The Braves had a magical season in 2018. To this old hand, it was as much fun as all but a handful in the history of the Atlanta Braves. Much of the fun of the team was the youth and their enthusiasm. Acuna exceeded even wildly inflated expectations. Albies had a tough second half, but overall he still had an outstanding season for a 21 year old. Camargo was a revelation, demonstrating that he can be a very productive major league hitter. Freeman was his usual self, which is arguably the best first baseman in the game.
So, despite our collective frustration with the perceived deficiencies of the front office’s offseason moves, most of us were excited to see this team begin the new season.
I’ll jump to the bottom line: Phillies 10, Braves 4. Don’t blame the starting pitcher. Although it’s hard to be excited that Julio Teheran was making his sixth consecutive opening day start, he pitched quite well. His fastball consistently hit 92-93, his slider was very effective, and most importantly he struck out seven and only walked two in five innings of work. He pitched in some bad luck in the fourth when he gave up a couple of runs. Although it ultimately made no difference in the game, it was great to see Julio strike out Harper with a runner on third and no out.
Speaking of starting pitchers, many of us complained that the front office did not add a top of the rotation starter. Again, we might not agree as to the exact definition of that term, but I suspect we agree that Aaron Nola fits the bill. Nola went six, allowing only two hits and one run, while striking out eight. The Braves did threaten against Nola, as they managed to draw five walks in those six innings. Their patience was admirable in an opening day against a tough pitcher, but they could not get the big knock with men on base, except for a run scoring single by Markakis in the second.
RAJ was his exciting self, with a hit, two walks, and a stolen base, scoring a run and driving in another. The only other real offense of note was a two run pinch hit dinger by Matt “James” Joyce, who knocked one from swerve of shore to bend of bay. Oh, and let’s give credit to Swanson who had a double and a walk on the day.
One weak link in last year’s team was the bullpen. Several young unheralded relievers pitched well in spurts last year, but no one was consistently good all year. The big problem is that as a group the Braves’ pen led the world in walks. Some have complained that the Braves did not do enough to improve the bullpen during this past offseason. “Enough” is a subjective term; opinions may vary as to how much would have been sufficient. I suspect that we all agree that “nothing” was probably not enough.
So the first relief pitcher of the new season was Shane Carle. Take a guess: What did he do with the first batter he faced? He walked him. What happened next? After a couple of outs, he surrendered another walk, and than a three run homer by Maikel Franco. So who pitched the seventh for the Braves? Our old friend Luke Jackson. Wait, you ask–what is he doing on the roster? Much less pitching with the game on the line on opening day? Here is what he was doing: Walk, single, walk, grand slam. Because he was left in to finish the inning, he reduced his season ERA from infinity to 36.00, just beating out Carle’s season ERA of 40.50.
So, with the team’s performance on opening day, Anthopoulos has not silenced his critics. But there are still 161 to go; no need to panic. Still, it might be nice to look to the pen and see someone coming in other than Luke Jackson. Can you at least do that for us, AA?
Off day Friday, series resumes Saturday and Sunday, when the Braves’ turn to their strategy of finding a TOR starter among unproven rookies. I may not be happy with the FO right now, but I’ll be pulling for young Bryse and young Kyle.