By Sam Bush
In case you missed it, the Phils open their 2019 schedule today at CBP against the NL East rival Atlanta Braves:
This weekend’s matchup includes two of the game’s top lineups. The Braves will bunch their three NL MVP Award candidates — Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. — behind Ender Inciarte, who has shown he can be a capable table setter against right-handed pitchers. The length of the lineup will be significantly influenced by how Ozzie Albies fares from the left side of the plate.
1) Ender Inciarte, CF
2) Josh Donaldson, 3B
3) Freddie Freeman, 1B
4) Ronald Acuña Jr., LF
5) Nick Markakis, RF
6) Ozzie Albies, 2B
7) Brian McCann, C
8) Dansby Swanson, SS
9) Julio Teheran, P
The Phillies have a deeper lineup, with players that not only see a lot of pitches, but actually reach base, either by driving the ball or working a walk. Philly’s offense should be its best since Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard led a power-packed Phils squad from 2005-11.
1) Andrew McCutchen, LF (above)
2) Jean Segura, SS
3) Bryce Harper, RF
4) Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5) J.T. Realmuto, C
6) Odubel Herrera, CF
7) Cesar Hernandez, 2B
8) Maikel Franco, 3B
9) Aaron Nola, P
Julio Teheran will make his sixth career Opening Day start. Before being tagged for four runs over 5 2/3 innings against the Phillies last year, he’d never allowed more than two runs in a season opener. His primary nemesis in the Phils improved high-octane lineup will be Harper, who has eight homers and 1.125 OPS in his career against the Atlanta right-hander.
The Phils starter, Aaron Nola, finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting last year. He sounds like a guy intent on living up to the hype in 2019.
“We have a team to make the playoffs,” Nola said last week, “but we’ve still got to go out there and win and compete. But expectations are better than no expectations. That’s going to raise my game up, I believe. You look around the clubhouse and field, the type of guys we’ve got — All-Stars, MVPs, Cy Youngs — we’ve got them on our team. But we’ve still got to go out there, play and compete. There are no guarantees.”
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Braves: With A.J. Minter (left shoulder tightness) and Darren O’Day (sore right forearm) on the injured list, closer Arodys Vizcaino’s primary setup men might be left-hander Jonny Venters and right-hander Chad Sobotka, who has made just 14 career appearances. Shane Carle is capable of filling this role, and left-hander Jesse Biddle became a more valuable piece once he ended his reverse splits trend last year. Josh Tomlin and Max Fried will be available to provide length if necessary.
Phillies: If the Phillies have a lead of three or fewer runs entering the ninth inning Thursday, who will be the closer? It could be David Robertson. Or it could be Seranthony Dominguez. Or maybe it is Hector Neris. Manager Gabe Kapler said he will use a closer-by-committee approach, much like 2018. But the Phils believe they have the makings of one of the better bullpens in baseball with interchangeable parts that should weather injuries and ineffectiveness.
Any injuries of note?
Braves: Mike Foltynewicz, the team’s originally projected Opening Day starter, will miss at least the first half of April with a sore right elbow, and veteran starter Kevin Gausman, who battled right shoulder soreness when Spring Training began, will be on the injured list through the season’s first five or six games. These injuries have created opportunities for Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright, who will start the final two games of the opening series. The absences of Minter and O’Day could prove significant during the late innings.