Opening Day Preview: Cincinnati at Atlanta

Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson will be counted on to fill the massive shoes left behind by Freddie Freeman.

Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds

Line: Braves -190

Total: 8

Where: Truist Park

When: Thursday, 4/7 at 8:08 p.m. ET


Thursday’s Opening Day tilt between Atlanta and Cincinnati will begin with a trophy ceremony celebrating the Braves 2021 World Series title, but it will end with one team starting the 2022 season undefeated.

Atlanta is seeking a fifth-straight National League East title, while Cincinnati is trying to make its way to the playoffs with a young roster. The Braves return most of their roster from last year’s championship squad, but they will be replacing long-time first baseman Freddie Freeman, who is now with the Dodgers.

They did their best to snag a quality replacement, acquiring first baseman Matt Olson from Oakland. Olson has hit at least 29 home runs in each of the past three full seasons and is now moving into a ballpark that is friendly to left-handed batters.

The two-time Gold Glove Award winner is going to join Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley in a high-powered lineup, but Acuna Jr. is going to miss the first few weeks of the season as he finishes recovering from a torn ACL. Oddsmakers are giving the Braves the nod in this game regardless, setting the opening moneyline at -210.

There has been some slight movement towards Cincinnati thus far, as the line has dipped to -190 as of Wednesday afternoon. Thursday night’s total opened at 8 and has remained at that number.

Atlanta took four out of seven games between these teams last season. The Braves are priced at 12-1 to win the World Series, giving them the seventh-best odds in the MLB—Cincinnati is listed as a 60-1 long shot.

The Braves will have left-handed pitcher Max Fried on the bump for this game. He finished the 2021 season with a 14-7 record and 3.04 ERA, striking out 158 batters. Fried has faced Cincinnati three times in his career, going 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA. He did not get off to a strong start last season, going 0-1 with an 11.45 ERA in three appearances last April.

Cincinnati is going to counter Fried with right-hander Tyler Mahle, who tied for the major league lead with 33 starts last season. Mahle finished with a team-best 13-6 record and 3.75 ERA. Luis Castillo made the Opening Day start last season, but he is dealing with shoulder pain that will sideline him for at least his first start this year.

“It means a lot,” Mahle said. “Some people never get to do this. I may only get to do it once. I don’t know, so I will try to make the most of it and have a lot of fun.”

Mahle has faced the Braves three times in his career, posting a 5.29 ERA. He went 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts in April 2021.

Atlanta finished at No. 12 in batting average (.244) in the regular season last year, while Cincinnati ranked sixth (.249). The Reds lost their two best hitters in Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker during the offseason, though. They are going to rely on reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India and veteran Joey Votto this season.

The Braves were also No. 12 in bullpen ERA (3.97) in 2021, but they added closer Kenley Jansen from the Dodgers in the offseason. Cincinnati will be looking to improve after finishing at No. 27 in bullpen ERA (4.99).

The Reds tend to get off to a fast start offensively, going ‘over’ the total in nine of their last 11 games in April. However, the ‘under’ has cashed in seven of the last nine head-to-head meetings.

The pick: Cincinnati +1.5 (-115)

The run-line on an underdog generally has more value in a game with a low total, especially when the underdog is on the road and has an opportunity to gain runs or lose by one run in the top of the ninth inning. This is going to be an emotional night for Atlanta. Not only are the Braves celebrating their World Series title, but they are also moving on from the Freeman era. They are without Acuna for the first few weeks of the season, so this is probably the time to fade Atlanta. Cincinnati is a young team that will be eager to get off to a hot start. Fried struggled in April last season (11.45 ERA), while Mahle had a 1.75 ERA over his three outings. The market has been moving towards Cincinnati in this game, but there is still value on the Reds at the current price.

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