ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves began the 2022 season with some fireworks – long before any actually cascaded across the night sky.
Ronald Acuña Jr. fired the first salvo before the team ever took the field. In an Instagram Live interview, Acuna said he wouldn’t miss former teammate Freddie Freeman. He also recalled a 2018 situation that left a strain on their relationship.
Freeman signed a six-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. However, his presence still cast a large shadow well before first pitch – in part because Acuna addressed his comments about Freeman pregame, saying they were “blown out of proportion.”
Then, what was supposed to be a celebratory homecoming at Truist Park was ruined by a lackluster performance Thursday night. The Cincinnati Reds rolled to a 6-3 victory behind 10 hits. Brandon Drury had the big blow with a sixth-inning home run that doubled-up the Reds’ lead.
“We are still a really confident bunch in there and we know that we are good,” Braves starter Max Fried said. “We lost this game, but we are ready to come back out tomorrow and win.”
It wasn’t the season opener that the Braves expected. Despite unveiling the 2021 World Series banner, the Braves head back to the drawing board. Opening Day offered a bitter reminder that defending a World Series title is not easy.
“You can’t panic ever,” Riley said. “You have to come back tomorrow and go to work. We have been through the ebbs and flows and know how to deal with failure. … I’m excited to play back tomorrow and I know everyone is too.”
The Braves will get every team’s best effort this season. It comes with the territory of being the World Series champion.
Reds starter Tyler Mahle dazzled across five innings of work. He allowed three hits and one unearned run on 84 pitches. As a result, the Braves’ dynamic offense was grounded. Austin Riley was responsible for three of their four hits.
Riley’s eighth-inning home run was the lone highlight from the Braves lineup. His teammates went a combined 1-for-27.
“(Tyler) Mahle was throwing the ball well. I think that had a lot to do with it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
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The Braves will need more production from the heart of the lineup. Still, there is no reason to panic after night one of their 162-game schedule.
“We realize that this is a marathon and it’s a long year,” Fried said.
Better days are ahead.
Acuña will return from a knee injury that kept him out of the 2021 postseason. He is currently rehabbing and making progress towards an early-season comeback. His production will unlock the Braves offense at the top of the lineup.
The Braves also hope to get starter Mike Soroka back at some point. He is recovering from a torn Achilles that has kept him out of action. Soroka will be a key asset should he return to top form later this year.
Only 14 teams in MLB history have won at least two titles in a row. The New York Yankees were the last team to repeat 22 years ago, when they capped off three straight titles in 2000.
“I’m huge on if we just play our game and stay inside ourselves, we have a team that can compete with anybody,” Riley said. “I feel like when you try to do too much, it’s when you put that added pressure on yourself. If we can just stay inside ourselves, do what we are capable of, come out and play our game, we will be fine.”
One game will not define their season, but it’s clear the Braves will be getting a test from everyone moving forward.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta Braves start title defense with Opening Day letdown
Source: Yahoo Sports