Braves vs. Phillies Opening Day

Braves vs. Phillies Opening Day | 2021 MLB Expert Analysis

Written by on March 31, 2021

The Atlanta Braves are the defending NL East champions and favored on the MLB odds to repeat in what could be MLB’s deepest division overall this season. The Braves open the new season on Thursday afternoon at division rival Philadelphia.

How to Bet Atlanta at Philadelphia MLB Odds & TV InfoWhy Bet on Atlanta? | 2021 MLB Expert Analysis

Last year’s NL East title was Atlanta’s 20th all-time division crown. Those are the most in major league history, one more than the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. Last season also marked the franchise’s 26th postseason berth in the modern era and its third straight.

Atlanta beat Cincinnati in the inaugural N.L. Wild Card Series and swept Miami in the NLDS before falling to Los Angeles, the eventual World Series champions, in seven games in the NLCS. The postseason series wins for Atlanta last season were the first for the club since 2001.

First baseman Freddie Freeman played in all 60 games in 2020 and hit a career-best .341/.462/.640 (73-for-214) to earn National League MVP honors. Freeman became just the fourth player in Atlanta franchise history to earn the award, joining Chipper Jones (1999), Terry Pendleton (1991) and Dale Murphy (1982, 1983).

The Braves were pretty quiet this offseason but did bring back outfielder Marcell Ozuna on a four-year, $65 million deal. Ozuna remained unsigned until February, and for a minute, it looked like Atlanta was going to pass up on him due to the uncertainty of the future of the universal designated hitter. Other than Ozuna, the Braves also added starting pitchers Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton this offseason.

Manager Brian Snitker confirmed that the team will begin the season with a four-man bench and will carry an extra reliever in the bullpen.

It will be Max Fried on the mound Thursday. Fried made his final tune-up on Saturday as the Braves defeated the Baltimore Orioles 8-5. Fried struck out the side in the first and would exit after three scoreless having allowed two hits and two walks to go along with five strikeouts.

This will be Fried’s first Opening Day start. The left-hander earned National League Cy Young Award consideration last year and has the potential to continue being one of the game’s top starters for many years to come. He will become the first lefty Opening Day starter for Atlanta since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2002. Fried went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and finished fifth in last year’s Cy Young Award balloting. He produced a quality start in three of his four postseason starts.

“His body of work last year put him in position to get this honor,” Snitker said.

Why Bet on Philadelphia? | 2021 MLB Expert Analysis

After seeming like they were going to let J.T. Realmuto walk, the Phillies finally got the deal done to keep their All-Star starting catcher. The deal was worth $115.5 million and carries an average annual value of $23.1 million, the highest ever for a catcher, topping former Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer’s annual salary of $23 million. Mauer’s contract was an extension. Realmuto’s free-agent deal is worth 36 percent more than Brian McCann’s previous record for a catcher of five years, $85 million with the Yankees.

Realmuto is considered perhaps the best catcher in the game. He is a two-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger winner, with a .282/.336/.466 slash line and 85 home runs in 2443 plate appearances with Miami and Philadelphia since the start of the 2016 season.

Realmuto is the third player on the Phillies’ roster with a contract of greater than $100 million, joining outfielder Bryce Harper, who is entering the third year of a 13-year, $330-million deal, and Zack Wheeler, who is entering the second year of a five-year, $118 million deal.

It’s right-hander Aaron Nola on the mound here. Nola allowed one runs over three innings on Saturday in a Grapefruit League start against the Tigers. Nola struck out five and allowed three hits without issuing a walk. He gave up just an RBI single in the second inning in his final spring tune-up of the year.

After leading the National League in starts in 2019, Nola achieved another milestone in 2020. He pitched the first two complete games of his Phillies career. That also was good enough to lead the league.

Nola is 58-40 with a 3.47 ERA in 139 career starts. He made the All-Star team in 2018, when he went 17-6. Nola has been an elite pitcher in the majors and a workhorse who’s started more games than any pitcher in baseball over the previous three seasons.

Expert Prediction
  • Phillies 5, Braves 3
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