With Michael Young, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins still at their core, the Phillies were hoping to look more experienced than old in their opening series against a revitalized Braves squad. As Cliff Lee takes the mound Thursday, it'll be all they can do to avoid starting off 2013 on the wrong end of a series sweep.
It will also be a great chance for Lee to brush a possible chip off his shoulder after all that was made of his record last season. Sure, the left-hander was 6-9, but he also had some of the lowest run support in the league. Lee still managed a 3.16 ERA with the second-highest strikeout total of his career at 207, and with a sharper defense to support him, he'll look to get an early jump in the win column this season.
He'll take the mound for the first time this year Thursday night at Turner Field, and it couldn't come sooner for a Phillies' rotation that's been hit hard the last two games by a retooled Braves lineup. With Justin Upton homering in his second straight game, and with newcomer Evan Gattis feeling comfortable against a veteran like Roy Halladay, Lee will be hard pressed to get the Braves' bats out of rhythm.
"It's great; it just seems more real now," Gattis said after he homered off Halladay in Wednesday night's victory. "I'm more comfortable. After catching a game, it's still baseball. You're in this atmosphere and it's been great."
Braves manager Fredi González hopes starter Kris Medlen will be able to feed off that same atmosphere Thursday. Medlen looks to come off an uncharacteristically slow spring, when he went 1-2 with a 7.23 ERA in six starts.
He was almost unstoppable last year. Medlen pitched two complete games and posted a career-best 10-1 record with a scorching 1.57 ERA to lead Braves starters.
Braves: Freeman on fire
Freddie Freeman is 5-for-7 against the Phillies going into Thursday's game. Freeman leads the Braves' bats with a .714 average and six RBIs on the season.
• Jonny Venters is upbeat after his visit Tuesday with Dr. James Andrews regarding his pitching elbow injury. As opposed to having to undergo surgery, Venters will get a month of rest and could return in May. The 24-year-old former All-Star racked up 12 saves for the Braves last year, but he struggled through just 6 2/3 innings this spring before being placed on the 15-day DL with an elbow strain.
Phillies: Who are you calling old?
Chase Utley, 34, was a double shy of a cycle Monday, and he heads into Thursday's contest 4-for-9 for a .444 average in the series. Utley's hot start has him leading the Phillies' offense with five RBIs and four hits.
The Phillies have struggled at Turner Field recently, going just 2-5 in their last seven appearances. That's well off the mark of their 48-35 (.578) record over the last 10 years in Atlanta.
Gary Cotton is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.