The best thing about baseball is that it is absolutely humongous. Everywhere we turn for the next 6½ months, baseball will be right in our faces, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, this past weekend in Philadelphia falls into the “worse” category, but the gratuitously never-ending nature of baseball always provides an opportunity to turn things around.
As the Braves make their way back home to SunTrust Park to kick off the facility’s third season, there is a definitive air of needing to right the ship, and rightfully so. During the sweep at the hands of the Phillies, the Braves’ pitching staff issued an eye-popping 20 walks - twenty! - over the weekend. After a series like that, the Braves could really use a starter who has his command issues under control - instead, the team will turn to noted walk artist Sean Newcomb.
Much like the rest of his young career, Newcomb’s Spring was peppered with issues finding the strike zone. However, his final Spring Training start against the Reds was a great one to build on - four innings with five strikeouts and, most importantly, zero walks. Hopefully this most recent start is a harbinger of good things to come for Duke Newcomb, and he will be able to neutralize a Cubs offense that posted 28 runs in its weekend series loss to the Rangers.
The Braves’ offense will face Kyle Hendricks, fresh off his $55.5M contract extension. This will be Hendricks’ first start of 2019; he finished 2018 with a 14-11 record, alongside a 3.44 ERA / 3.78 FIP, 7.28 K/9 rate, 1.99 BB/9 rate, and 3.5 fWAR. The Braves will have their work cut out for them if they are interested in crooked numbers.
Despite the Braves’ unsightly issues with free passes over the weekend, and the series sweep that resulted from it, there were still several positive takeaways from the season’s opening frame. If you will excuse the use of Small Sample Size Theater, Freddie Freeman’s on-base percentage of .692 leads all of baseball (his .600 batting average also leads baseball, but I figured I’d get mocked for using it first). After his off-season wrist surgery, Dansby Swanson’s OPS is 1.205. Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies have already walked twice this year (this is quite notable, actually), and Ozzie got hits from the left side in each game of the Philly series. The bullpen issues, well...those still exist, but reinforcements are coming soon.
There are plenty of reasons to have a bad taste in your mouth after this past series. The good news is, the next 159 games (or more!) can (possibly) wash that away. Win or lose, Braves baseball is back!