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Braves look to curb Wheeler in home opener

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The Morton-Wheeler matchup went poorly for the Braves in Philadelphia. Can they get a better result at home?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since the Braves were able to take the field at Truist Park (sorry, I still can’t take that name seriously): October 1, 2020, was their last game under Georgia skies, even though they went on to compete in two other postseason series after that. Since then, they’ve had an offseason, a Grapefruit League stint in Florida, and oh yeah — a two-city road trip to kick off the MLB regular season. But, at last, they’re home this Friday, and hopefully primed to dispense some much-needed revenge on the Philadelphia Phillies, who swept them in the season-opening series at Citizens Bank Park.

Part of that sweep, of course, was Zack Wheeler straight-up dominating the Braves in the season’s second game. Charlie Morton, tonight’s scheduled starter, tried to forestall that outcome, but no dice, as Wheeler dismantled the Braves both on the hill (seven innings, just a Travis d’Arnaud single allowed, ten punchouts) and at the plate (2-for-3, two of the Phillies’ four runs knocked in). Almost any offense against Wheeler this time around would be an improvement over the Braves’ worst offensive performance since Hiroki Kuroda Madduxed Atlanta with a one-hit shutout in 2008, but a win would be better, you know?

Morton, for his part, did not pitch poorly, despite the perhaps-underwhelming outcome of allowing three runs in five innings. All three runs scored with two outs in the fifth, with all three hits Morton allowed in that inning clocking in at a sub-86 mph exit velocity. In fact, the groundout Morton finally got to escape the inning was hit harder than the single-single-double sequence that sunk Atlanta. But, them’s the breaks, and those breaks definitely didn’t go Atlanta’s way in that opening series. Perhaps more critically for the Braves, Morton’s velocity was back at its 2019 levels, so hopefully without any stupid bloops and flares, he can continue styming the Philadelphia bats.

Wheeler, though... the Braves will need to figure something out. After he had one of the best starts of his fairly long career against the Braves on Saturday, it’s hard for him to go much more up, and it’s hard for the Braves to go much more down. Wheeler’s dominated teams before, and believe it or not, seven one-hit innings with no walks and ten strikeouts isn’t even unanimously his best career start or anything — it’s only in the running — but it’s by far his best attempt against Atlanta so far. Of course, if Wheeler comes out of the game throwing a tick above 2019-2020 again, with a pitch-to-contact sinker also getting whiffs on a third of swings against it, it could be another long game for the Braves. Maybe they’ll get some bloops, though. Seemed to work for Wheeler and the Phillies last Saturday, anyway.

The Braves haven’t lost a home opener since 2016, nor a home opener that wasn’t also the season opener since 2014. The last home opener against the Phillies, of course, ended with Nick Markakis’ walkoff three-run homer to cap a big comeback; their last home-opener-that-wasn’t-a-season-opener against the Phillies also ended favorable with a 6-3 victory back in 2011.

Game Info

Philadelphia Phillies @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, April 9, 2021

7:20 pm EDT

Truist (sigh) Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Bally (they’re multiplying) Sports South, MLB Network (out-of-market only), MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: Ch. 89