Let’s head back in time a a little over two years ago. That day was also a Sunday, March 31st, 2019, and the Braves were playing their third game of the 2019 season against Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Ballpark. The Braves would lose 5-1 that day to start the season 0-3, and many were none too excited about how Atlanta was responding to their surprising success in 2018.
While that Sunday afternoon and evening may not have been too much fun, Atlanta and their fans had a lot of fun over the next six months. The Braves would go 97-59 over their final 159 games of the season, Josh Donaldson would prove to be an amazing signing, Tiger Woods became the most beloved figure in baseball, and all of this positive momentum came to a crashing halt due to a now infamous 10-run first inning.
Ok, the ending sucked, but the general idea of “It’s so, so early” certainly should carry significance as we fast forward to the present.
Yes, the Braves offense has not been fun to witness. It is fair to say they were not helped by the weather on Thursday, as several hard hit balls unfortunately resulted in loud outs instead of runs. However, Atlanta was embarrassed by Zach Wheeler yesterday, as the Braves simply were outmatched from the start. In fact, the last time the Braves offense had a game with one or less hits, no walks, no runs, and 14 or more strikeouts was 1908 ( they only struck out 13 times in Randy Johnson’s perfect game; seems like a good time to move on... my thoughts exactly).
Fortunately, it has been only two games, and talent, especially significant talent, eventually shines through. However, the Braves do face another talented pitcher in Zach Eflin. Though Eflin may not be as talented as Aaron Nola or Wheeler, he is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he showed progression as a starter. He went 4-2 with a 3.97 ERA, 3.39 FIP, and a 70/15 K/BB ratio in 59 innings.
He also had a bounceback year against the Braves in 2020 after a forgettable 2019 campaign against Atlanta. In 2019, Eflin allowed 21 runs (12 earned) over 16 1⁄3 innings against the Braves; last year, he limited Atlanta to four runs in 12 1⁄3 innings across two starts that resulted in two wins for he and Phillies. Overall, Eflin is 5-3 with a 3.48 ERA against the Braves in his career. It seems Atlanta hopes the 2019 version of Eflin shows up early and often tomorrow.
The Braves will counter with prized young right-hander Ian Anderson, who will look to get his 2021 Rookie of the Year resume off to a great start. Of course, Anderson made quite the impression last year, producing a 1.95 ERA and a 41/14 K/BB ratio across 32 1⁄3 innings during the regular season before shining in the playoffs. Anderson did not face the Phillies last season, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a talented lineup.
One consistent theme that has stood out about the Braves over the past three years is that they never stay down for too long. When it feels as if they need to rebound or respond, they do it in highly convincing fashion. Hopefully, they will be able to do that early in today’s game. If the offense simply plays to their potential, Anderson should have the support he needs to pitch well enough to put Atlanta in a good position to win for the first time this season.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, April 4, 1:05 p.m. ET
Location: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
TV: Bally Sports South, Fox Sports 1
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network