Braves swept, but rotation gives hope

April 4th, 2021

It’s not like the Braves haven’t been here before. As they pursue a fourth straight National League East title, they must once again quickly regroup, like they did after being swept out of Philadelphia to start the 2019 season.

Reminded of this after his team suffered a 2-1 loss to the Phillies in Sunday’s series finale at Citizens Bank Park, Braves manager Brian Snitker chuckled and said the season-opening sweeps don’t feel all that similar.

“We got boat raced in three games in 2019,” Snitker said. “We just didn’t hit [this weekend]. We scored just three runs. You’re not going to win many games that way. We’re going to hit. These guys are not going to not hit. They’ve done it their whole career.”

With reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman and two other MVP candidates -- Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna -- the Braves have potential to have one of the game’s best offenses for a third straight season. But through this year’s first 28 innings, their only runs have come from Travis d’Arnaud’s game-tying, seventh-inning homer on Sunday and Pablo Sandoval’s pinch-hit, two-run homer on Thursday.

Freeman went 0-for-9. Ozuna struck out in seven of 11 at-bats and Acuña recorded just two hits in his 12 at-bats. In other words, Phillies pitchers fared a little differently than they did when they allowed the Braves 59 runs over 10 games last year.

"Those guys get paid to get us out too,” d’Arnaud said. “They did a tremendous job of executing pitches. Watching the replays, most of their pitches were in that box, you know, the lower part, the outside part and the upper part the whole series. So we just got to tip the cap to them."

When the Braves bounced back from their season-opening sweep during their 97-win, 2019 season, they steadily improved offensively and strengthened their rotation, which also didn’t include Mike Soroka at the start.

Though the Braves would love to have a healthy Soroka, they are more than capable of surviving while he spends a few more weeks recovering from right Achilles tendon surgery. During the opening series, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson each limited the Phillies to three runs or less over five innings apiece.

In other words, there is no reason to become any less optimistic about a rotation that could be the Braves’ best in more than two decades, nor should there be reason to panic about the bullpen, which limited the Phillies to two runs over 10 2/3 innings.

Really, the only thing to truly worry about coming out of the opening series is the health of top setup man Chris Martin, who exited Sunday’s game due to numbness in his fingers. Martin allowed three straight one-out singles in the eighth, including Alec Bohm’s game-winner, and was then forced to exit two batters later.

Losing Martin for any extended period could be detrimental, but losing the first three games of a 162-game season could soon become a faded memory, if the Braves’ offense gets rolling and the pitching staff continues to live up to expectations

d’Arnaud’s solo homer off Zach Eflin prevented the loss being saddled on Anderson, who labored through Sunday’s 27-pitch first inning and then allowed just one run over five innings. His sole costly mistake was a 3-1 fastball that Andrew Knapp lined into the left-field seats.

Anderson’s changeup helped him tally each of his seven strikeouts through the first three innings, but he needed 70 pitches to record his first nine outs. So, even though he was more efficient near the end of his 88-pitch outing, Anderson was limited to just five innings.

“I had all those strikeouts early on, but I was falling behind,” Anderson said. “Then I’d start pitching and get ahead. Getting weak contact is huge. That’s kind of how the game shifted. I guess it’s just part of baseball.”

Just as Anderson quickly righted himself, the Braves’ offense is more than capable of getting on track and possibly erupting, like it did as the summer approached in 2019.

“I’d rather play a team like us early than when the weather gets hot and these guys get some at-bats,” Snitker said. “I’m going to trust the consistency and the past performances of these guys show that they are going to hit.”