Opening weekend is in the books, and the Braves remain the single team without a win yet this season. The Phillies – thanks in part to their new, shiny additions to their lineup – poured it on the Braves’ pitching staff, scoring 23 runs in 24 innings. It’s a sweep that set the tone in the NL East race and made light of Atlanta’s most glaring issue.
The Braves entered the series far from full strength. Their ace, Mike Foltynewicz, along with Kevin Gausman, began the year on the Injured List with minor arm ailments. Both are expected to return sooner rather than later. Atlanta was also without arguably their two best bullpen arms – A.J. Minter and Darren O’Day. O’Day doesn’t have a set timetable for his return, but Minter could be back as early as this week. Those injuries forced the Braves to start two rookies on the road in Philadelphia to open the season and shuffle up a bullpen that was already a weak point in the first place.
Let’s start with the bullpen.
Julio Teheran gave a noteworthy effort on Opening Day against a stacked Phillies lineup. He was a couple of breaks away from turning in an outstanding outing. Still, he gave the Braves a chance to win, exiting the game down 3-1 in the sixth inning. That chance to win didn’t last long, as Shane Carle gave up a three-run homer to Maikel Franco before he could record three outs. The home-run is one thing, but it’s the two walks that came before it that will remind fans of Atlanta’s all-too shaky bullpen from a year ago.
To make matters worse, Luke Jackson loaded the bases the next inning without allowing a ball to travel past the pitcher’s mound (two walks and a throwing error that was ruled a hit). Then Rhys Hoskins broke the game wide open, sending one into orbit for a grand slam.
Similar issues for the pen followed in game two, allowing four earned runs. Although, they were asked to pitch 4.2 innings following Bryse Wilson’s early exit, which was the other red flag for the Braves – their inexperienced starting rotation.
Indisputably, the adrenaline was pumping for Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright as they were asked to start in a hostile environment on the road against a lineup that features Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto. It is much different pitching on an Opening weekend than a game in the middle of August. This series had a playoff style feel – at least for the Phillies – and Wilson and Wright felt the effects.
Like the bullpen, neither pitcher was able to find their footing. Wilson, who has typically been a pitcher with notably consistent control, walked four in just 3.1 innings. Wright only averaged 2.5 BB/9 innings in Gwinett last year but walked five last night in 4.1 innings. Combined they allowed seven earned runs in 7.2 innings pitched, failing to inspire any confidence in a rotation that is relying heavily on their young arms.
A year ago, the Braves gave up the most walks in the entire National League (635) and second-most walks in the MLB behind the Chicago White Sox (653). It’s almost a miracle that they were able to finish 5th in the NL and 7th in the MLB in team ERA (3.75). However, the Braves found out the hard way in the playoffs – against potent lineups, you can’t walk batters. That’s what they did to end last season against the Dodgers, and that’s how 2019 began in Philadelphia.
The Phillies only had 21 hits but scored 23 runs. When they hit it, they made it count, launching seven homers in the series, most of which came with runners on base courtesy of those pesky walks.
It’s only one series, and there are 159 more games left to play, but it is the way the Braves performed – not their 0-3 record – that is troublesome. The pitching, which received zero additions this offseason, is already looking like an incomplete mess. Even with the returns of Foltynewicz, Gausman, and Minter; it is difficult imagining this staff being reliable enough to carry the Braves through the loaded lineups of the NL East all season.