Braves, Nats open season off drastically different 2022 campaigns

Field Level Media

March 29, 2023 at 3:31 am.

The Atlanta Braves have won the past five NL East titles and posted 101 victories last year. Their goal as they embark on a new season: more of the same.

The Washington Nationals want pretty much nothing to do with the recent past, but a new season brings renewed excitement.

The Braves and Nationals open their 2023 schedules Thursday afternoon in Washington.

Having standouts Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies healthy could be a boost for the Braves. Austin Riley emerged as one of the game’s top hitters, hitting .288 over the past two seasons combined with 71 home runs and 72 doubles and was inked to a 10-year extension last August.

There are new twists for the Braves, perhaps with shortstop Dansby Swanson’s departure. Orlando Arcia, who previously played for Milwaukee before parts of two seasons with the Braves, will man that spot in the infield to begin the season.

“He has been an everyday shortstop on a division-winning team,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Arcia’s time with the Brewers.

The tandem behind the plate is slightly different for Atlanta as well, with the addition of catcher Sean Murphy to pair with veteran Travis d’Arnaud.

“You need depth,” Snitker said. “I feel good about the depth that we have in the organization.”

The Nationals have secured their depth in a different manner. Out of playoff contention in the three years since winning the 2019 World Series, they’ve dealt away some of their established players to secure younger prospects.

It’s unclear how soon there will be a payoff.

“We’re young, but we can compete,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s going to be the message. Losing 100 games is not acceptable.”

The Nationals were a majors-worst 55-107 last season, a whopping 46 games behind the Braves in the NL East.

Utility player Joey Meneses made unexpected headlines late last season for the Nationals, with a .324 batting average, 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 56 games, but it’s unclear if he can repeat that. The Nationals are counting on new first baseman Dominic Smith.

Upgrading defensively has been a priority for the Nationals, but they need to shore up their lineup across the board. That could mean finding a spot for Meneses if his offense continues to warrant a place in the lineup.

“We love his bat in the lineup,” Martinez said. “Whether it’s DH, whether it’s giving (Smith) a day off at first or playing in left field, he’s going to do all three.”

Left-hander Max Fried will be Atlanta’s starting pitcher on Opening Day for the third year in a row. He had a 14-7 record and 2.48 ERA last year despite a first-game loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Fried is 4-1 with a 5.70 ERA in games at Washington.

Left-hander Patrick Corbin (6-19, 6.31 ERA in 2022) will go to the mound for the Nationals. Those numbers from last season shouldn’t matter to him now.

“He has a lot of confidence,” Martinez said. “He knows he can do this. He has had success before. He wants to put everything in the last two years behind him.”