Aaron Nola to start Opening Day for Phillies
The Phillies host the division-rival Braves to open the 2021 season on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. It will mark the first time in 550 days that fans will be in Ashburn Alley and scattered throughout the ballpark as city regulations allow for 8,800 fans to be at CBP. The game is sold out. 

"I’ve been through a number of opening days, and they’re always exciting. There are always butterflies, and you really look forward to it,” Joe Girardi said Wednesday on the eve of his second opening day as Phillies skipper. "I feel like this one is different. You know your first one is different as a player and 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 and I’m really, really looking forward to it."

The Phillies and Braves both enter the season as contenders for the divisional crown, though it will be a challenging ride as the NL East is arguably the strongest division in the Majors. It's the third time in four years the two clubs are meeting on Opening Day. 

How can I listen to the game? 
The first pitch is set for 3:05 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on television on NBC10 and on SportsRadio 94 WIP. NBC Sports Philadelphia will also stream the contest, along with the pre-and post-game shows, on http://www.nbcsportsphiladelphia.com and via the MyTeams app by NBC Sports. 

About the Braves 
Atlanta reached the postseason last year before bowing out to the Dodgers in the NLCS. The club has one of the strongest lineups in baseball, led by Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and reigning NL MVP (and Phillie killer) Freddie Freeman. 

Left-hander Max Fried will start for the Braves, aiming to build on an outstanding 2020 campaign where he finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.25 ERA to go along with 50 strikeouts over 56 innings. He also dominated the Phillies last year, surrendering one run over two starts - both victories for the Braves. 

Cristian Pache, 22, is one of baseball's top-ranked prospects. He already is an outstanding defensive outfielder, but now it is a matter of getting his bat to adjust to top-level pitching. 

Projected Lineup 
Ronald Acuña Jr., RF 
Ozzie Albies, 2B 
Freddie Freeman,1B 
Marcell Ozuna, LF 
Travis d’Arnaud, C 
Dansby Swanson, SS 
Austin Riley, 3B 
Cristian Pache, CF 
Max Fried, LHP 

About the Phillies 
The Phils roll into 2021 with an almost entirely new bullpen following a disastrous showing last season. The 'pen finished with a 7.06 ERA, the worst mark in baseball in 90 years. Hector Neris will open the season as the closer with newcomers Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado working in the setup role. Righty Aaron Nola will make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start for the Phils, a franchise mark bested only by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton who pitched in 10 straight. 

Projected Lineup 
Andrew McCutchen, LF 
J.T. Realmuto, C 
Bryce Harper, RF 
Rhys Hoskins, 1B 
Alec Bohm, 3B 
Didi Gregorius, SS 
Jean Segura, 2B 
Roman Quinn, CF 
Aaron Nola, P 

Odds & weather 
Oddsmakers have the game as a pick'em with the Phillies and Braves both at -110. The over/under is set at seven. Showers in the morning will give way to cloudy skies by the first pitch. Winds are expected to be blowing in from centerfield at about 15 mph. It'll feel chilly with temps hovering around 50 degrees.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

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