Opening Day started off well for the Braves, who hope to avoid another 90-loss season in 2017. Atlanta ace Julio Teheran matched the Mets’ Noah Syndegaard pitch for pitch through the sixth inning, with both throwing shutout ball that confounded hitters on both sides. One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Braves came to bear once the bullpens took over and demonstrated why the optimism around the club may need to be tempered a bit.
Perhaps rookie manager Brian Snitker showed his inexperience in the 7th as he lifted the brilliant Julio Teheran only to see bullpen arms Ian Krol, Chaz Roe, and Eric O’Flaherty combine to allow 5 walks, 3 hits, and 6 runs in the 7th inning. As bullpen usage has been talked about ad nauseum around the league during the offseason, Snitker tasked the less effective arms in the Atlanta bullpen with working out of the numerous jams in the 7th while the sterling arms of Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson sat unused.
Many attached to the Braves came into 2017 with high hopes for the team, which looked to be among the best in MLB in the waning months of the 2016 season. Monday’s performance shows that the glaring weaknesses that we saw last season could continue to limit the Braves’ success in the new year. Alongside the bullpen collapse, Opening Day saw a horrendous defensive error from catcher Tyler Flowers and ineffective hitting performances from everyone in the meat of the lineup not named Freddie Freeman.
Flowers wasted a chance to get the Braves out of the 7th inning before the real carnage began as he fielded a throw from Gold Glove outfielder Ender Inciarte to nab Wilmer Flores at the plate. Initially ruled an out, the call was overturned as replays showed Flowers bizarrely set up several feet behind the plate, leaving him unable to react in time to tag out the speedy Flores. Inciarte was visibly upset in the outfield, and questions now continue to loom about Flowers’ ineffectiveness on defense.
As Freddie Freeman continued to impress, carrying his Spring Training hot streak into the regular season and producing a 3-4 Opening Day performance, the rest of the lineup around him failed to produce. Notably ineffective was slugger Matt Kemp, whose 1-4 day was highlighted by two failures to give Atlanta the lead when he came to the plate with a runner on 3rd and one out. His double in the 9th was followed by some horrendous baserunning mistakes by Kemp and Freeman and resulted in the final out of the game. The Braves’ 1 through 5 hitters combined for 8 strikeouts and just 6 hits on Opening Day, figures that must improve if Atlanta hopes to have success this season. Overall, the team went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left 6 men on base in the shutout.