Series Preview: Phillies Open Season Against the Braves

Aaron nola
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 24: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of the game between the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies on July 24, 2020 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You’ve made it to another Opening Day! Who’s ready for some Philadelphia Phillies baseball?!?

The Phillies get thrown straight into the fire against the reigning NL East Champion Atlanta Braves. Surprisingly, the Phillies have played the Braves tough the past 2 seasons. They’ve gone a combined 15-14 against them. to make the playoffs in 2021, the Phils must continue to play tough against the talented Atlanta squad.

The Starters

Thursday afternoon, the Phillies will start Aaron Nola (5-5 WL, 3.28 ERA) against lefty Max Fried (7-0, 2.25). Both starters received Cy Young votes last year as Nola finished 7th and Fried finished 5th. Fried pitched 10 innings against the Phillies in 2020, allowing just a single run. In 2019, he had a 7.56 ERA against the Phillies. Hopefully, for the Phillies, they see 2019 Fried. Nola was pedestrian against the Braves last year with a 4.22 ERA. He has been tough against them in his career as he has a 3.05 ERA in 20 career starts against the Braves.

On Saturday, the Phillies throw fireballer Zack Wheeler (4-2, 2.92) at the Braves. The Braves bring old rebuild Phillie great Charlie Morton (2-2, 4.74) to the dance. Wheeler and his 97 MPH averaging fastball posted a 2.13 ERA against the Braves in 2020. Wheeler allowed just 3 home runs last season in 71 IP. Keeping the ball in the ballpark is a major key for any pitcher. The 37-Year-Old Charlie Morton could finally be on the decline after reinventing himself with the Astros and Rays.

Sunday, It’ll be Zach Eflin (4-2, 3.97) vs. Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95). Anderson had a dominant rookie debut in 2020 and is looking to establish himself in the bigs. Eflin is coming off his best season yet and could have a breakout in store. This should be the most intriguing pitching matchup of the series.

Hitters to Watch

Phillies and Braves are heavy hitters

Both Atlanta and Philly have some great boppers on their squads. From 2015-2017, Bryce Harper hit a homer on Opening Day for the Nats. He doesn’t have an Opening Day hit for the Phillies yet. Hopefully, that’ll be corrected.

Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of the most exciting players in the National League. He hit just .250 a year ago, but with a .987 OPS. He’ll be a major threat again in 2021. Freddie Freeman is coming off of his first NL MVP award. He slashed .341/.462/.640 in 2020 and don’t be surprised if he does just as well in 2021. Marcell Ozuna led the league in homers (18) and RBI (56) last year. His bat can be a menace but with no DH, so could his fielding. His lead glove could be something to watch in the series.

Alec Bohm should continue where he left off in 2020. He probably won’t he .330 again but watch out for his underrated power in 2021. If he comes to the plate with bases loaded, watch out for Didi Gregorius. For his career, he’s a .344 hitter with a 1.016 OPS with ducks on the pond.

Phillies’ Storylines

After a grueling battle for the centerfield position, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn will split time at the position. Haseley looked solid defensively when he played in center in 2019. Roman Quinn brings a pair of the fastest legs in all of Major League Baseball. With the performance, Mickey Moniak put on in spring, keep an eye on how Haseley and Quinn are doing.

We learned that Hector “The Protector” Neris will open the season as the team’s closer.

Neris was not good last year with a 4.57 ERA. He did have an excellent 2019, posting a 2.93 ERA. If his splitter is doing what it should, he’ll be just fine. With Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado, Neris could be pushed out of the closer role quickly if he doesn’t perform well.

Lastly, Bryce Harper is 2 stolen bases from 100 for his career. It might not be important, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.

Photo Credit: John Jones/Icon Sportswire