The Braves have only once played opening day game on the road on April Fool’s Day — a 2-1 opening day loss to the Astros in 1997, in which Shane Reynolds outdueled John Smoltz and a Chipper Jones homer plated the only run for the good guys. That team won 101 games and went on to win the World Series when Eric Gregg was sucked into the 9th dimension by a giant wormhole created by Stephen Hawking as a proof of concept just before he (Gregg, not Hawking) was slated to monitor the dish in Game 5 against the Marlins in the NLCS. That sentence shows just how bad I am at April Fool’s stuff, so I’ll stop right now. (It also shows how convoluted my sentences can be before I get into midseason form. But just stop and think how interesting it would have been to have Stephen Hawking as a home plate umpire.)
I live about 3 hours north of Philly, and spring baseball up here is generally pretty miserable weather. Snowstorms in Detroit, and a cancellation in Boston. (The DC cancellation was COVID-related, not weather.) But even where they play, the weather is not good. We used to call Camargo Claude Rains around here, but Pache’s outfit made him actually look like the invisible man. That makes these games a little difficult to use as harbingers. Fried had some uncharacteristic command issues, but that could easily just be the weather. On the other side, a stiff 20 mph breeze to right field turned the normally HR-stupid Citizens Bank Park to a normal park. Dansby and Freddie were robbed, but so was Harper. To be fair, though, robbed in Philadelphia is equivalent to the warning track most places.
The Phillies scratched out a run in the 1st and 3rd, but Fried did a lot of wriggling in the other innings as well. The Braves wouldn’t mount a substantial threat until the 6th, when an Acuña single and an infield error on Freddie put two runners in scoring position with one out. Snuffed out.
Matzek replaced Fried in the bottom of the 6th, wriggling out of some two out difficulty as well. (Given their body types, it’s a lot easier to picture Fried wriggling than Matzek. Melancon, who I don’t miss, wriggles even when he’s pitching well.)
Then came the 7th. An excuse-me double by Pache led to the first pinch hitter of the season: Pablo Sandoval, who would be more likely to stop shipping by falling in the Suez Canal than to wriggle anywhere. He crushed a two-strike fastball on Nola’s last pitch: tie game. Gabe Kapler was never forgiven for removing Nola too early in his first game as Phillies’ manager on opening day 3 years ago. Joe Girardi went one pitch too long.
Minter pitched a perfect 7th. No wriggling required. José Alvarado, who would not fit simultaneously in a hot tub with Pablo, wriggled out of bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ex took the 8th. He did some major wriggling, with the third out recorded on a blistering line drive right at Albies with a runner in scoring position.
The other Grammy-winning reliever struck out the side, including Harper, in the 9th. Free baseball, with a free runner on 2nd. Ozzie was thrown out at home trying to score on a potential sac fly, ending the inning. He oddly delayed on his way down the line, but I don’t think it made any difference, Nate Jones made his Braves debut in the bottom of the 10th. I’ve never seen him pitch before, and if he doesn’t pitch great, he’s going to make me completely crazy by May. What an odd looking delivery. In any case, a Jean Segura one hopper over Riley’s head ended it.
Nobody played horribly. We hit some balls hard. We got some timely pitching. So it’s just one game, right?
For everyone who thought that there would be no math on opening day, you lose (and not just the game). How important is opening day to your season? One thing you know both the managers will say after the game: “It’s only one game.” The winning manager will add “but it’s always good to get off to a good start” and the losing manager will opine “but I saw some good things out there and we’ve got a long way to go.” Are they right? I took the 50 162-ish game seasons that the Braves have played since 1966, excluding last year and the strike years. I then ran a simple linear regression:
Wins = A + B x Opening_Day_Win
So to predict wins in a season, you start with A wins and then add B more wins if you win on Opening Day. If an opening day win is “just another game,” you’d expect B to equal 1. When we do this, though, we get:
Wins = 79.8 + 7.9 x Opening_Day_Win
So an opening day win is apparently 8 times as important as a random win somewhere else in the season. I did not expect this at all. But then I did the analysis properly, and it turns out that this result is actually total random. April Fools. But when Brian Snitker says that today is just one game, you’ll now know he doesn’t “Trust The Science.”
Tomorrow off so Pablo can eat some cheesesteaks to recover his lost strength from his trot around the bases today. Charlie Morton against Zack Wheeler on Saturday. 161-1 is still a pretty good record.