After a 3-4 start to the season, the Braves are glad to be back home, but they couldn't have drawn a tougher opponent.
The Braves open another season of baseball at Turner Field this weekend against a Phillies team with a starting rotation to be reckoned with. Reacquiring Cliff Lee over the winter gives the Phillies four front line starters along with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
With their rotation, many strongly favor the Phillies to reach the World Series with little difficulty. However, they've been beset by a recent string of injuries. Second baseman Chase Utley is suffering from knee tendinitis and is out indefinitely; rookie Domonic Brown, expected to take over for Jayson Werth in right field, suffered a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist, and closer Brad Lidge is sidelined until July with a strained right rotator cuff. Despite this, the Phillies are off to a 5-1 start and look to win their fifth straight division title.
The 2011 Braves intend to change that. With Chipper Jones and Martin Prado healthy again and Dan Uggla anchoring the middle of what's expected to be a potent lineup, the Braves look to challenge the Phillies again to become the Beast of the NL East.
Pitching matchups and more after the jump.
Friday, April 8, 7:35 p.m. EST
Saturday, April 9, 1:10 p.m. EST
Sunday, April 10, 1:35 p.m. EST
The Phillies roster, for the most part, remains unchanged from 2010. Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs both left as free agents and signed with the Nationals and Marlins, respectively. Wilson Valdez will fill in at second base in Utley's absence, much like he did for Jimmy Rollins in 2010. Orr and Martinez serve as middle infield depth, but Martinez can also play the outfield on occasion (37 games in the minors). Gload returns as the primary pinch-hitter off the bench and Schneider backs up Carlos Ruiz behind the plate.
With Domonic Brown on the shelf, Ben Francisco will get the bulk of the playing time in right field. John Mayberry is also available as an outfield option, but if all else fails, they could always use Roy Oswalt.
The Phillies didn't add any outside arms to a bullpen that posted a 4.02 ERA while logging the fewest innings of any NL team in 2010; this year doesn't look to be any different with all five starters capable of throwing at least 200 innings. Contreras, with all of five career saves (none before 2010), serves as the closer in Brad Lidge's absence instead of Madson (20 career saves), who performed quite adequately in an eighth-inning relief role last year.
The Phillies lineup lost a lot of power with Jayson Werth's departure and Chase Utley's injury, but Ryan Howard is still the team's primary home run threat. Ibanez doesn't have near as much pop in his bat as he used to, but he's still able to hit one out; he's 15 for 49 (.306) against Hudson, but only 5 for 37 (.135) against Lowe. Here's how the Phillies regular lineup projects for this series.
Victorino is still the Phillies' top speedster, accounting for 34 of the team's 108 stolen bases in 2010; Rollins suffered some leg issues that limited him to 88 games last year, but still managed 17 steals and has two already this year. Besides them, I wouldn't expect a whole lot of running, even when Chase Utley returns.
Overall, this looks like it could be a fun and interesting series. I don't expect a sweep (although it would be nice), but two of three would be satisfactory. Perhaps the offense can get rejuvenated playing in front of the home crowd for the first time.
Interesting fact: Since Turner Field opened in 1997, the Braves are 8-6 in home openers, but have never won more than two in a row. Let's change that, shall we?
Remember, today marks the 37th anniversary of Hank Aaron's #715.