The long offseason is finally over, spring training is in the books and Opening Day is tomorrow. Rejoice Atlanta Braves fans! Baseball is officially back.
The Braves took home the 2018 NL East division crown butt thanks to a flurry of moves by their competition, enter the 2019 season as something of an underdog this season. That will be an underlying theme of the opening series in Philadelphia. The Phillies were in the 2018 race up until the end when they faded badly down the stretch. They didn’t set on their hands this offseason making a flurry of moves including luring Bryce Harper from the Nationals on a monstrous 13-year deal.
While the Braves struck early this offseason with the addition of Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, they largely sat the rest of the offseason out while only doubling down on Nick Markakis for another season. Additionally, Atlanta’s pitching staff was hit by a rash of nagging injuries this spring and their depth will be tested with a pair of rookie pitchers slotted in to make starts in the opening series.
That underdog mentality served the Braves well in 2018, however they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. Atlanta is betting on its young core to be the difference in what should be one of the most interesting divisions to follow in 2019. Whether they can live up to the hype again remains to be seen.
Thursday, March 28 - 3:05 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast)
Julio Teheran (2018: 31 GS, 175.2 IP, 22.4 K%, 11.6 BB%, 4.54 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 4.72 xFIP)
There was reason to wonder if Julio Teheran would even still be on the Braves’ roster for Opening Day in 2019 let alone making his sixth straight start in the season opener. Teheran battled his way through an up and down 2018 season and finished it in mop up duty in Atlanta’s Game 4 loss to the Dodgers in the division series.
Teheran has seen his velocity decline sharply in recent years and spent the offseason trying to get stronger. He scrapped the windup and worked exclusively this spring from the stretch in hopes of finding more consistency. The results were positive in Grapefruit League play where he allowed six earned runs in 17 innings while striking out 21 and walking just two. It could be said that he backed his way into this opportunity as injuries to Mike Foltynewicz and others opened the door, but he deserves some credit for being willing to make adjustments to put him in position.
Feel good story or not, having Teheran face Bryce Harper on Opening Day in Philly’s cozy little home stadium won’t inspire a lot of confidence in Braves fans.
Aaron Nola (2018: 33 GS, 212.1, 27.0 K%, 7.0 BB%, 2.37 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 3.21 xFIP)
Aaron Nola finished third in 2018 Cy Young voting and was rewarded with a four-year contract extension this offseason. He will be once again counted on to anchor a Phillies rotation that is looking for big things in 2019 when he makes his second straight Opening Day start.
Nola was particularly tough on Atlanta last season making five starts and allowing a total of eight runs in 31 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 23 and walked just eight during that span.
Saturday, March 30 - 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast, FS1)
Bryse Wilson (2018 A+, AA, AAA: 25 G, 23 GS, 125.2 IP, 3.44 ERA, 4.02 FIP)
Bryse Wilson made a meteoric rise through the Braves’ minor league system in 2018 beginning the season in High-A before ending it in the majors. He only appeared in seven innings while with the big club but carried that momentum over into a strong showing this spring.
Injuries to Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman and Mike Soroka opened the door and Wilson seized on the opportunity. He showed a lot of poise while making his major league debut in a start in Pittsburgh but that will pale in comparison to the situation he will be in against the Phillies.
Atlanta raised a lot of eyebrows this offseason when they elected not to reinforce their starting rotation and instead doubling down on their many young pitching prospects. Wilson will have an opportunity to quiet some of the skeptics with a strong performance on Saturday.
Nick Pivetta (2018: 33 G, 32 GS, 164.0 IP, 27.1 K%, 7.4 BB%, 4.77 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 3.42 xFIP)
A lot of people are predicting Nick Pivetta to take a significant step forward in 2019 for the Phillies. He put together a solid if unspectacular campaign last season but his peripheral numbers suggest that he was a bit unlucky. He upped his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate/ Still, his ERA was almost a run higher than his FIP which suggests that good things might be in store this time around.
Pivetta pitched well against Atlanta last season allowing nine runs over 26 innings in five starts.
Sunday, March 31 - 7:05 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Kyle Wright (2018: AA, AAA: 27 G, 24 GS, 138.0 IP, 3.46 ERA, 133 SO, 51 BB)
Kyle Wright will make his first major league start on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball in the series finale. Wright was one of the biggest surprises of the spring and put up good numbers before getting knocked around a bit in his next to last appearance. Still he impressed enough to get the call to fill a spot in the rotation and will be looking to hang on to it for the foreseeable future.
Wright has just four appearances and six major league innings under his belt but will be looking to show some of that high upside that the Braves liked when they drafted him fifth overall in 2017 out of Vanderbilt.
Jake Arrieta (2018: 31 GS, 172.2 IP, 19.1 K%, 7.9 BB%, 3.96 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 4.08 xFIP)
Jake Arrieta got off to a solid start for the Phillies in 2018 but like their season, wore down significantly at the end. Philadelphia will be looking for a full season’s worth of contributions from Arrieta this time around. Arrieta faced the Braves just two times in 2018 allowing 11 hits and four runs in 8 2/3 innings.