3/31/2014 8:31 A.M. ET
Hopes high all around as Crew hosts Braves
Teheran trusted with first Opening Day start; Gallardo nets fifth
By Paul Casella / MLB.com
Despite substantial expectations in April, the Brewers were hounded by disappointment for much of last season. From injuries to a star's suspension to a fourth-place finish in the National League Central, not much went right for Milwaukee.
Unfortunately for the Braves, last season also proved to end on a sour note, albeit in early October.
The two clubs will meet at Miller Park today at 2:10 p.m. ET, when they open their 2014 regular seasons in search of improved results. Milwaukee will give the ball to Yovani Gallardo for his fifth career Opening Day nod, while the Braves will call on fellow right-hander Julio Teheran to make his first such start.
The game will also mark the return of Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, whose season was cut short last year by a 65-game suspension due to his connection to Major League Baseball's investigation into the Biogenesis clinic. Braun insisted all spring that this season will be no different for him than any other. Instead, his sole focus is on helping the Brewers bounce back from last year's 74-88 record, their worst since 2004.
"I feel good about the team," Braun said. "You knock on wood, but hopefully we get to Monday healthy, because that's always one of the biggest keys to Spring Training. There have been so many significant injuries this spring, but we've had just about everybody stay healthy. That's encouraging and exciting.
"I think the expectation is to try to compete to get back to the playoffs. That's our goal. I think it's realistic."
The Braves, meanwhile, are coming off their best regular-season finish since 2004 -- though an abbreviated postseason run left the team wanting more. After finishing 96-66 en route to winning the National League East, the Braves saw their season come to an end at the hands of the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.
The Braves seemed to be on the verge of forcing a decisive fifth game back in Atlanta in that series until Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning -- all while Braves shutdown closer Craig Kimbrel looked on from the bullpen.
Atlanta returns almost the same lineup -- minus catcher Brian McCann, who signed with the Yankees as a free agent -- in its quest to win the franchise's first World Series title since 1995.
"It's not an easy lineup," Gallardo said of facing the Braves. "They have a little bit of everything -- power, speed, they can hit for average. We're going to come up with a good game plan, and then it's a matter of executing pitches and moving the ball around."
The biggest issue for the Braves could quickly become health concerns -- something with which Milwaukee was all too familiar last season.
Teheran became the clear choice to serve as Atlanta's Opening Day starter after right-hander Kris Medlen underwent season-ending elbow surgery in early March. Medlen is joined on the disabled list to start the season by fellow pitchers Brandon Beachy, who also endured a season-ending right elbow injury, and lefty Mike Minor, who is expected to miss the first half of April.
"It's a great honor to be the starting pitcher on Opening Day," said Teheran, who went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA over 30 starts last year, his first full Major League season. "I just want to say thanks for the opportunity. I have been working hard, and it has paid off."
Braves: Batting order taking shape
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has hinted as Opening Day approaches that Chris Johnson could slot in as the club's cleanup hitter. It's been apparent since the start of camp that Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman would hit in the top three spots, respectively, but it now seems that Johnson may have laid claim to the No. 4 spot.
"I like Chris Johnson there," Gonzalez said recently. "He gives you good at-bats. He's a guy who is not going to change his approach. He's a guy who is going to put the ball in play and use the whole field. It seems like he comes up with some big at-bats."
Johnson finished second in the NL last season with a .321 average, and he hit .336 with runners in scoring position.
If Johnson does wind up in the cleanup role, he will likely be followed by Justin Upton in the No. 5 spot. Gonzalez will then need to decide between Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis for the next two spots, while shortstop Andrelton Simmons will hit eighth.
Brewers: Gallardo embraces challenge
• When Gallardo takes the hill today, he will become the first pitcher in franchise history to make five consecutive Opening Day starts. Only Ben Sheets has made more such starts for the Brewers (six), though his were not pitched consecutively.
"To have the opportunity to do it five years in a row is pretty amazing," Gallardo said. "It shows you what the organization thinks of you to allow you to do that for five years. You can't take it for granted. You just have to go out there and take care of business."
• Jean Segura's Opening Day status remains up in the air, as the shortstop continues to deal with a sore right shoulder. Though neither Segura nor manager Ron Roenicke considers the matter serious, continued discomfort behind Segura's throwing shoulder has made playing defense an issue for him leading up to Opening Day.
• The Braves are just 1-8 in their last nine games at Miller Park, dating back to the 2011 season.
• The Braves have won their season opener in six of the last eight seasons, while the Brewers have dropped their Opening Day contest in four of the last five years.