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AP photo by Steve Helber / Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson hands a souvenir back to a fan as he signs autographs before a spring training game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays on Monday at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla.

It's good to be the king, and despite a volatile offseason, the reigning World Series champions have set themselves up to remain on the throne.

A magical final two months of the 2021 regular season, kick-started by a perfect set of moves from general manager Alex Anthopoulos, carried the Atlanta Braves into the playoffs and an improbable World Series title.

Was it a fluke, as some national pundits have inferred, or some magical alignment of the stars (combined with the continued blessing that is Dave Roberts' managing for the Los Angeles Dodgers)?

The Braves were indeed fortunate that late pickups Joc Pedersen, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler played well above what their previous teams had seen and that the bullpen, so often a major source of frustration, became lights out at the right time.

In the end, it doesn't matter. The banner will be hung at Truist Park in a few days, rings will be handed out and expectations for a repeat will be sky high. Projections for the Braves range from 90-plus wins and title contender to 85 wins and a spot in the wild-card round.

The doubters point out the loss of Freddie Freeman — in the clubhouse as much as on the field — star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.'s injury recovery and a starting rotation that will be counting on 38-year-old Charlie Morton, 28-year-old ace Max Fried and a group of young arms that look great at times and mediocre at others. National League East Division rivals New York and Philadelphia spent big in the offseason and expect to contend.

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AP photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker holds the Commissioner's Trophy during a World Series championship celebration on Nov. 5 at Truist Park. The Braves will begin their bid to repeat when they open the regular season Thursday night against the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

Then there's the expected championship hangover that, for whatever reason, seems to be a factor.

A team hasn't won consecutive World Series since the New York Yankees won the last of three in a row 22 years ago.

Here's why the Braves can break that streak:

The team's young corps of talent will continue to improve.

Acuña is set to at least be ready to get in the lineup as a designated hitter in early May and, just from appearance, the game's most dynamic young star is in the best shape of his life. He had to watch the title run and is motivated to experience one firsthand. One national writer predicted Acuña would lead the NL in homers and steals this year despite the missed early time.

Second baseman Ozzie Albies, after a frustrating first half of the season, seemed to find his stroke down the stretch. There's no reason to believe that improvement won't continue. Austin Riley was arguably baseball's most improved player in 2021, and now that he's entrenched at third base, his confidence should continue to soar, even if he never hits .300 again.

The bullpen could be among the game's all-time best.

What a difference a few months make. Remember when the thought of Will Smith protecting a one-run lead would send the Braves' Twitter-verse into a frenzy? When A.J. Minter and Sean Newcomb were likely to walk the bases loaded at any moment? When Tyler Matzek was just a feel-good story?

Apparently, Anthopoulos does. Despite that group's heroics in the playoffs (Matzek's rousing outing against the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series is an all-time moment in Braves history), the GM wasn't counting on lightning to strike twice. He first signed one of the game's best setup guys in Collin McHugh and then pulled a stunner by getting Kenley Jansen away from the Dodgers.

The 'pen is deep, experienced and talented with Minter, Matzek, McHugh, Smith, Darren O'Day and rookie Spencer Strider in front of Jansen. Any early rotation struggles should be offset by this group.

First base is in fine hands.

Freeman's loss hit hard, but in the end it was a tough business decision. While it's difficult to envision Freeman's production falling off a cliff as he reaches his late 30s, the same was said of guys including Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Look at what Ryan Howard's hefty contract did to the Phillies.

Stats don't lie, and they clearly show the great majority of hitters, even elite ones such as Freeman, fall off significantly after age 35.

Matt Olson is four years younger than Freeman (who turned 32 last September), has more power, is one of the game's best defensive first basemen and is now locked up for eight years. Freeman's career average is 40 points higher, but it's not because Olson strikes out a lot more (six more times than Freeman last year).

Getting him out of the Oakland Athletics' cavernous RingCentral Coliseum (have you seen the foul ball territory?) could add 20 to 30 points to Olson's average. Olson, Rosario, Albies, Acuña, Riley, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall and Travis d'Arnaud form one of baseball's best lineups.

The team does have question marks — including rotation depth until Mike Soroka returns, as well as a lineup that could swing and miss a lot — but from top to bottom, it's built to win a title.

Long live the king.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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