All good for Braves except the result on opening day

Atlanta Braves' Max Fried pitches during the third inning of an opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Atlanta Braves' Max Fried pitches during the third inning of an opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: Matt Slocum

Credit: Matt Slocum

The Braves returned to Philadelphia on Thursday for opening day, two years after they first took on the best team that “stupid money” can buy. The visitors left town in April 2019 with three losses and anxiety about their shaky pitching. The Phillies ended the weekend feeling good about the start of their latest era of throwing cash at their pockets.

You know how that all turned out.

The Braves went on to repeat as National League East champs. The Phillies finished fourth. The Braves won the division again in 2020. The Phillies spent more money last year and finished third.

Those opening paragraphs serve as my annual reminder that too much shouldn’t be made about early-season results in baseball. As the Braves inevitably lose some games, it’s good to remember they are the Kings of the East until someone else takes the throne. I don’t think that will happen, but it will take weeks before we have enough to make judgments.

Having said that, a strong start always creates good vibes and eases worries. It creates breathing room and encourages a longer view. The Braves couldn’t start that process on the first day. They lost 3-2 to the Phillies in 10 innings. They’ll try again Saturday and Sunday.

The result really is the only thing for the Braves to feel bad about. Even that comes with an asterisk. Juan Segura won the game on a ground ball down the third-base line. The hit scored Bryce Harper, who began the 10th inning standing on second base. The Phillies won the game with two ground outs and a single.

MLB carried over its extra-inning rule from last season. There’s always the potential to lose after nine innings without giving up much.

“I know, but I still like it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the rule. “I think it does add a lot to the game. We had chances, and they just advantage of theirs more than we did.”

ExplorePhotos from the Braves' opener

The Braves had a chance to win late because their potential weak points this season were strengths on the first day.

There are questions about the bench because there’s not much offensive pop among the reserves. There’s uncertainty in the outfield because rookie Cristian Pache’s hitting lags well behind his defense. The bullpen isn’t as deep as last season.

None of that was a problem on the first day of the new season.

The Braves had some hard hits against right-hander Aaron Nola, but couldn’t break through for any runs. Then pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval hit a two-out, two-run homer to tie the score in the seventh. That came after Pache’s two-out double. The rookie also nearly cleared the loaded bases in the eighth inning. It appeared a strong wind pushed his line drive to the right-field corner just foul.

The Braves’ bullpen didn’t allow a run from the sixth through ninth innings. Left-hander Will Smith has a long track record as an effective reliever. His results weren’t good in his first season with the Braves, which started with a COVID-19 infection. Smith started this season by striking out the Phillies in order in the ninth and send the game to extra innings.

The Braves might have scored in the top of the 10th with better base running by Ozzie Albies. He started at second base and went to third on Freddie Freeman’s ground out. Marcell Ozuna hit a fly ball that center fielder Roman Quinn caught with momentum carrying him toward the infield.

Albies hesitated before trying to score. Catcher J.T. Realmuto tagged him out at the plate. The good news for the Braves is Albies didn’t get hurt while sliding headfirst into a guy who has 40 pounds on him.

The Braves got enough pitching to win. Left-hander Max Fried allowed 11 base runners over five innings but only two runs, one in the second and one in the third. Fried struck out eight batters. His ability to miss bats when things get tight is why I still liked his potential when his results wobbled in 2019.

Fried said it was difficult to work his curveball, his best pitch, in the conditions.

“Coming up from Florida is a big change, but everyone had to play in it.” Fried said.

Fried took over the as staff ace after Mike Soroka went down last year. Soroka isn’t expected to make his season debut until late this month. Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson are scheduled to start for the Braves this weekend. Lefty Drew Smyly is set to open the series in Washington on Monday. Bryse Wilson will get a chance to hold down the fifth spot.

The rotation should be good. We’ll find out about that and other developments later in the year. You can’t make too much about results early in the season. You can say that, on the first day, the Braves had a lot of things to feel good about despite the result.

“Max battled, the bullpen was good,” Snitker said. “We faced a really, really good pitcher, and he made one mistake. I don’t even know it was a mistake. It might have been a good pitch. You’ve got to tip your hat to Pablo there.

“(A loss) is just going to happen. Won’t be the last. It was a good ballgame.”

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