Braves bulldoze Phillies on MLB Opening Day

Second baseman Ozzie Albies breaks his bat on a particularly hard swing against Phillies pitcher Jeff Hoffman in the season opener. Albies drove in one run in the Braves’ 9-3 Opening Day win. // Photo courtesy of Matt Slocum Associated Press

Just as flowers bloom in the spring, a new baseball season has finally begun. Although  Major League Baseball’s (MLB) viewership has been dwindling the past few years with the World Series last year recording the lowest TV ratings in its history, the league saw much success with the introduction of the pitch clock and increase in base size. Batting average, runs per game and stolen base attempts all rose alongside a net attendance increase of 9.15%, a 30-year high for the league

The hometown Atlanta Braves promise to be  an exciting watch thanks to reigning National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña was one of the most electric players in the league last season, stealing 73 bases whilst clobbering 41 home runs. The rest of the Braves lineup remained much the same, which is expected when that lineup led the league in home runs and batting average. First baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Austin Riley, who both finished top 10 in NL MVP voting, returned alongside catcher Sean Murphy, second baseman Ozzie Albies, shortstop Orlando Arcia, outfielder Michael Harris II and designated hitter Marcell Ozuna. All of the aforementioned players hit more than 17 home runs last season. Therefore, the Braves only added outfielder Jarred Kelenic to the lineup.

 Last year, the Braves posted the third-most strikeouts in the MLB, showcasing the pitching staff’s raw talent but could not carry the same dominance over to limiting runs as evidenced by a middling team earned-runs-against (ERA). To bolster their pitching staff, Atlanta added former Cy Young winner Chris Sale. Sale adds depth to a talented rotation that includes ace Spencer Strider, who finished top five in Cy Young voting last year. The Braves face major competition throughout the NL East.

The Philadelphia Phillies are the biggest threat to the Braves despite only adding utility man Whit Merrifield. The Miami Marlins are also looking to return to the playoffs after making it last season despite major roster turnover. The New York Mets and Washington Nationals are both retooling for the future but
should play competitive ball.

The NL Central is looking to be one of the most competitive in MLB. The Chicago Cubs are favorites after bringing in manager Craig Counsell from the Milwaukee Brewers, pitcher Shōta Imanaga and retained outfielder Cody Bellinger. The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to improve from last year with the additions of first baseman Rowdy Tellez and relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. The Brewers lost their manager and ace pitcher Corbin Burnes, but outfielder Sal Frelick and first baseman Rhys Hoskins should be able to add more power to their offense. The Cincinnati Reds made no major additions in anticipation of a breakout from shortstop Elly De La Cruz and their core of young hitters. The St. Louis Cardinals are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing year off the backs of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado.

The NL West had an eventful offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers made the biggest moves of the off-season, signing superstar two-way player Shohei Ohtani and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. These additions to an extremely talented roster, already having second and third place MVP vote getters first baseman Freddie Freeman and utility man Mookie Betts, make them division favorites. The San Francisco Giants acquired Cy Young pitchers Blake Snell and Robbie Ray in a push for the playoffs. The Arizona Diamondbacks, off of making the World Series, brought in pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez to re-tool their rotation and complement a lineup led by NL Rookie of the Year outfielder Corbin Carroll. The San Diego Padres lost superstar outfielder Juan Soto but reinforced their pitching with Dylan Cease. The Colorado Rockies are still retooling for the future.

Like last year, the American League (AL) West title will likely come to a head in September.  The division is headlined by the Houston Astros, who have made the AL Championship Series in each of the past seven years and won three World Series. The Astros added closer Josh Hader to a potent roster alongside superstars second baseman José Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, outfielder Kyle Tucker and designated hitter Yordan Álvarez. Their immediate challenger is likely the reigning World Series champions, the Texas Rangers. They lost major contributors, but will contend as long as second baseman
Marcus Semien, shortstop Corey Seager and outfielder Adolis García are in the lineup. After barely missing the playoffs, the Seattle Mariners brought in much-needed reinforcements with right fielder Mitch Haniger and World Series winning catcher Mitch Garver to aid superstar center fielder Julio Rodríguez. Both the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels look to rebuild  after turbulent offseasons.

The AL Central is highlighted by the Minnesota Twins, whose potent pitching might fianlly recieve some run support in  shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielder Byron Buxton and breakout star outfielder Royce Lewis. The Cleveland Guardians cannot be counted out  thanks to perennial MVP candidate third baseman José Ramírez and pitcher Shane Bieber. The Detroit Tigers are a team looking to break out, led by first baseman Spencer Torkelson and ace pitcher Tarik Skubal. The Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox are both young teams looking to grow this season.

The AL East is experiencing a major shift. The Baltimore Orioles, after being surprise division winners last year, added ace pitcher Burnes to back up a fierce line up that includes All Star catcher Adley Rutschman and ROY shortstop Gunnar Henderson. The Tampa Bay Rays will challenge thanks to excellent scouting and superstar outfielder Randy Arozarena. The Toronto Blue Jays are led by star first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and shortstop Bo Bichette, and are looking to return to the playoffs for the third season in a row. 

Counting out either the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees seems unwise — New York has a superstar duo manning its outfield in Juan Soto and Aaron Judge while Boston’s underrating pitching complements star third baseman Rafael Devers’ big bat. 

The MLB season is set to be one of the most interesting in recent history. The season is 162 games and a lot can change through the rise and falls of the series but there will be action throughout the year on the diamond, hopefully drawing in more viewers as well.