Following the roller coaster ride of an unpredictable offseason, Opening Day 2014 is upon us.
The 2014 Braves have a new look with some fresh faces in the midst with Ryan Buchter and Gus Schlosser both being chosen for the 25-man roster. With new faces, however, we had to say goodbye to some familiar ones: Brian McCann and Tim Hudson elected to play elsewhere, leaving the starting rotation as a patchwork group of relatively inexperienced hurlers. That, in addition to season-ending surgeries for Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, leads some to question whether or not this Braves team can compete in the NL East.
That being said, the Braves draw the Milwaukee Brewers for Opening Day at Miller Park. Atlanta has won four of its last five Opening Day games, but Miller Park has been a house of horrors for the Braves in recent years. The Braves dropped seven straight in Milwaukee from 2011 to 2013, winning only twice.
The last time these two teams faced each other wasn't a pleasant one in the least. If you remember, in the last game between the Braves and Brewers last year, Carlos Gomez took it upon himself to be a jerk after homering in the first inning, mouthing off to Paul Maholm and Freddie Freeman during his leisurely stroll before Brian McCann stood as a roadblock in front of home plate, giving Gomez what for.
Gomez set career highs across the board last year and was among the league leaders in WAR, leading to his first All-Star selection. Since June 19, 2012, he's one of only two players (Trout) with 130 runs scored, 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 115 RBI. As long as there's no repeat performance of last year's incident, I'm confident the Braves won't retaliate against Gomez, but mouthing off at pitchers isn't foreign to him.
Now for the elephant in the room: this series also signifies the return of Ryan Braun, who was suspended for the final 65 games of the 2013 season after an investigation revealed his affiliation with Biogenesis and a violation of MLB's drug policy. I'll be interested to know how the home crowd will react when his name is announced for his first at-bat. Yes, he's a homegrown superstar, but he also lied to everyone about his drug use. A mixed reaction wouldn't surprise me, nor would him being booed from first pitch to the final out.
During Milwaukee's offseason, Matt Garza was the most notable of several acquisitions, being signed to a four-year, $52 million contract. The team also added Mark Reynolds on a minor-league deal after Corey Hart signed with Seattle and will likely serve a platoon role at first base with Lyle Overbay while Aramis Ramirez is entrenched at third. Reynolds, Ramirez, Rickie Weeks and Overbay are all defensive liabilities; in fact, the 2013 Brewers committed 114 errors, third-worst in MLB, so there could be a few adventures in the infield.
In regards to Rickie Weeks, he's in the final year of a four-year deal, but has an option for 2015 that would vest if he accumulates 600 plate appearances. Considering how poorly he played last year in addition to his hamstring injury, that may not happen with the way Scooter Gennett performed in his stead. Weeks, however, hit .282 in 16 Spring Training games.
The emergence of Khris Davis led to Milwaukee being able to trade Norichika Aoki to the Royals for lefty reliever Will Smith, who struck out 43 batters in 33.1 innings as opposed to issuing just seven walks in 2013. Smith held lefty hitters to a .157 avg. and joins fellow lefty Zach Duke in Milwaukee's bullpen. Jonathan Lucroy has quietly gained a reputation as a solid hitting catcher. His slash numbers dropped from 2012, but set career highs in homers (18), RBI (82) and walks (46). Overall, he's a .279 career hitter with a .331 OBP. Defensively, there's room for improvement, as he threw out just 22% of base stealers.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Monday, March 31, 2:10 p.m. ET
Julio Teheran (ATL)
2013: 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.24 K/9
Yovani Gallardo (MIL)
2013: 12-10, 4.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .261 BAA
Tuesday, April 1, 8:10 p.m. ET
Alex Wood (ATL)
2013: 3-3, 77.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 27 BB, 77 K
Kyle Lohse (MIL)
2013: 11-10, 3.35 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.47 K/BB
Wednesday, April 2, 1:10 p.m. ET
Aaron Harang (ATL)
2013: 5-12, 5.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 2.67 BAA
Matt Garza (MIL)
2013: 10-6, 3.82 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.24 K/BB