Phillies Braves series preview
In the last two seasons, the Braves ran away with the NL East crown, but their postseason hopes were dashed by the Phillies each time. Now, with both teams considered serious contenders for the World Series once more, their rivalry fittingly reignites Friday at Citizens Bank Park for the season opener. 
The home opener will see Zach Wheeler making his first-ever Opening Day start, while the Braves will send their ace, Spencer Strider, to the mound. 
Phillies manager Rob Thomson admitted Thursday that the Braves-Phillies rivalry bears similarities to the intense competition seen between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox during the early to mid-2000s ALCS. 
“I think there are some comparisons there, no doubt,” Thomson, a former Yankees front office executive and coach, said on a Zoom availability. “Two really talented ball clubs that play hard, that compete. And we’ve been going head-to-head here for a few years. And the same thing with the Mets. I think that’s healthy. I think that’s great for the sport, I think it’s great for the players to have that type of environment. It makes it a lot of fun for me.”
Despite their postseason achievements, the Phillies have faced challenges against the Braves during the regular season, managing just five wins out of 13 matchups last year and sustaining a losing head-to-head record in 2022. 
Thomson comprehends the heightened expectations for this year and acknowledges that a deep October run, without clinching a Fall Classic appearance, could be perceived as a disappointment by many. Among these elevated expectations is the aspiration to vie with the Braves for the NL East pennant.
“Well, it’s a rivalry,” Thomson said. “I don’t know whether there’s animosity, but there’s a great deal of respect. We’ve had a lot of tough battles over the last couple years. So, I think it’s generally respect more than anything.”
Game 1: Friday, 3:05 PM, NBC 10
RHP Zack Wheeler vs. RHP Spencer Strider
Game 2: Saturday, 4:05 PM, NBCSP+
RHP Aaron Nola vs. LHP Max Fried

Game 3: Sunday, 1:35 PM, NBCSP
LHP Ranger Suarez vs. LHP Chris Sale 
Originally, the Phillies planned for Wheeler to start both the first and fifth games of the season, taking advantage of a scheduled off day after Opening Day to maintain normal rest. However, with Friday now designated as Opening Day, Wheeler's next start will be delayed until the sixth game of the season. Spencer Turnbull is anticipated to take the mound for the fifth game, as the Phillies host the Cincinnati Reds. Thomson is confident that Turnbull will be sufficiently prepared to pitch around five innings or throw 80-85 pitches. 

Taijuan Walker, dealing with right shoulder soreness, will begin the season on the 15-day injured list. The veteran right-hander played catch on Wednesday and extended his throwing distance to 120 feet on Thursday. Barring any setbacks, the 31-year-old plans to progress to a bullpen session on Saturday.
Reliever Orion Kerkering will begin the season on the 15-day injured list. He pitched a simulated game in Clearwater on Wednesday and needed just seven pitches to get out of an inning. He'll throw again at the Carpenter Complex on Friday before coming north and joining triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday for a rehab stint.  

The current Braves roster is shaping up to be one of the strongest in the team's history since moving to Atlanta in 1966. 

Despite setting offensive records last season, the team's pitching struggled, but improvements are expected this year with healthy arms like Max Fried and newly-acquired Chris Sale. Spencer Strider's enhancements during the offseason further bolster the rotation. 

While Charlie Morton's age raises questions, he remains a reliable asset, supported by Reynaldo Lopez as the fifth starter. The lineup, featuring stars like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley, promises consistent run production. 
With fourteen All-Stars on the opening day roster, expectations are high, with the team aiming for a World Series title. 
Even if this year's offense doesn't match last season's output, the pitching staff's strength ensures competitiveness. 
This blend of talent suggests that the current Braves roster could be the strongest in the franchise's 59-year history as they take the field on Thursday.

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