Photo: Curtis Compton
We’ve made it Braves Country.
It’s been well over 2 years since we have seen baseball in April, no thanks to a global pandemic that pushed last season’s start to July. Now, with COVID-19 more under control and vaccines rolling out, we can begin to see some normalcy once again in our lives, especially in the sports world. For that, I am grateful.
To start the 2021 campaign for the Braves, we travel to Citizen’s Bank Park to take on our N.L. East rival, the Philadelphia Phillies today, Saturday, and Sunday. Last season, the Phillies finished with a record of 28-32 and 3rd place in the N.L. East standings. Many believed the Phillies would be in contention for the division title last year, but they had a bit of a down year and had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball. This year, they look to rebound and insert themselves into playoff contention, especially with talented players such as Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and our old friend Bryce Harper.
This afternoon, Braves’ ace Max Fried will get the start today against Phillies’ right-hander Aaron Nola. Nola finished 2020 with a record of 5-5 and a 3.28 ERA. In an August game last season, however, the Braves got the best of Nola, as he surrendered 4 runs on 6 hits in only 2 2/3 innings. The former All-Star is a great pitcher, but if the game last year teaches you anything, it is that a key for the Braves today is to be aggressive early. We’ve seen what kind of offense the Braves have, and with a pitcher as good as Nola, it’s important to get runs fast.
Speaking of offense, Brian Snitker announced the Braves’ opening day lineup in an interview this morning:
- Ronald Acuña Jr. (RF)
- Ozzie Albies (2B)
- Freddie Freeman (1B)
- Marcell Ozuna (LF)
- Travis d’Arnaud (C)
- Dansby Swanson (SS)
- Austin Riley (3B)
- Cristian Pache (CF)
- Max Fried (P)
The biggest takeaway from this lineup is seeing Cristian Pache get the nod in center field. The 22-year-old Pache played a big role in the NLCS last year after Adam Duvall was sidelined with an injury. A combination of that playing time plus a great spring training propelled Pache to the starting lineup. Snitker believes in him enough to give him an opening day start, and I am excited to see how he will take advantage of this opportunity in this series and the rest of the season.
Other names to keep in mind for this series are offseason addition Charlie Morton and rookie Ian Anderson, who will both start on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Morton has had a career renaissance over the past few years while playing for teams like the Astros and Rays. He has been an exceptional postseason pitcher over that time frame, and I believe he will be important for the Braves down the stretch as we get closer to the postseason.
Ian Anderson will also be fun to watch in 2021. Last year, he made his MLB debut in one of the most epic ways possible by no-hitting the New York Yankees for 5 1/3 innings while also outdueling one of the baseball’s best pitchers in Gerrit Cole. And what did he do to follow up on that performance? He finished the regular season with a 1.95 ERA and didn’t allow a single run in the postseason until GAME SEVEN of the NLCS. Many predict Anderson as an N.L. Rookie of the Year candidate, and for good reason. Let’s hope he can live up to that hype this season.
Yes, it is great to see baseball in the spring again. Here’s to a safe and great season for our Atlanta Braves as we seek to take home the 2021 World Series.