting order hoping to swing better this season.
The Philadelphia Phillies have a lineup of veterans who have plenty of experience playing at a high level, led by the reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper. With him are slugger Kyle Schwarber and Nicholas Castellanos, who together should make for a dangerous, run-producing trifecta of power at the plate.
No one quite knows what direction the Miami Marlins are going in after Derek Jeter left their front office, but at least they now have Atlanta’s World Series slugger in Jorge Soler, ready to belt some more home run bombs. But he can’t do it alone, so unless he gets some help in the batting order, Miami will likely finish below .500 in a full season for the 13th year in a row.
The division will likely have the Washington Nationals at the bottom since fourth-year left fielder Juan Soto is projected to be the driving force behind their run production after hitting .313 last season, the best on the team.
With no one else seeming like they’ll be able to step up and assist Soto’s efforts, the entire 2022 season will play out like an exercise in Washington just trying to keep their heads above water.
Best of the NL West
Out on the west coast, most of the baseball world is looking at the Los Angeles Dodgers as a shoo-in to win their second World Series title in three years, now that they’ve snatched Freddie Freeman from the Braves.
But Atlanta took the Dodgers' best closer in Kenley Jansen, so perhaps Los Angeles might have a crucial weakness that could hurt their chances in the fall.
And their arch-nemesis, the San Francisco Giants, have nothing but revenge on their minds after losing last year’s NLDS to the Dodgers despite finishing the season with a franchise-record 107 wins.
They will send third-year ace Logan Webb to the mound to lead a San Francisco pitching staff that will have to bear the brunt of reaching the same heights they did just a season before since one of their best hitters, catcher Buster Posey, retired in November.
Also in the state of California are the San Diego Padres, who will have to make a run for it on the shoulders of Manny Machado, Wil Myers, and Eric Hosmer, while they wait for Fernando Tatis Jr. to come back from a wrist injury. Barring any other big setbacks, look for them to make things tough for the Dodgers and Giants when their roster is finally complete.
But don’t overlook newly-signed Kris Bryant and the Colorado Rockies, who could sneak themselves not just into the division pennant race, but also a playoff spot in the process. If the Padres can’t get it together or if the Giants don’t live up to expectations, look for the Rockies to step up in 2022.
Lastly, the Arizona Diamondbacks will put up a fight in the NL West, but their offense could be as consistently dry as the southwestern climate down in the desert.
Best of the NL Central
It’s been 40 years since the Milwaukee Brewers won the World Series, and in 2022, they have more than just the regular season on their minds after falling to the eventual world champs in last year’s NLDS.
The reigning NL Cy Young winner, Corbin Burnes, will lead one of baseball’s best rotations comprised of Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta as they hope to whiff the competition during a deep playoff run.
Veterans Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright are having one last hurrah with the St. Louis Cardinals, but it’ll take more than nostalgia to bring them back to the postseason success they had been used to. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt will have to swing the bat even better than they recently have to get the Cards to power through the rest of the National League.
The Chicago Cubs are still in a rebuilding phase, especially after every player from their historic 2016 World Series win is gone. However, Seiya Suzuki was brought over from Japan with the hopes of bringing Chicago back to contender status sooner rather than later.
The Cincinnati Reds will put four men, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle along with rookie pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, on the mound against the competition as they try to hold their own in the NL Central. Veteran all-around star Joey Votto shouldn’t have lost a step even though he’s going into his 15th season at the helm for the Reds.
Finally, the Pittsburgh Pirates will try to keep their ship from sinking by sending out third-year right-hander Mitch Keller to lead their pitching staff along with fellow right-hander Bryse Wilson.
And speaking of pitching, the Pirates made a notable trade from the Yankees for relief pitcher Diego Castillo, whose efforts should help the team stay in close games that might otherwise slip out of their reach.
Opening day of the 2022 MLB regular season is on Thursday, April 7.
Cover photo: imago/Icon SMI