ATLANTA — Here are three observations from the Braves’ Opening Day 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies:
1. The Braves’ lineup was as good as advertised … at least in its first appearance
It’s no laughing matter when a team hangs seven runs in a game against the opponent’s second-best arm. That was the case with Atlanta’s lineup, now featuring the likes of Justin and B.J. Upton in the middle of the order to go along with Chris Johnson and (for now) Gerald Laird on the back end.
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For the most part, everyone performed, too. The team tallied ten hits and three home runs in the victory.
The younger Upton (Justin), Freddie Freeman, and Dan Uggla each put one over the fence in front of a capacity Turner Field crowd, while Johnson and Laird combined for four hits in the 7- and 8-holes. That’s the type of productivity up and down the lineup that, while not sustainable night in and night out, could be a key moving forward.
As has been forewarned throughout the offseason, strikeouts were indeed a factor. The Braves struck out eight times Monday night, right at last season’s average.
However, as Uggla mentioned after the game, that’s the price this lineup will have to pay at times. Judging by the reactions of the home manager, team and fans in the opener, it won’t be an issue … as long as the runs and wins keep coming.
2. Craig Kimbrel is still Craig Kimbrel
The 24-year-old closer still has his entrance, staredown and fastball working for him — and Philadelphia (0-1) was promptly reminded of how dominant he can be as he earned his first save of the young season.
Yes, he struggled during the spring and World Baseball Classic. In eight innings of Grapefruit League work, he allowed five earned runs and walked seven batters. And guess what? That’s OK. If every pitcher and hitter were judged on the gaudiness of his spring statistics, the Hall of Fame sure would look a lot different.
Kimbrel looked like his old ninth-inning self on Opening Day, staring down the barrel at Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard before setting them down in order. He struck out just one (gasp), putting him behind last season’s ridiculous pace of fanning more than half the batters he faced, but that can be corrected in due time.
The good news for the Braves (1-0) is that Kimbrel, as of Monday night at 9 p.m., is still the best reliever in baseball.
3. Turner Field still isn’t Cole Hamels’ safe place
The Phillies ace has fared well against his team’s primary division rivals over his seven-year career, but the majority of his best work has come in the friendly confines of Citizen’s Bank Park. He’s 7-2 career at home against Atlanta.
But Turner Field has proven to be a different story, and with a lineup that jumped all over him from the first inning, fortunes were not about to change Monday night. Freeman’s two-run homer teed off a forgettable outing for the 29-year-old left-hander, who gave up five earned runs on seven hits in five innings of work. The Braves belted three home runs during that stretch. It certainly wasn’t the type of start Hamels was looking to start with coming off a No. 1-worthy 17-6, 3.56 ERA season.
With the loss, Hamels falls to 5-5 all-time in Atlanta — his 4.48 ERA in Turner Field is more than a run above his career average.
One game is a small sample size, but it looks as though much has changed this offseason in the Peach State, except for Cole Hamels’ uncanny struggles against the Braves’ home-field advantage.