The Philadelphia Phillies opened their 2021 season at Citizens Bank Park with a three-game set against their National League East rivals, the Atlanta Braves. Strong starts from Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin put the Phillies in position to complete a three-game sweep of the the three-time defending division champions. Philadelphia’s pitching staff limited Atlanta’s offense to just three runs.

The sweep makes the Phillies just one of three teams to start 3-0 this season, along with the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles. The Washington Nationals and New York Mets are also technically “undefeated,” and haven’t played a game yet due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Nationals organization. The Phillies and Mets will meet on Monday night, and one team will be due for their first loss of the season.

The Phillies tend to open the season around my birthday: April 1. But for just the second time in franchise history, Philadelphia played their opening game on April 1. What could be a sweeter birthday gift than an Opening Day victory and the return of baseball?

Game 1: Jean Segura Walks Off in the 10th, Runs from Teammates Before Being Mobbed

For the fourth year in a row, the Phillies put the ball in Aaron Nola’s hands to start the season. The 27-year old, right-handed pitcher turned in a quality start, allowing six hits and two earned runs over 6.2 innings while striking out six batters and walking none. After throwing 84 pitches on Opening Day, Nola’s Earned Run Average (ERA) opens at a rock solid 2.70.

The Phillies built an early 2-0 lead, by virtue of an Alec Bohm sacrifice fly that scored Andrew McCutchen in the first inning, followed by a J.T. Realmuto infield single that scored Rhys Hoskins in the third. But the Braves were able to get to Nola in the seventh inning, with a 407-foot two-run homer by Pablo Sandoval tying the game at 2-2.

After Nola exited the game with one out left in the the top of the seventh inning, Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris, and Connor Brogdon combined to pitch the next 3.1 innings: allowing just one hit, two walks, and no runs.

Brogdon needed just seven pitches to record three outs in the top of the tenth inning, In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies needed just two batters to end the game. After Didi Gregorius was walked, Juan Segura smacked a single to left field, scoring Bryce Harper (the extra innings automatic baserunner) and ending the game in walk-off fashion. Segura celebrated and ran away from his teammates before allowing them to mob him outside the infield. The 25% capacity crowd at Citizens Bank Park rained cheers on the second baseman, and celebrated the team’s first win of the season.

Segura was one of two Phillies’ batters with a multi-hit day, going 2-for-5 while catcher J.T. Realmuto went 2-for-4.

Game 2: Wheeler One-Up’s Nola, Phillies One-Hit Braves in Shutout Win

After having a day off on Friday, the Philles and Braves reconvened on Saturday at 4:05 PM local time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My girlfriend and I also convened, to watch a game together for the first time.

Zack Wheeler, the Phillies second pitcher in their rotation, opposed veteran Charlie Morton on the mound for this afternoon matchup. Wheeler started 11 games last season, in his first year with the Phillies after five seasons with the New York Mets (not counting two years lost to injury.) The right-handed pitcher held a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.92 ERA. Wheeler finished 12th in National League Cy Young voting during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

After a strong first year in Philadelphia, Wheeler wasted no time showing off his stuff in 2021. Wheeler allowed a single to Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud (who was drafted by the Phillies in 2007 but never appeared for the franchise in the majors) in the second inning, and then didn’t allow another base runner for the entirety of his seven-inning outing. Wheeler retired 17 straight batters after d’Arnaud, stifling the Braves offense.

As if Wheeler’s performance wasn’t good enough on the mound, he helped his own cause at the plate: scoring or driving in three of the Phillies four runs of the afternoon. Wheeler opened up the scoring in the fifth inning, driving Juan Segura home with a nice swing resulting in a single. Wheeler, along with center fielder Roman Quinn, crossed home plate two batters later, as Rhys Hoskins hit a double to left field.

Wheeler’s spot in the lineup was called upon again in the sixth inning, with the pitcher doubling and driving in Alec Bohm for back-to-back RBI hits.

Wheeler finished his first start of the season with seven innings pitched, one hit allowed, no runs or walks allowed, and ten strikeouts. At the plate, the starting pitcher went 2-for-3 with two runs batted in and one run scored.

J.T. Realmuto also had a multi-hit day, going 2-for-4. Leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen continued to struggle at the plate, going 0-for-2 and lowering his batting average to .167 in the season’s early going. Third baseman Alec Bohm also ended the game hitless to start the season, going 0-for-6 over his first two games.

Archie Bradley and Hector Neris each pitched an inning of relief, and neither pitched allowed a baserunner. Indeed, the Phillies were one batter shy of a Perfect Game: with 28 batters stepping to the plate and 27 being retired.

Per baseball guru Sean Kingsepp, 1175 teams have been one-hit since 1920. With 808 of those instances coming from one pitcher, that leaves Saturday’s effort by the Phillies pitching staff as the 367th instance that a team combined for a one-hitter, again dating back to 1920.

Game 3: Neris, Phillies Hold on in the Ninth to Improve to 3-0

On Sunday afternoon, with a 1:05 PM ET scheduled first pitch, the Phillies set out to sweep the Braves over three games. After stellar starts by Nola and Wheeler in the season’s first two games, Philadelphia rolled out sixth-year big league starter Zach Eflin. Last year, Eflin started games, with a 4-2 record and career-best 3.97 ERA. Eflin’s strikeouts per nine innings also took a dramatic jump to a career-high of 10.7 in 2020, another great sign the right-handed pitcher was improving on the mound.

Eflin picked up right where he left off on Sunday, as well as keeping up the momentum the pitching staff before him had established in 2021 already. Eflin threw 80 pitches over seven innings, allowing just four hits and one earned run, walking one batter and striking out eight. Eflin did allow a solo home run to Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud in his seventh and final inning on the mound.

Earlier in the game, the Phillies also enjoyed a home run from their own catcher: with a 411-foot Andrew Knapp solo blast in the second inning off Braves starter Ian Anderson. Anderson was able to keep the Phillies offense largely at bay, save for that home run, over five innings of work. Anderson allowed four hits and one earned run, walking two batters and striking out seven.

With the Braves next two pitchers, Tyler Maztek and A.J. Minter, each recording three outs via strikeout, Philadelphia’s batters struck out for 13 of their 24 outs.

Eflin left the game after seven innings and the score tied 1-1, earning a no-decision while setting his season-opening ERA at 1.29. Jose Alvarado struck out two batters in the top of the eighth inning, throwing just ten pitches including eight strikes.

In the bottom of the eighth, third baseman Alec Bohm (who had entered the game hitless) singled for the second time of the day, driving in Rhys Hoskins to give the Phillies a 2-1 advantage.

Closer Hector Neris appeared on the mound for the third time this season, but in a save situation for the first time. Neris showed a little issue with control, throwing just ten strikes out of 23 pitches thrown (a 43% strike-rate,) and walking two batters. Neris didn’t allow any hits though, and got Travis d’Arnaud to fly out to right to end the game and earn his first save of the season.

With the victory, the Phillies improved to 3-0, alongside the Baltimore Orioles and Houston Astros, to lay claim to the best record in Major League Baseball.

Stars of the Series

  • The most impressive part of the Phillies three-game sweep over the Braves was the effort of their pitching staff.
    • Aaron Nola: 6.2 innings, 6 hits allowed, 2 earned runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts (ND)
    • Zack Wheeler: 7.0 innings, 1 hit allowed, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 10 strikeouts (W)
    • Zach Eflin: 7.0 innings pitched, 4 hits allowed, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts (ND)
    • Bullpen: 4.1 innings pitched, 0 earned runs
  • Zack Wheeler also deserves an extra shout out, for helping his own cause at the plate on Saturday. The pitcher hit 2-for-3, with two runs batted in and a run scored at the plate. In other words, Wheeler basically beat the Braves by himself.
  • Though he only played in one game, backup catcher Andrew Knapp went 2-for-3 on Sunday and hit the Phillies first home run of the season.
  • The Phillies hottest hitters of the series included J.T. Realmuto (.444,) Adam Haseley (.400,) and Bryce Harper (.300.)
  • Though Jean Segura may not have had the highest batting average on the team (.250,) he was one of Philadelphia’s timeliest hitters, including his walkoff single in the season opener.

Looking Forward

The Phillies put their undefeated record to the test in a three-game series against the New York Mets. When the Phillies host the Mets in Citizens Bank Park on Monday night, it will be New York’s first game of the 2021 regular season, as their first series with the Washington Nationals was postponed due to COVID-19 within Washington’s organization.

As Monday is the Mets’ Opening Day, they throw out ace and two-time National League Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom in their season opener. The Phillies will employ the fourth pitcher in their rotation, veteran Matt Moore, for that matchup.

The Phillies and Mets play at 7:05 PM ET on Monday and Tuesday before a 4:05 PM season finale on Wednesday. Philadelphia is off Thursday, and then rinses and repeats: meeting the Braves and Mets again for their next two series. The first game the Phillies will play against a third team won’t come until April 16, when Philadelphia hosts the St. Louis Cardinals for a weekend series.

NL East Standings

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (3-0)
  2. Miami Marlins (1-2) 2 GB
  3. Atlanta Braves (0-3) 3 GB
  4. Washington Nationals (0-0)
  5. New York Mets (0-0)

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Header Photo Credit: ABC6 Philadelphia/ESPN

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