Phillies (0-0) at Braves (0-0)
7:10 p.m. – PHL17
For the first time in 179 days, the Phillies will play a game that actually matters in the standings. Opening day – well, night – is here, which means Cole Hamels, Tim Hudson and Phillies-Braves under the lights.
New faces, new places
The Phillies enter the year with healthy stars and key additions in Mike Adams and Michael Young, but surprisingly little fanfare. They’re being picked by most to finish third in the NL East behind the Nationals and Braves.
Aside from the Dodgers, no National League had a splashier offseason than the Braves, who signed B.J. Upton and traded for his younger (and better) brother Justin.
But Atlanta paid the price to acquire the Upton brothers. Martin Prado was dealt to Arizona and Michael Bourn was allowed to leave in free agency. The Braves also traded starting pitcher Tommy Hanson to the Angels for right-handed reliever Jordan Walden.
The most important loss was Chipper Jones, who retired after hitting .287 with a .832 OPS for the Braves last season. He’s replaced at the hot corner by a combination of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, two much lesser players.
In the end, the Braves made headlines but didn’t really net any value. They’ll be a different team in 2013 – more homers, more speed, better outfield defense, way more strikeouts – but not necessarily better.
Outside of Delmon Young the Phillies are completely healthy. Carlos Ruiz, of course, will miss the first 25 games while serving a suspension.
The Braves are dealing with two key injuries – catcher Brian McCann is out the first few weeks as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, and lefty setup man Jonny Venters (throwing elbow) will visit with Dr. James Andrews this week.
Will the Upton experiment work?
While both Uptons are powerful, athletic, fast and well above average defensively, neither is a finished product.
B.J. Upton the last four seasons has hit .242 with a weak .316 OBP and 162 strikeouts per season.
As for Justin, he's been a pretty ordinary player away from Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks' hitter's haven. In 364 games at Chase Field, Justin Upton hit .307/.389/.548. In 367 games away from there, he's hit .250/.325/.406. So, in essence, Justin Upton was 2012 Andrew McCutchen in Arizona, and 2012 Danny Espinosa everywhere else.
Turner Field is notorious for being a pitcher's park. The transition may be not so smooth for the younger Upton.
Hamels vs. Braves
Cole Hamels makes his first opening day start for the Phillies after a brilliant spring. In five starts in Florida, Hamels went 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA and just 11 hits allowed in 19 innings. He looked sharp from start to finish, which is more than can be said about any other Phillies starting pitcher.
Hamels, who went 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA last season, has handled the Braves well over his seven-year career, going 12-7 with a 3.58 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings.
Current Braves are hitting just .224 against Hamels. Dan Uggla is 8-for-55 (.145) with 18 strikeouts. The Upton brothers are a combined 5-for-17 (.294) with no extra-base hits.
Hamels has also struck out left-handed hitting first baseman Freddie Freeman nine times in 23 at-bats.
The most successful Brave against Hamels is one he won’t have to worry about -- McCann (.281/.359/.544, nine XBH).
Hudson vs. Phillies
This will be Hudson’s 28th start against the Phillies, his most vs. any team. He’s 10-9 lifetime against them with a 3.75 ERA.
Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA in 2012) has allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of his 27 starts against the Phils. He’s allowed at least five runs seven different times.
Because Hudson has spent the last eight seasons in Atlanta, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have more plate appearances against him than against any other pitcher. The only pitcher Jimmy Rollins saw more was Tom Glavine.
Hudson is Howard’s favorite opponent. The Big Piece is a .338 career hitter off Hudson with seven homers, 17 RBIs, more walks than strikeouts and a 1.144 OPS.
Utley and Rollins haven’t been as successful. They’re a combined 30-for-140 (.214) off Hudson, though Rollins does have four doubles, three triples and three homers.
Michael Young and Laynce Nix have each hit better than .300 off Hudson in close to 30 at-bats.
Battle of the bullpens
Even with Venters sidelined, the Phillies and Braves have two of the top late-inning relief crews in the game. Mike Adams (1.84 ERA since 2009) and Jonathan Papelbon (12.0 K/9 last two seasons) form what should be baseball’s best 8th-9th inning combo.
Atlanta has the best reliever in the game in Craig Kimbrel, who last season struck out more batters (116) than he didn’t strike out (115). The Braves also have Walden and lefty Eric O’Flaherty, off whom Rollins, Utley and Howard are 6-for-47 (.128) with no extra-base hits.
The Phillies and Braves are off tomorrow, but the action resumes on Wednesday with Roy Halladay facing lefty Paul Maholm and the series ends Thursday with Cliff Lee and Kris Medlen.
Will the Phillies finish ahead of the Braves in 2013?