Entering 2019, it’s easy to argue that the National League East is the toughest division in baseball. After all, four of the five clubs have a realistic shot at first-place.
The defending East champion Braves will get an immediate look at one of its toughest contenders out of the shoe when opening up the campaign Thursday in Philadelphia. Along with that comes the much-anticipated Phillies debut of the offseason’s biggest prize, Bryce Harper.
When you think of Citizens Bank Park, offense comes to mind and it’s only going to be more so with the inclusion of Harper. As it was, the Phillies finished fourth in the league in 2018 in home runs at home (104).
The Phils were led by Rhys Hoskins, who was one of only 13 players to reach the 20-homer plateau in front of the hometown fans. Now they’re getting a star slugger who has averaged more than 30 dingers in the last four seasons.
Shooting for overs won’t be that simple, however. Harper and Co. will be tasked with facing a tough Atlanta pitching staff — one that just produced the fifth best starters’ ERA (3.50) in the majors. It was arguably the driving force that led them to their first division crown since 2013. Let’s see how the pitching matchups line up for the Braves-Phillies series:
Julio Teheran vs. Aaron Nola (Thursday): Teheran gets the Opening Day assignment for a sixth straight season, which ties a franchise record. At first glance, he’s coming off a solid year but the right-hander was also one of the luckiest starting pitchers in the game, as his .217 batting average on balls put in play was easily the lowest among all qualifiers. His average velocity dipped notably as well.
Nola figures to be of help for any under wagers. He’s 7-3 lifetime opposite Atlanta, representing his highest win total against any team. Additionally, his career 2.09 ERA versus the Braves is his best of any opponent whom he’s faced more than twice. UNDER
Bryse Wilson vs. Nick Pivetta (Saturday): Atlanta’s pitching rotation is getting young this year, with Wilson, a 2016 fourth-round pick, being one of its newest residents. He has the potential to succeed right away and is coming off an impressive year that saw him register 10.24 K/9 in the minors.
The under will be the bet to watch here considering Pivetta will be the other starter in this contest. The third-year right-hander has been much better during the day (9-9, 3.83 ERA, .229 BAA) than at night (6-15, 6.19 ERA, .275 BAA) since first coming up. UNDER
Kyle Wright vs. Jake Arrieta (Sunday): Handicapping an over/under that involves a pitcher making his first career major league start can always be a daunting task. That will be the case in the finale when Wright toes the rubber for Atlanta. Based on his knack for keeping the ball in the park, he may be able to survive his first test, as he surrendered only eight home runs in 138 minor league innings a year ago.
In contrast, veteran Arrieta will be getting his 10th season underway — and his second with the Phillies. Though Citizens Bank Park is more of a hitter’s venue, the former NL Cy Young award winner was actually better overall in his home starts compared to on the road last season, so the under might be the play here. UNDER
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