Braves: Previewing the opening series versus the Phillies

Braves pitchers who are due for positive regression

The Braves wrapped up what was a decent Grapefruit League spring camp on Tuesday, going 15-13 overall. Although, perhaps the most significant storyline from Tuesday’s conclusion of Spring Training for Atlanta was that starting pitcher Mike Soroka got in a game for the first time in 2021, working two innings and even earning a save in the seven-inning contest (he struck out two and allowed a solo-homer). Soroka will begin the 2021 regular season on the 10-day IL.

Folks, Braves Baseball is back! Today — opening day for all 30 teams — Atlanta will play the Phillies in Philadelphia, with first pitch set for 3:05 PM (EST). Below is a brief preview of the Braves first three-game series.


Game 1, Thursday (3:05 PM)

Max Fried vs. Aaron Nola

With the aforementioned absence of Soroka, there’s no more-deserving Opening Day starter for Atlanta than Max Fried, who put the starting rotation on his back in 2020 and helped lead the Braves to postseason baseball after finishing 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts. 

Fried will have a tough matchup on his hands with Philadelphia, a team that, in 34.2 career innings, has slashed .271/.347/.511 (.858 OPS) with nine home runs against him. More specifically, guys like outfielder Bryce Harper (.308 AVG / 2 HR) and catcher J.T. Realmuto (.389 AVG / 2 HR) have had success versus Fried, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Atlanta’s current no. 1 can redeem himself in 2021. 

For the Braves lineup, drawing Aaron Nola for an Opening Day start appears to be an ideal matchup, or at least it does on paper. Several of Atlanta’s hitters have had success against the Phillies righty:

Braves hitters vs. Nola (career)

Of course, career numbers can be meaningless. If you recall, last season Nola dominated the Braves with an eight-inning, two-hitter — featuring 10 strikeouts — in the two team’s first matchup, so obviously anything can happen, especially in the first game of the season. 


Game 2, Saturday (4:05 PM)

Charlie Morton vs. Zack Wheeler

After an off day on Friday, the Braves and Phillies hook back up for the middle game on Saturday afternoon, featuring this past November’s prized signing for Atlanta, righty Charlie Morton. 

Having been in the American League for the last four seasons, and a member of Philadelphia’s staff back in 2016, Morton really hasn’t faced the Phillies too much during his long career. Although former AL members, Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura, have combined for a .277 AVG in 43 at-bats against the 37-year-old pitcher; but neither has a home run. The rest of Philadelphia’s lineup has only seen Morton, at the most, a handful of times in their respective careers, so this could be a decent advantage for the veteran starter, and hopefully, a strong first outing in a Braves uniform. 

Like Nola from Game 1, Atlanta’s lineup has seen plenty of Zack Wheeler as the 30-year-old Phillies starter has pitched more innings against only two other teams. For his career, Wheeler has been roughly average versus the Braves (3.79 ERA), but has been rather susceptible to the home run ball (only the Nationals have hit more HR off him). All with at least ten at-bats against Wheeler in their careers, key bats like Acuna (.316 AVG), Freddie Freeman (.476 AVG) and Ozuna (.300 AVG) match up well versus the big right-hander. 


Game 3, Sunday (1:05 PM)

Ian Anderson vs. Zach Eflin 

With the Braves newly-reinforced starting rotation on full display, Ian Anderson will get his chance to shine in the rubber match on Sunday as he faces the Phillies Zach Eflin — perhaps one of the team’s hottest players this spring. 

The young Anderson — just like he did in 2020 when he hit the majors on fire — will have the advantage regarding familiarity as only Matt Joyce from Philadelphia’s projected offense has faced him. The 22-year-old righty perhaps didn’t have the best spring camp (6.38 ERA / 5 starts), but his upside is probably the highest of any of the Braves starters right now. Sunday should be a dominant outing for Anderson. 

Offensively for Atlanta, again familiarity should benefit them versus this Phillies rotation as six Braves hitters have at least ten career at-bats against Eflin, with Swanson leading the pack hitting nearly .500 in 14 AB:

Top Braves hitters vs. Eflin (career) 

  • Acuna — 12 AB, .333 AVG, HR, 2 RBI
  • Albies — 12 AB, .250 AVG, HR, 3 RBI
  • Inciarte — 13 AB, .308 AVG, 2 HR, 4 RBI
  • Swanson — 14 AB, .429 AVG, HR, 2 RBI

Eflin is a sinker/slider guy, and for much of his MLB career, he’s been a below-average pitcher. However, when he’s on, like he was throughout 2020, he can be a frustrating matchup (especially when he’s on with his curveball as well). As I mentioned, last season this guy was tough as nails, and in two starts versus Atlanta (12.1 IP), Eflin put up a 2.92 ERA while striking out 14.  

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