Braves Spank Phillies on 2024 Opening Day

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Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley (27) celebrates hitting a two run homer in the eighth inning of Game 2 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Philadelphia Phillies began the 2024 season in the sunny, windy confines of Citizens Bank Park, facing the archrival Atlanta Braves in front of a fully sold-out crowd. The NL East powerhouses were locked in a stalemate until a disastrous showing from the Philly bullpen ushered in the 20th anniversary of CBP with a Phillies defeat by a score of 9-3.

The Phillies’ all-time record on Opening Day is now 63-77-2. Zack Wheeler performed very well in his first start of the season while the Phils’ veteran bats and bullpen sunk their chances of winning.

Zack Wheeler vs. Spencer Strider

The matchup of two aces each making their first starts on Opening Day did not disappoint.

Wheeler debuted his new pitch, a splitter, in the second inning against Michael Harris II, throwing him two in a row that resulted in a ball and a dribbler down the third-base line. He later used it to notch his first K of the season against Acuña.

While BABIP luck allowed the Braves to get hits on a few ground balls, Wheeler did a really nice job of preventing hard contact. The line drives he did allow all fell within the vicinity of defenders. His first jam of the game, facing runners on first and third with Acuña at the plate, he coaxed a pop-out. Atlanta left a handful of runners on base, failing to crack the code of No. 45’s deep pitch mix.

Wheeler allowed his first extra-base hit to Matt Olson on a double down the left-field line before striking out Marcell Ozuna to wrap up his performance. He completed 6.0 innings, recording five strikeouts and allowing five hits and no bases on balls. His fastball topped out at 96.2 miles per hour and he threw 89 pitches (63 strikes) to provide yet another solid outing for the Phillies.

Strider heard his name chanted by Phillies fans throughout his appearance. Pumping his fastball in the high 90s and complementing it with his slider (and sometimes his changeup a new curveball), he struck out batters left and right. He got the Phillies whiffing on his slider all throughout the ballgame.

The fifth inning saw Strider’s strong performance start to come undone. He allowed a pair of runs and let the Phillies’ ninth-hole hitter, Johan Rojas, get to second base with only one out, exiting the inning without further damage as his pitch count climbed to 90. That was the end of his day, as Joe Jimenez started the bottom of the sixth inning with the heart of Philly’s order due up.

Strider’s final line in 5.0 innings of work: eight strikeouts (the most of any pitcher so far this season), three hits allowed, two runs (both earned), and one walk allowed. His season begins with a 3.60 ERA and another negative experience at The Bank.

The Phillies Daycare starts the season strong

Strider kept the Phillies at bay and off the bases for the most part through four innings. Then, to begin the fifth, Bryson Stott snuck a single through the infield, marking the first time the Fightins started an inning with a runner getting on base.

Nick Castellanos struck out on a low-and-away slider for his second K of the game. Then, Stott swiped second base and Brandon Marsh snapped the scoreless last tie and sent them both home with a drive to left center. His 396-foot dinger would have left the yard in 20 of the 30 MLB ballparks.

Rojas kept the pressure on by working the count full, drawing a walk and later swiping second base, which gave Schwarber a runner in scoring position. The slugger also worked the count full but struck out on an inside curveball. Turner grounded out to end the inning. Still, Rojas’ poise against one of baseball’s best strikeout artists is promising as the team evaluates his growth as a hitter.

In the first inning, Alec Bohm made perhaps the best defensive great play of the game when Austin Riley whacked a ball 104.7 miles per hour, marking the contact with an expected batting average of .420. Bohm dove to the ball, kept the runner at second base and got Riley out at first. He went on to notch the first hit of the season for the Phillies on a single and made a spending running throw to first base to end the top of the ninth inning.

The Phillies’ youngsters made things happen while their veteran bats contributed almost nothing. Castellanos and Bryce Harper each struck out thrice; Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner made outs in all of their plate appearances; and J.T. Realmuto struck out twice. Harper and Realmuto each drew a walk and Castellanos smacked an RBI single and stole second base in the ninth inning, at least.

Bullpen disasterclass

Just a week after being projected to have the highest WAR of any bullpen, the Phillies’ relief pitchers floundered, giving the Braves an uncontested path toward a massive lead. There’s plenty of time for the unit to prove it is indeed one of baseball’s best but now there’s a little hole to dig its reputation out of.

Matt Strahm was the first out of the Phillies’ bullpen, allowing three hits and two earned runs to start the seventh inning. Pinch-hitter Adam Duvall cracked the egg in the Braves’ scoring column with a two-run double. Jeff Hoffman was called in to clean up the mess, coaxing a groundout and painting the upper corner with a fastball to sit Riley down on three pitches.

Although Hoffman threw just eight pitches, the Phillies started the eighth inning with Jose Alvarado, getting their best lefty into the game with Olson due up. The star first baseman hit another double and came around to score on a single from Harris, giving Atlanta its first lead and leaving Alvarado with the loss.

Rob Thomson then called on Connor Brogdon, whose first pitch was wild and let the Braves extend their lead to three. He walked Ozzie Albies and Riley, making it a 6-2 game. Olson cleared the bases with yet another double. Brogdon mercifully ended the inning by striking out Ozuna after seven runs from Atlanta flipped the game on its head. Yunior Marte pitched the ninth inning, allowing one hit and no runs.

The Phillies will continue their series with the Braves on Saturday at 4:05 PM EST. Aaron Nola and Max Fried are penciled in as the starters.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)