For the first time since 2019 and for the second time in a row when it comes to 162-game regular seasons, the Atlanta Braves have started off the season getting swept in Philadelphia by the Phillies. The three games and the off-day included were all nearly joyless experiences as fans. Baseball season is great partly because the season feels like it goes on forever. So there’s a good chance that this Opening Weekend series in Philadelphia will probably be forgotten in a few weeks. Shoot, this time the fanbase didn’t take to the internet and turn Tiger Woods into a viral deity like they did back in 2019 when the Braves suffered an Opening Weekend sweep at the hands of the Phillies.
With that being said, I’ll personally remember this series just by how infuriatingly strange it was. Each of these three games had at least one moment where I was thinking that I was not watching a normal baseball game. It’s usually a bad idea to make sweeping judgements on a team based on the first series of the season and it’s especially bad to try to get something out of these three games in particular. they were just so weird and so unfortunate for the Braves that it’s probably best to just forget that this series ever happened and move on. There’s just way too many bad vibes at Citizens Bank Park during springtime, y’all.
Anyways, let me walk you through just how strange this entire series was. If you’re squeamish, look away!
On the very first pitch of the 2021 season, Ronald Acuña Jr. attempted to put a charge into a pitch from Aaron Nola and he definitely gave it a ride. Unfortunately, the ball landed safely in Adam Haseley’s glove for the first out of the season. While Acuña’s 101.6 miles-per-hour rocket may not have set off any alarm bells according to Expected Batting Average (xBA, which for that shot was only .200 xBA), it was absolutely an example of Mother Nature wreaking havoc with the conditions for Opening Day.
According to Weather Underground, the wind was blowing from West Northwest anywhere from 17-to-24 miles-per-hour and gusting at speeds of up to 32 miles-per-hour throughout the game. At the time Acuña took his swing, he was probably dealing with a strong gust of wind that was blowing in towards left field — also known as the Northwest part of Citizens Bank Park. While there’s no telling what could’ve happened on a different day, I’d be willing to guess that Acuña’s contact would’ve had a much better chance of doing damage had he not hit it in the worst part of the field at the worst possible moment of the game for wind.
Dansby Swanson fell victim to a similar moment of Mother Nature being a hater, except his shot came even closer to overcoming the wind odds and putting the Braves on the board first. Dansby’s shot had a lower exit velocity and an even lower xBA, but it died abruptly on the warning track and harmlessly landed in Andrew McCutchen’s control. Again, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened had the wind not been blowing as strong as it was at that point in the afternoon, but it’s definitely feasible to see a scenario where a ball hit like that ends up in the seats instead of as an out.
It seemed as if the theme of Opening Day was that if the Braves hit the ball, it usually resulted in the wind knocking it down, the ball being hit directly at a Philadelphia fielder, or said Philadelphia fielder making a fantastic play. The only exception was when Pablo Sandoval entered the game and sent one flying into the seats in right field. That was in stark contrast to the Philadelphia Phillies scoring their three runs respectively on a sacrifice fly, the fourth-weakest contact on a ball put in play of the game according to recorded exit velocity, and a bloop single that won the game on an xBA of .130. At the end of the game, the Braves finished with a collective BABIP of .231 while the Phillies finished with that number at .375. We’ll keep track of this going forward.
There’s not really too much to say, here. Zack Wheeler basically just took the Braves out behind the woodshed during this game, and there’s not much you can do but the Fredi Gonzalez special move of tipping your cap to the opposition. According to FanGraphs’ Game Score Version 2.0 metric, Wheeler pitched what was by far the best game of his stint with the Phillies and it was (according to the metric) on par with his complete game shutout that he pitched for the Mets back in 2014. Plus, Wheeler was infuriatingly good at the plate during this game, so it was all going wrong for Atlanta in this one.
The disastrous fifth inning for Charlie Morton was an example of the rotten time that the Braves were having in Philadelphia this past weekend. Up until he had gotten through two outs during this fifth inning, Morton was going toe-to-toe with Wheeler in a pretty entertaining pitchers’ duel. Both guys seemingly had their best stuff going and they were both missing a ton of bats as well — Wheeler finished the day with 16 swing-and-misses under his belt, while Morton had 12 once he was done. So with a 1-2 count to Jean Segura with two outs on the board, it was looking like we were going to head into another frame with the two pitchers going neck-and-neck.
We ended up being wrong. Segura smacked a curveball that stayed in the zone into left center field for a single, then Morton’s next pitch landed on Roman Quinn’s foot, then the next pitch was sent into the right field grass by Zack Wheeler. Three calamitous pitches set the stage for a walk and a game-breaking double from Rhys Hoskins. Philadelphia’s next RBI came from Zack Wheeler and the game eventually ended 4-0 in favor of the Phillies. What about the BABIP, you ask? Braves, .071, Phillies, .400.
By Sunday, I’d imagine that a lot of us fans were completely over this series and just wanted to move on to the Washington series. It sure didn’t help that Andrew Knapp (with a career Isolated Power number of .125) managed to send a mistake from Ian Anderson flying over the right field fence only the 12th home run of his career relatively early on in the game. It especially didn’t help that the Braves continued to hit the cover off of the ball to little-or-no result, either. The obvious example also involved Ian Anderson, but in this case it was an example of his efforts at the plate and on the basepaths.
In the third inning of Sunday’s game, it seemed like Atlanta’s luck was finally going to turn after Anderson got really lucky when he hit a flare into right center that somehow found grass and got even luckier when he was able to stretch it into a double with the help of some suboptimal defense from the Phillies. Finally, we’ve got some good vibes here! The pitcher is on second with a double and Ronald Acuña is coming to the plate. He’s had his fair share of hard contact and now would be a great time to deliver a hit that’ll tie this game up at one run apiece! And there it is! He just hit a ball at a scalding 111.3 miles-per-hour with an xBA of .850! Surely that resulted in a run being scored, right?
Ha! Of course not! It’s going to go straight to Jean Segura’s glove and Ian Anderson will get doubled off in the process as well! How silly of me to assume that good things could happen for the Braves in Citizens Bank Park during Opening Weekend!
Even the good vibes that emanated from Travis d’Arnaud’s game-tying home run in the seventh inning off of the currently-dominant Zach Eflin only lasted for about two frames. Chris Martin hurt himself at some point in the bottom of the eighth inning and ended up giving up the go-ahead run on a single that Dansby Swanson was just late getting to. There was no such hard luck for Alec Bohm, like there was for Ronald Acuña earlier. Acuña’s rocket shot found leather, but Bohm’s bullet found green. That was a fact of life for the Braves this past weekend, and it continued in this game with the BABIP line finishing at Atlanta, .176, Philadelphia, .438.
So, what’s the takeaway from this weekend of baseball in Philadelphia? If you’re a Braves fan, it should be that baseball can sometimes be an incredibly dumb game. Despite the fact that sabermetrics and analytics have done wonders for giving fans, players, and executives more ways to have a better understanding of how this wonderful game works, this is still a sport where pure luck plays a major role in how things can turn out on any given day.
The Phillies are not a really bad team, but they are not going to be a team that has a BABIP floating around .400 while also trotting out a rotation that can turn into a masterful trio of pitchers at any given moment. Similarly, a lot of the rockets and bullets that the Braves were hitting this past weekend that were finding gloves or getting knocked down by the wind are going to start regularly finding green at some point in the near future. The Braves are a much better team than what they showed this weekend, and I’d imagine that their results as the season progresses will bear that out.
If anything, the main takeaway is that we should all write blank checks and send them to the Commissioner’s Office in order to bribe him into making sure that the Braves never play another Opening Weekend series in Philadelphia ever again. Whoever said that it’s always sunny in Philadelphia was either lying or they hate the Atlanta Braves.