When the Atlanta Braves host the Cincinnati Reds in the 2022 season opener for both clubs at Truist Park, one team will be opening a defense of its 2021 World Series title while another will try to prove the experts wrong.

Lefty Max Fried takes the hill for Atlanta while right-hander Tyler Mahle gets the nod for Cincinnati, which is opening on the road for the first time since MLB’s last lockout in 1990. That season ended with the Reds’ last World Series championship.

The Braves are coming off their first world championship since 1995 and will try to become baseball’s first repeat champs since the 2000 New York Yankees. They will have to repeat their success of a year ago without Freddie Freeman, their star first baseman of a year ago who left to sign a six-year, $162 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While Freeman, who slugged 31 homers and batted .300 in 2021, is gone, Atlanta native Matt Olson returns home to fill the void, signing an eight-year, $168 million deal. Olson hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs for Oakland last season.

Olson joins a powerful Braves lineup that features Adam Duvall, Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr., who returns from a torn ACL he suffered last July.

Manager Brian Snitker chose left-hander Max Fried as Atlanta’s opening day starter over Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson in a deep Braves rotation. This is the second consecutive opening day nod for Fried, who was 14-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 28 starts in 2021.

“We can’t go wrong with him or Charlie,” Snitker said of choosing Fried over Morton. “It’s just kind of, Max has pitched some really big games for us in his young career, and it just kind of seems like a nice honor to bestow on him.”

Fried held the Astros to four hits over six shutout innings to earn the win in the World Series clincher in Game 6 last November.

While the Braves have aspirations of repeating, the Reds enter 2022 with much more modest expectations.

Reds owner Bob Castellini has received sharp criticism from the fan base for dismantling a roster that produced a playoff appearance in 2020 and an 83-win campaign last season. Pointing to a need to sharply reduce payroll, the Reds said goodbye to starters Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez in a trade to Seattle for a minor league pitching prospect and two additional players.

The Reds, who shaved nearly $50 million off their payroll, let their biggest run producer Nick Castellanos (.309, 34 HRs, 100 RBI) walk in free agency to sign a five-year, $100 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. They traded away starter Sonny Gray, let Wade Miley go in free agency and traded reliever Amir Garrett.

Both lefty Mike Minor and ace Luis Castillo are expected to miss the start of the season with shoulder soreness. The Reds will turn to three of their top prospects to carry the load in the rotation.

Right-hander Hunter Greene, 22, and lefty Reiver Sanmartin, 25, open the season with the big-league team, joining opening day starter Tyler Mahle and Vladimir Gutierrez in the rotation.

Manager David Bell informed Mahle that he would receive his first opening day assignment after the right-hander went 13-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 33 starts in 2021.

“It means a lot. Some people never get to do this,” Mahle said of his opening day nod. “I may only get to do it once. I don’t know, so I’ll try to make the most of it and have a lot of fun.”

“It was a real honor to tell him that news. He was excited,” Bell said. “He doesn’t show it all the time, but he was very excited. He knows how important it is. Most importantly, he’s earned it and deserves this as much as anyone. He’s quietly become one of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Reds will lean on 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, veteran slugging first baseman Joey Votto and catcher Tyler Stephenson for the bulk of their offense.

–Field Level Media