It’s one of the best days in the MLB season, Opening Day! And on Thursday afternoon, the Philadelphia Phillies will face off against the Atlanta Braves to kick off the first some-what normal season since 2019.

Here’s what to look out for:

Nola VS Freed

Phillies’ right-hander Aaron Nola will be making his fourth consecutive Opening Day start Thursday. Nola remains one of the more underrated pitchers around Major League Baseball as he posted a 3.28 ERA over 71 1/3 innings in 2020 while averaging more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings. He has made 20 starts against the Braves in his career posting a 3.05 ERA in 124 innings. Last year, Nola lost the opener to Miami.

Max Fried will make his first career Opening Day start. Fried is looking to build off of a strong 2020 season where he stepped up as the rest of the Braves’ rotation was lost to either injury or underperformance. Fried posted a 2.25 ERA in 56 innings spanning 11 starts. He has faced the Phillies 11 times in his career (five starts) and has a 4.15 ERA in 34 2/3 innings.

Fans return

Last season was quite a strange one, to say the least, as their were no fans at games all of last season for the Phils. But now, there should be 8,800 fans in attendance this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park for Opening Day.

“I’ve been through a number of opening days. They’re always exciting, there’s always butterflies. I don’t know, I feel like this one is different,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said 30 hours before first pitch.

“Your first one is different as a player, your first one as a manager, but I feel like this one is different because we didn’t have fans last year. It just has a completely different feeling. 

“I’m really looking forward to as the season progresses, we’re allowed more and more fans and it really gets back to normal. When you see people come through the turnstiles and in the seats tomorrow, it’s just going to feel like we’re getting our lives back somewhat. To see fans in spring training was really, really nice. Not have to pumped-in crowd noise. It was just, it felt like we were alive again. It felt like it was baseball.”

The last time the Phillies opened the season at home in front of fans was March 28, 2019, also against the Braves. It was a 10-4 Phillies win that began with a leadoff home run from Andrew McCutchen and included a Rhys Hoskins grand slam. It was the loudest Citizens Bank Park had been in a while.

There is hope that as the season progresses, the maximum occupancy for outdoor events in Philadelphia will increase, provided vaccinations continue and COVID cases continue to decline.

Lineups

Phillies:

  1. Andrew McCutchen LF
  2. Rhys Hoskins 1B
  3. Bryce Harper RF
  4. J.T. Realmuto C
  5. Alec Bohm 3B
  6. Didi Gregorius SS
  7. Jean Segura 2B
  8. Adam Haseley CF
  9. Aaron Nola P

Braves:

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr. RF
  2. Ozzie Albies 2B
  3. Freddie Freeman 1B
  4. Marcell Ozuna LF
  5. Travis d’Arnaud C
  6. Dansby Swanson SS
  7. Austin Riley 3B
  8. Cristian Pache CF
  9. Max Fried LHP

Essentials:

  • When: 3:05 P.M. E.S.T.
  • Where: Citizens Bank Park 
  • Broadcast: NBC 10
  • Radio: 94.1 WIP
  • Social media coverage: Philly Sports Reports’ Twitter & Instagram.