One of the great things about baseball is the steady way in which it marks the passage of time. There are games (almost) every day; if your team isn’t playing, it’s a little jarring, but some team, somewhere, still is. With the season indefinitely delayed and some pretty substantial upheavals in our day-to-day lives, it may hearten you to know that if you’re losing track of what day it is, you’re not alone — I definitely am.
This series is my attempt to regain some semblance of a normal progression of days. There’s no baseball, but the calendar still rolls on, and for every game that the 2020 Braves should have been playing, I’m going to look back through my baseball-watching history and pick a game from that same date. This isn’t Demetrius’ random number generator-effected process (which is something I wholly support, and not just for choosing baseball games to review, it’s what I use to determine what to eat at restaurants... or did, before all of this), these games are chosen deliberately for one reason or another.
Anyway, enough introduction. Onward, to baseball.
March 28, 2019 (Opening Day): Braves (4) at Phillies (10)
In 2018, Opening Day league-wide was March 29, the earliest such date in history. Baseball quickly outdid itself the following season, nudging its opening festivities one day earlier. (There was also a March 20-21 series between the Athletics and Mariners in Japan in 2019.) In other words, last year’s Opening Day was the earliest regular-season game for the Braves in team history. Unfortunately, it was a game to quickly forget, as the Braves were dismantled by the Phillies by a 10-4 margin.
How it happened: Things went downhill quickly for the Braves in this one. Aaron Nola worked a 1-2-3 top of the first on just 10 pitches, and the first “strike” thrown by Julio Teheran (who ended up the Opening Day starter for the Braves once again due to a series of unfortunate injuries to other pitchers during Spring Training) was an Andrew McCutchen leadoff homer. The Braves came right back as Ronald Acuña Jr. walked, stole second, and then scored on a Nick Markakis single, but the offense then sputtered against Nola for the rest of the game.
Teheran actually breezed through the next nine batters in order, but in the fourth, he unraveled. Jean Segura reached third base with none out thanks to a Dansby Swanson fielding error and a wild pitch, but Teheran looked like he was going to pull some vintage Ju-dini magic by striking out eternal nemesis Bryce Harper, and then doing the same to Rhys Hoskins. But then he walked Philadelphia offseason acquisition J.T. Realmuto, and back-to-back singles by Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez tilted the score against the Braves. Teheran would last one more inning, ending his first game of 2019 with another strikeout of Harper, who went 0-for-3 with two punchouts against Teheran in the first game in his new digs.
The Braves summoned Shane Carle to work the sixth, and things got super-gross in a hurry. Carle issued two walks and then gave up a homer to Maikel Franco, turning a two-run deficit into a five-run cliff. The Braves got two of those runs back thanks to a Matt Joyce pinch-hit homer off of Hector Neris, but then Luke Jackson had one of his worst outings of 2019: walk, throwing error on a comebacker, intentional walk, grand slam by Rhys Hoskins. The Braves got one run back against Daniel Robertson (one of only seven outings he’d make on the year after the Phillies paid him hefty bucks in the offseason), but that was it.
Game MVP: This was not actually a great Aaron Nola start, but it was more than enough to secure the victory for his team as the Atlanta bullpen imploded. Nola walked five and struck out eight while allowing two hits and a run. He’d beat the Braves in more dominant fashion later in the year, but no one else really stood out in what was a pretty anticlimactic Opening Day game.
Game LVP: Shane Carle would only make six appearances for the Braves in 2019, and each one was somewhere between not-good and dreadful, but his first was the worst. He started his 2019 with a leadoff walk and gave up a three-run shot to a guy who finished the year with a 70 wRC+.
Also, watch where Brian McCann was expecting this pitch (he even hops outside) compared to where it ends up before Franco puts it in the seats.
Biggest play: Yeah, it was that Franco homer. The Hoskins grand slam was just unnecessary icing on the cake.
The game, in context of the season: The Braves were swept in their opening series, en route to a pretty run-of-the-mill 14-15 start to the year. They picked it up in May and didn’t really look back, climbing atop the division in June and amassing a sizable lead by the start of July. The Phillies, meanwhile, faltered where the Braves prevailed. They had a strong first two months, ending May with a three-game lead in the division. By June 10, the lead was gone; by June 23, they were 6.5 games out of first place. It was a sour Opening Day for the 2018 division champs, but it all worked out in the end.
I want a recap: Okay, here:
No, I said I want a recap, it’s not like I have actual baseball to watch: Your wish is my command.
Anything else of note? This was one of Luke Jackson’s two worst outings of the year as measured by FIP or xFIP. While Jackson would emerge as essentially the only reliable member of the bullpen despite very low expectations (I wasn’t sure why he made the Opening Day roster over Dan Winkler, for example), he had about as inauspicious of a start to his breakout season as possible.
Teheran actually had one of his best starts, by xFIP, of the entire season. Two of three runs he allowed came on mediocre singles, and he only posted a better K%-BB% in two other starts. Weirdly enough, Teheran had more starts with three or more walks in 2019 than he did two or fewer, but the game in which he allowed a homer before getting a called or swinging strike wasn’t one of them, and was one of only seven starts in which he collected seven or more strikeouts.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about March 28: Okay, I’m going to take “cool” literally. March 28, 1979 was the date of the cooling system malfunction at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, which is still, to date, the most significant commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history. Well, it got depressing again. See you tomorrow!