With added expectations, Phillies open vs. Braves

Field Level Media

March 26, 2019 at 9:30 pm.

The new-look Philadelphia Phillies will host the Atlanta Braves in the regular-season opener for both teams on Thursday afternoon.

The revamped Phillies appear to be one of the most improved teams in the offseason, highlighted by the 13-year, $330 million free agent contract awarded to right fielder Bryce Harper.

Philadelphia also made other key additions, including relief pitcher David Robertson, shortstop Jean Segura, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

The Phillies remained in playoff contention for much of last season until a month-long slump in September sent them careening to an 80-82 record in the first season under manager Gabe Kapler.

All-Star pitcher Aaron Nola is scheduled to start for the Phillies for the second consecutive season. Nola was terrific last season, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA.

“We’ve got a team to make the playoffs,” Nola told reporters. “But we’ve still got to go out there and win and compete. But expectations are better than no expectations. That’s going to raise my game up, I believe.

“You look around the clubhouse and field, the type of guys we’ve got — All-Stars, MVPs, Cy Youngs — we’ve got them on our team. But we’ve still got to go out there, play and compete. There are no guarantees.”

The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. Harper has never won a playoff series.

This is just the opener, but the Phillies can certainly set the tone.

“Of course, we’ll be ready for Opening Day,” Harper told reporters. “I feel good right now. The swing feels good. The timing is coming along.”

First baseman Rhys Hoskins is expected to start despite some nagging shoulder soreness.

The Braves, meanwhile, will be looking to repeat as National League East champions.

Like the Phillies, the Braves upgraded their roster in the offseason, as they try to retain the division title. Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann were added to an already loaded roster that features veteran leadership and young stars.

One staple that remains is ultra-talented first baseman Freddie Freeman, who finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting in the NL last season.

“This is my 13th year in the organization and I love it here,” said the 29-year-old Freeman, who hit .309 with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs last season. “I’m comfortable here. I’ve made the money. I now just want to end my career here. If you play well, the years are going to be there, plus the money is going to be there.”

Julio Teheran is scheduled to make his sixth straight start on Opening Day. Teheran was 9-9 with a 3.94 ERA in 31 starts last season.

Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz will start the season on the injured list, pushing Teheran to Opening Day.

“It’s great to have the depth, because they’re all going to factor in and have a big part in what we’re doing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters of his club’s pitching staff. “Some might not go north with us (from spring training), but it won’t be long before they’re plugged in somewhere.”

Teheran is a two-time All-Star, but he was inconsistent with his velocity and location at times last season.