COMMENTARY | It's finally here: opening day 2013. At long last, the Atlanta Braves get the opportunity to remove the awful taste they have had lingering in their mouths since the St. Louis Cardinals forcibly removed them from the playoffs in the wild-card play-in game last season.
Opening day will be exactly 177 days since Atlanta's dreaded postseason collapse. And while they will still have to patiently wait until July 26 to mount their Quentin Tarantino-style revenge on the Cardinals, the Braves will first get the chance to take out their frustrations on one of their most hated rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies went 81-81 last season, but are hoping that a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will allow them to make the NL East a three-team race in 2013.
Atlanta Braves vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Mon, Apr 1 7:10 p.m. (ET) ESPN National Broadcast
Cole Hamels has been given the opening day start for the Phillies over Roy Halladay, and the Braves should be overjoyed. Even though Hamels recorded a 17-6 record last season, the Philadelphia left-hander simply has not liked pitching at Turner Field. Over his last three seasons in the big leagues, Hamels has an ERA of 4.29 when playing in Atlanta. Thanks to the new additions of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, Hamels will have considerably tougher lefty vs. righty matchups to contend with than in previous years.
Tim Hudson is getting the ball to open the season for the sixth time in his illustrious career. In five starts against the Phillies last season, Hudson was 3-1 while allowing two runs or less in three of those five starts. However, there is some cause for concern with Hudson. At 37-years-old, he is coming off of his worst spring training as a member of the Braves. Hudson surrendered 13 earned runs this spring, which is three more than his last four spring trainings combined.
Projected Opening Day Lineups:
- 1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
- 2. Jason Heyward, RF
- 3. Justin Upton, LF
- 4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
- 5. B.J. Upton, CF
- 6. Dan Uggla, 2B
- 7. Chris Johnson, 3B
- 8. Gerald Laird, C
- 9. Tim Hudson, SP
- 1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
- 2. Ben Revere, CF
- 3. Chase Utley, 2B
- 4. Ryan Howard, 1B
- 5. Michael Young, 3B
- 6. Domonic Brown, RF
- 7. Laynce Nix, LF
- 8. Eric Kratz, C
- 9. Cole Hamels, SP
Keys to the Game:
Can Tim Hudson Get Out Ryan Howard?
Hudson could be a borderline Hall of Famer when his career is all said and done, but his inclusion into baseball's most exclusive club would not come via the strength of his resume against Ryan Howard. In an injury-plauged 2012 season, Howard managed to hit just .219, yet he still hit .385 off of Hudson. For his career, Howard has hit .338 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs when starring down the Braves' right-hander. Simply put, the Braves do not want to see Howard up with men on base against Hudson at any point during the game.
Can the Braves Hit For Power While Limiting Their Strikeouts?
Between Dan Uggla (168), Justin Upton (121), B.J. Upton (169), Jason Heyward (152), Freddie Freeman (129) and Chris Johnson (132), the Braves will have six starters who all struck out at least 120 times in 2012.
The flip-side to all those big swings and misses is that sometimes they do connect with something. The addition of the Upton brothers will give the Braves power from the right side of the plate that they simply have not had in recent years. Cole Hamels only gave up four home runs to left-handed batters all season in 2012, yet he allowed 20 gopher balls to righties. The big bats of the Brothers Upton could have a lot of say about the outcome of this one.
Players to Watch:
Andrelton Simmons: Since Andrelton Simmons is making the switch to the leadoff role for the Atlanta Braves this season, it would have been nice to have the second-year shortstop in camp a lot longer than he was. Simmons has played in just 10 spring games, as of March 28, because he was away helping the Netherlands advance to the championship round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Simmons returned to the Braves' spring training lineup with a bang, as he launched two home runs on his first day back. However, Simmons has hit just .200 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage in his last seven games this spring. Simmons has yet to face Hamels in his career, so the new man at the top of the Braves' order should have an immediate advantage out of the gate.
Dan Uggla: Move over Mario Mendoza, Dan Uggla is making a serious case for Major League Baseball to rename the .200 mark the "Uggla Line" -- the name would actually work on two levels. After batting .220, and failing to even break the 20 home run mark, Uggla has started off hitting an even .200 through 26 games this spring. A quick start would help alleviate the talk from fans that Atlanta should consider trading or benching the all-or-nothing slugger.
Evan Gattis: Few Braves stories were more compelling this season than that of the 26-year-old Evan Gattis, who will finally make it to the big leagues after a long, turbulent past led him farther and farther away from baseball. A stop in rehab, as well as sporadic employment as a janitor and ski-lift operator are just a few of the cliff notes from Gattis' tale.
But don't think his inclusion on this Braves' roster is a charity case. Gattis earned his spot on the team, after batting .368 with six home runs this spring. Gerald Laird will likely still get the opening day call, but Fredi Gonzalez has already indicated that time will be judicially split between the two catchers, and that Gattis could even end up with the larger role. If Gattis' power bat gets called on to pinch hit in Game 1, all eyes will be on El Oso Blanco (The White Bear) to see how the first sentence of his major-league story will be written.
Game 2 Pitching Matchup: Paul Maholm (L) vs. Roy Halladay (R)
Game 3 Pitching Matchup: Kris Medlen (R) vs. Cliff Lee (L)
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Cole Hamels
- Justin Upton
- Tim Hudson
- Ryan Howard
- Dan Uggla
- Andrelton Simmons