Braves' high-octane offense bails out Fried in rout

March 31st, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Overcoming one of the ugliest starts of 's career doesn’t seem so daunting when you have and basically the same record-breaking lineup that was historically great last year.

By the time Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Orlando Arcia and Jarred Kelenic had each tallied three hits in a 12-4 win over the Phillies on Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, it was easy to forget Fried hadn’t recorded even three outs in this contest. The lefty’s rough season debut simply set the stage for Atlanta to show why it is again favored to win the National League East.

“Hitting is contagious, especially here,” Kelenic said. “It’s dangerous up and down the lineup, which is super fun.”

The Braves’ bid to win a seventh straight division title has started in impressive fashion. They were blanked through the season’s first six innings by Zack Wheeler, but they have erupted for 21 runs over the 12 innings that followed. This marks just the third time they have compiled that total through a season’s first two games. The 1996 team scored 25 runs before the third game and the 1950 club also tallied 21 runs through the second game.

Seeing the Braves score at least nine runs in each of their first two games shouldn’t be too surprising. This is essentially the same group that tied an MLB record with 307 homers and became the first AL/NL team to produce a slugging percentage above .500 last season. The only newcomer is Kelenic, who has has gone 4-for-5 thus far.

Needless to say, critics are no longer mentioning the 3-for-43 stretch Kelenic endured before getting results with his new swing during Spring Training’s final week.

“When you do good, the game is really, really fun,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Now that it’s counting with the at-bats, his speed and his defense, everything has been really, really good. I think it’s big for a kid on a new team. He’s brought a really good end of the spring into the season.”

Speaking of the end of spring -- the Braves just signed Chavez after he was released from the White Sox last weekend. They gladly gave him a chance to begin his fifth tenure with Atlanta, and his fourth since 2021. The 40-year-old hurler relieved Fried with two outs in the first and allowed just one run over three innings.

Chavez has posted a 2.17 ERA over the 124 1/3 innings he has worked for the Braves since the start of 2021. He produced a 7.16 ERA in 16 1/3 innings with the Cubs and Angels within that same span.

“Jesse Chavez in a Braves uniform is something special,” left-hander Tyler Matzek said.

There was plenty for the Braves to celebrate while opening their season with consecutive comeback wins over the rival Phillies. From a feel-good perspective, Chavez’s return might have actually been trumped by Matzek replacing him in the fourth and providing 1 1/3 scoreless innings. This was Matzek’s first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2022 season.

All of the bullpen contributions backed a strong offensive effort against Phillies starter Aaron Nola, who allowed seven runs and 12 hits over 4 1/3 innings. The Braves made a strong effort to sign Nola before the free agent signed a seven-year, $172 million deal to remain in Philadelphia.

Albies drilled a two-run homer before the game’s first out was recorded. But it didn’t take long to see this would be a battle for Fried, who allowed three runs while recording just two outs. He issued three walks and allowed a pair of hits, including a Bryson Stott two-run single that sent him to the showers.

“[Our lineup] can beat you at any moment,” Fried said. “Even when you have a rough outing, you know they can pick you up and still have a pretty good chance to win.”

After helping the Braves win Friday’s season opener, Spencer Strider said he has heard enemy crowds "don’t boo nobodies." Arcia heard some of the loudest boos from those Philadelphia fans who remember the “atta boy [Bryce] Harper” comment he was overheard making while celebrating a thrilling end to last year’s Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

The booing certainly hasn’t hurt the veteran shortstop, who has recorded three doubles while matching Michael Harris II’s 6-for-9 start.

“It doesn’t matter to me, I play happy in every stadium,” Arcia said through an interpreter.

It’s easy to remain happy when part of an offense like this.