Opening Day 2013: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves Preview

Howard, Utley, Rollins 3.31.13

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If the 2013 MLB season is going to result in a World Series championship for the Philadelphia Phillies, these three players will be essential.

With Opening Day for the Phillies fast approaching, the expectations are high for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.  And, much to their delight, some of those expectations have already been met.

From all appearances they begin the season in great shape and in ideal health.  Their bats have been smokin’ hot.  It’s something they, as a group, haven’t experienced over the past several seasons.  That alone is reason for optimism in the Phillies camp.

The Phillies come to the Opening Day game with the Atlanta Braves with no intention to concede the NL East to either the Braves or the Washington Nationals.  The Phillies are a team that believe they can win it all.

Change has come to Philadelphia.  The Opening Day 25-man roster looks different.  Shortly after the season begins, new center fielder Ben Revere will turn 25.  He represents the youthful trend that’s just beginning for the Phillies.

Much is expected of this speedster who will alternate with Rollins in the lead-off spot.  If he can improve his on base percentage from last season’s .333  average, the dugout smiles will spread.

Another promising 25-year old, Domonic Brown, begins the season with a new lease on his playing career.  This could be the year that Brown’s long-awaited blossoming becomes reality.  Not only has his hitting taken off, but he’s playing the outfield like he belongs there.

And, it just may be that the addition of Revere and Brown will infuse John Mayberry Jr. with the energy needed to propel his career to the next level.  If that happens, the Phillies would have one of the best young outfields in baseball.

While most of the Phillies starting pitching rotation remains intact from last year, there’s a new sheriff in town.  Cole Hamels has been designated ace of the staff and takes the ball from incumbent Opening Day starter, Roy Halladay.

If Cliff Lee‘s excellence in spring training is any sign of things to come, the Phillies should be contenders this season.  To top it off, assuming Halladay regains his old form, plans could include a late October parade down Broad Street.

The infield corps has also been solidified with ex-Texas Ranger, Michael Young.  Despite having a down year in 2012, Young has found new life with the Phillies and brings a highly desired steadying influence to the clubhouse.

Last but not least, the Phillies now have less reason to fear the eighth inning.  Mike Adams should help Rich Dubee breathe easier as the key setup man out of the bullpen.  Adams has what it takes to give Jonathan Papelbon the opportunity to perform his closing act.

Even with these upgrades, the Phillies will have their challenges.  One of them being the Braves, who have significantly improved over last year’s already competitive team.

Jones, C. 3.31.13

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Although Chipper Jones has retired, the Braves have the promise of winning days ahead.  In terms of outfields, they arguably have the best in baseball.

Newly acquired brothers, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, along with Jason Heyward could all be explosive at the plate.   Industrial size vacuum cleaners could not do a better job gobbling up balls in the outfield.  And at ages 23, 25 and 28 they’ll have years to make their mark.

The 2013 season,  however, largely hinges on how superlative the Braves pitching staff performs.  Seasoned veteran Tim Hudson will lead their staff.

The good news for Braves fans is that Hudson continues to pitch better than he did before his Tommy John surgery four years ago.

Following Hudson in the rotation will be Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran.  The depth of the Braves pitching staff has almost no equal in major league baseball especially when you consider reliever Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel plays on another planet.  His 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings pace raises the question why he doesn’t actually pitch the entire game instead of one or two innings in relief?

The schedule makers have given Phillies and Braves fans an Opening Day show that may set the tone for the rest of the 2013 season.  It should be a great game to launch the Phillies pennant hopes.  Let’s “Play Ball”!

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