The Reds left Philadelphia and are now in Atlanta for a three games at Truist Park starting tonight. Atlanta is 6-4 and leading the NL East, a game ahead of the Mets. After getting off to a quick start that included a three-game sweep of the Cardinals, they’re coming off a series losing three of four at home to the San Diego Padres.All three games this week have a 7:20 pm start time.
- Monday (7:20 pm)
- Tuesday (7:20 pm)
- Wednesday (7:20 pm)
The Reds were 3-4 against Atlanta last year, as manager Brian Snitker’s team won the NL East with a 101-61 record. The then-defending World Series champs lost the NLDS to the Phillies 3 games to 1. Atlanta has won the division six seasons in a row, dating to 2018. They’ve reloaded for another run by locking up their core young players to multi-year contracts.
Their roster has suffered key injuries that will affect player availability this week. See details below.
Unique Ownership Structure
In 2007, Liberty Media, a mass media company bought Atlanta’s baseball team from Time Warner for $400 million. That’s the year after the Castellini Group bought the Reds. Atlanta remains the only American MLB franchise under majority corporate ownership. The Toronto Blue Jays are owned by media conglomerate Rogers Communications. Atlanta’s franchise is now estimated to be worth $2.6 billion.
Since purchasing the baseball team, Liberty Media has taken on several other large projects. At the end of 2022, the company announced it was reorganizing and splitting the ball team off into its own separate publicly traded company with its own stock, called Atlanta Braves Holding, Inc. Because the team is publicly owned, its financial information must be shared every quarter, making their team operation more transparent and accountable to shareholders.
“We were eighth in payroll this season, up from the mid-teens the last couple of years, and I fully expect in the next few years we are going to be in the top five,” said Liberty Media President and CEO Greg Maffei.
“We can afford it.”
Atlanta is spending $203 million on payroll this season, a $16 million boost over last year.
Atlanta also represents the polar opposite of the Reds in long-term commitments locking up talent. Atlanta has 16 players under contract for 2024. The Reds have options on three — Joey Votto, Curt Casali and Wil Myers. Eleven of Atlanta’s players have contracts through 2025. No Reds player does.
Atlanta has signed several massive contracts with their core players:
- Austin Riley (3B) – 10 years, $212 million
- Ronald Acuña, Jr (RF) – 8 years, $100 million
- Ozzie Albies (2B) – 7 years, $35 million
- Spencer Strider (SP) – 6 years, $75 million
- Matt Olson (1B) – 8 years, $168 million
- Michael Harris II (CF) – 8 years, $72 million
- Sean Murphy (C) – 6 years, $72 million
Some of those deals mainly cover arbitration seasons. For example, the contract with Harris, who was 21 at the time, covers two years of pre-arbitration, four years of Super Two arbitration, two years of free agency, plus two more team-option years. Strider’s deal gives Atlanta two years of control beyond when he would have been eligible for free agency.
Atlanta has an established lineup, so for the most part they were looking to fill-in a few holes in the offseason. Notably, they lost SS Dansby Swanson to free agency and replaced him in-house with Orlando Arcia. The major off-season move was trading for catcher Sean Murphy. Here are the new guys:
- C Sean Murphy (trade)
- RP Joe Jimenez (trade)
- RP Lucas Lutege (trade)
- RP Nick Anderson (free agent)
- CF Sam Hilliard (trade)
- OF Kevin Pillar (free agent)
These stats are pre-season projections for FanGraphs.
Missing for the Reds series this week are catcher Travis d’Arnaud (concussion) and superstar centerfielder Michael Harris II (strained lower back).
Atlanta’s offense ranked in the top ten last year in run creation, power (ISO) and position player WAR. They are ranked about tenth in those categories so far in 2023.
Here’s their probable batting order against the three RH starters the Reds are throwing:
- Ronald Acuña Jr.
- Matt Olson
- Austin Riley
- Ozzie Albies
- Sean Murphy
- Eddie Rosario
- Marcell Ozuna
- Orlando Arcia
- Sam Hilliard
Acuna Jr. and Riley are youngsters with huge pop. Both are projected to be top-20 MLB hitters this season. In addition, Acuna Jr. is expected to be a member of the 30-30 club. Olson was signed last season to make up for the departure of long-time Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman. Olson’s expected production is a few percent below that of Freeman’s in 2023, but he is four years younger.
Atlanta had one of the best pitching staffs in MLB last year. They ranked in the top five in ERA, xFIP, strikeout rate, average exit velocity and pitcher WAR.
Injuries have hit the Atlanta pitching staff as well. Ace Max Fried (29), who finished second in the NL Cy Young voting last year, is sidelined with a strained hamstring. Kyle Wright (27), who threw 180 innings of 3.19 ERA last year, is also out with shoulder fatigue.
Jared Shuster made a spot start Friday night but was optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett.
These stats are pre-season projections from FanGraphs except for GB% and xERA which are the pitcher’s numbers for 2022.
Probable Pitching Matchups
- Monday Graham Ashcraft vs. Bryce Elder (R)
- Tuesday Luis Cessa vs. TBD
- Wednesday Hunter Greene vs. Spencer Strider (R)
23-year-old Bryce Elder will make the Monday start for Atlanta. It’ll be his eleventh start for Atlanta. In his first 2023 appearance he shut out the Cardinals for six innings. Atlanta hasn’t named a pitcher for Tuesday.
The matchup you can’t look away from is Wednesday. Spencer Strider is Atlanta’s Hunter Greene, except with a mustache. He’s just 9 months older than Greene and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2022. Strider’s projected ERA (3.17) is quite a bit lower than Greene’s (3.99). Last season, Strider threw a 98 mph fastball and an 85-mph slider for 95% of his pitches. That’s almost identical to Greene’s.
Atlanta’s bullpen will be without Raisel Iglesias (shoulder) who was expected to be their closer, as well as Collin McHugh (shoulder) and lefty Tyler Matzak (Tommy John). So their pen isn’t as deep as they planned. Veteran AJ Minter, a lefty, sits at the top along with Joe Jimenez, who they acquired in a trade from the Tigers.
The consensus expert projection for Atlanta is more than 90 wins. Most analysts see them finishing first in the highly competitive NL East and several expect them to post the best record in baseball. Here’s a sampling:
- FanGraphs: 94-68 (1st in NLE)
- Athletic/Keith Law: 92-70 (2nd in NLE)
- CBS Sports 95.5-66.5 (1st in NLE)
- FiveThirtyEight: 97-65 (1st in NLE)
Atlanta is good. On paper, they’re 30 wins better than the Reds. But early injuries have taken a toll on their roster, particularly on their pitching staff.
Featured Image: Atlanta Baseball Twitter