It’s rare for teams to be involved in three openers, but then again, COVID-19 has brought us a long list of things we had never seen before. And so the Phillies and Atlanta Braves will play their third opener in eight days Friday night at Truist Park, the former site of the 2021 All-Star Game.
It is the home opener for the Braves, who eight days ago opened the season against the Phillies with a 10-inning loss at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets played their delayed season opener against the Phillies on Monday in South Philadelphia after New York’s original season-opening series against Washington was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak among Nationals players.
After being swept in their first three games against the Phillies, the Braves moved on to Washington and played against the Nationals in their delayed season opener Tuesday. Washington, with a long list of replacements, beat the Braves in walk-off fashion just as the Phillies had done on opening day, but Atlanta rebounded with a doubleheader sweep Wednesday.
Friday night’s game against the Braves begins a seven-game road trip for the Phillies with Georgia native Zack Wheeler going to the mound seven days after holding Atlanta to one hit and striking out 10 in seven innings.
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Phillies must prove they can win away from home
The Phillies welcomed back their fans, albeit in a limited capacity, with a terrific 5-1 homestand against the two teams that the experts and oddsmakers believe will fight it out for the NL East title this season. Now they must go on the road and prove they can hold their own against the same two teams.
Their seven-game road trip starts Friday night against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park and will continue Monday when they open a four-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field.
As well as the Phillies played in their first six games, we really should not be surprised. They have been a good home team for quite a while. In each of their last three seasons, they have posted a winning record at Citizens Bank Park, including a 19-13 mark a year ago. Three years ago in Gabe Kapler’s first season as manager, the Phillies were 49-32 at CBP, the third-best home record in the National League and tied for the sixth best in baseball.
Consider this, too: As bad as the Phillies were during the majority of their nine-year playoff drought, they have still won more often than they lost at home, compiling a 351-335 record. Away from home, however, they are 270-406.
It was not until 2018, however, that the Phillies really stood any chance again of getting back to the postseason. In each of the last three seasons, they have gone into September in playoff contention only to fade out of the competition. A big reason they have even had a chance is the way they played at home.
Since 2018, they are 118-82 at home, which includes this year’s first homestand. Atlanta, which has won the NL East every season since 2018, is 112-80 at home during that three-year stretch. The Braves, however, have also figured out a way to win on the road. They are 112-83 away from home since 2018. The Phillies are 76-114.
So what needs to change for the Phillies to become a successful road act?
“It’s just about playing your brand of baseball,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s about playing good defense, having good at-bats and pitching well. It’s really not a different game. Sometimes the comfort of your own home is nice and that’s why you play well, but I think we have a group that has traveled enough and understands how to make a hotel room comfortable, so now we just go play our game.”
The vast majority of players have better home splits than road ones, but the key is to make sure the difference is not too drastic.
Bryce Harper, for example, is a career .280 hitter at home with a .396 on-base percentage and .918 OPS. On the road, he is a .271 hitter with a .379 on-base percentage and an .880 OPS. Rhys Hoskins, on the other hand, is a .263 hitter with a .382 on-base percentage and a .925 OPS at home, but that slash line falls to .221/.351/.803 on the road. A season ago, Hoskins really struggled on the road, hitting .197/.305/.770 compared to .288/.447/.984 at home.
Phillies ace Aaron Nola has also been much better at Citizens Bank Park than on the road during his career. He is 33-17 with a 2.98 ERA at home and 25-23 with a 4.02 ERA on the road. Over the last two seasons, he has gone 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA at home and 8-9 with a 4.94 ERA on the road.
The Phillies’ great start at home was nice, but it was also pretty normal. Now we find out if they can hold their own when they go on the road.
Veterans Stadium opened 50 years ago, and Matt Breen explains how it made South Philadelphia our city’s mecca for professional sports, but it wasn’t easy getting the ballpark built at that location.
The Phillies are in the midst of 13 straight games against the Braves and Mets to open the season, and that is not Zack Wheeler’s idea of good scheduling.
Photographer Charles Fox used his camera to tell the story of the Phillies’ 8-2 win over the Mets on Wednesday. His photos included home runs by Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm and J.T. Realmuto.
Tonight: Georgia native Zack Wheeler in a rematch with Atlanta’s Charlie Morton, 7:20 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin faces Atlanta’s Ian Anderson, 7:20 p.m.
Sunday: Matt Moore against Drew Smyly on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, 7:08 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open a four-game series vs. the Mets at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m.
April 16: Phillies open a three-game series at CBP against St. Louis, 7:05 p.m.
» READ MORE: Five takeaways from Phillies’ first homestand
Stat of the day
After ending his 15-season Hall of Fame career following one season with the expansion 1962 New York Mets, Richie Ashburn returned to Philadelphia as a broadcaster, working his first game in the booth with the legendary Bill Campbell and By Saam on this date in 1963.
Whitey remained part of the broadcast team for 35 years — mostly with Harry Kalas — until his death at age 70 in a New York City hotel room on Sept. 9, 1997. He had broadcast the Phillies’ 13-4 win over the Mets the night before at Shea Stadium and gushed about a pinch-hitting appearance by fellow Nebraskan Kevin Jordan, who fouled off a bunch of pitches before driving in two runs with a double.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: The question should be asked why is Velasquez on the roster? — Ed P., via email
Answer: Tough crowd, tough crowd. The Phillies go 5-1 on their first homestand and you manage to pick the most negative aspect of the experience. Hey, we aim to please and we are thankful for your readership, so we have an answer.
The Phillies were concerned about their pitching depth during the offseason, and one of their first moves was to re-sign Vince Velasquez for one season at $4 million. It was an unpopular move because the 28-year-old righthander has mostly struggled since the Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles deal in 2015.
Velasquez did not win over anybody when he opened the season with a pitching line that had never been recorded before Tuesday night: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. It should be impossible to face eight batters without allowing a ball to be put in play, but Velasquez did it. Afterward, he owned up to his awful performance and Girardi said the Phillies are going to need him.
Since he’s making $4 million, the Phillies need to keep working with him because his role as the long reliever and sixth starter is going to be very important and other than the unproven Spencer Howard, they do not have a lot of depth in the rotation beyond the starting five.