Welcome to the annual Opening Day Overreactions — I would’ve said something like the third or fourth annual, but I frankly can’t remember how many times I’ve done this; getting old is not cool — where we run through possible overreactions to some stuff we saw on Opening Day and either tell people to settle down or go nuts.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek element to the subheads here and the first beginning of each section, but we lose that and dive into actual analysis toward the end. You’ll get it. You are reading me right now, which means you’re smart and can be trusted to properly figure it out.
The Dodgers are fully hungover
Quite the effort from the defending champs on Opening Day against the Rockies, eh?
Clayton Kershaw allowed six runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings while only getting two strikeouts. Corey Seager and Justin Turner each committed errors. There were two wild pitches, including one that allowed a run to score. As a team, the Dodgers were 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position and they left a small neighborhood on the bases (14 men left on!).
Oh, and this happened:
Yes, that is a team turning a two-run homer into a one-run single and an out.
They would go on to lose to the Rockies, a team so bad it traded away the face of the franchise in the offseason. Yuck.
Clearly the Dodgers were far too proud of themselves after last season and are suffering one of those World Series hangovers we’ve seen so many times in recent memory (2020 Nationals, 2019 Red Sox, 2017 Cubs, 2016 Royals, 2015 Giants, 2014 Red Sox and we can just stop there). There’s a reason we haven’t seen anyone repeat since the turn of the millennium.
Deep breaths, everyone.
There are 161 games left. That is 99.38 percent of the season. Do we judge anything in life with that much left to go?
Plus, the Dodgers played about as horribly as they could have played and still had the tying run at the plate in the ninth and could have pretty easily won. Kershaw’s numbers in Coors Field for his career are bad because it’s Coors Field. Errors happen. That baserunning gaffe was pretty fluky because the ball was actually in the fielder’s glove for a second and then fell out. Lots of weird things really did happen. Also, if we can zero in on the men left on base, that’s the type of thing that can be fluky from game to game. The most important take away is that they had so much traffic.
The Yankees got a two-run homer from Gary Sanchez and otherwise didn’t score. The Yankees were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. Aaron Judge himself had two opportunities to break the game open and blew both, stranding five men all by himself. Giancarlo Stanton was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. Fresh off grabbing that big contract, D.J. LeMahieu went 0 for 4. Aaron Hicks and Gio Urshela also both went 0 for 4. The following relievers combined to work 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the vaunted-yet-obviously-overrated Yankees’ offense: Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano and Julian Merryweather.
It was 43 degrees and, again, it was but one game. There’s far too much thump in this lineup to freak out against one game against quality competition.
On that front, let’s give the Blue Jays credit. They went out and won a game where the opponent sent one of the most dominant pitchers in the game to the mound. Their 1-3 hitters (Marcus Semien, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette) combined to go 0-14, George Springer isn’t ready to return yet from a spring injury and they still won. Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero looked great. Hyun-Jin Ryu did his thing and the bullpen threw well.
Let’s remember, after a 7-11 start last season, the Jays closed by going 25-17 and that stretch even included a six-game losing streak. They’re better this time around, too.
I buy the Blue Jays as being for real based upon a lot more than Opening Day, but this win didn’t hurt matters.
The Phillies bullpen is fixed!
The 2020 Phillies went 28-32 and missed the playoffs after losing seven of their final eight games. They missed the playoffs by one game. With even just a bad bullpen they would’ve gotten a chance to be swept in the first round by the Dodgers — or maybe even been able to beat the Cubs.
Instead, they had something that shouldn’t even have the honor of being called a big-league bullpen, collectively. They took 14 bullpen losses and blew 12 saves against only 11 successful saves. The 7.06 ERA was the worst in baseball, as was the 1.79 WHIP. It wasn’t like a bad string ruined the numbers, either. They were consistently atrocious, posting a 6.17 ERA in July, 7.21 ERA in August and 7.04 ERA in September.
Thursday, the Phillies bullpen performed beautifully. Ace Aaron Nola had gotten through six scoreless innings and then with two outs in the seventh, he allowed a double and home run to tie the game. He was then removed in favor of the bullpen with the top of the Braves’ order coming to the plate. That is, Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna.
Fret not, Philadelphia! The bullpen has been fixed. Newcomer Archie Bradley got out of the seventh while Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris and Connor Brogdon would get them through the 10th without allowing a run. The Phillies then won in the bottom of the 10th on a walk-off single.
The four relievers combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and two walks while striking out four. Brogdon didn’t even allow the automatic runner on second base in extra innings to score. No blown save. No bullpen loss. A bullpen win. This against what profiles as one of the best offenses in baseball.
Look, it was only one game and a very small sample. We know all about how deceiving that can be. Let’s also keep in mind Bradley is new and has a good track record. Neris has been very good before. And the bullpen as a whole can’t possibly be as bad as it was last season.
It would be foolish to truly believe 3 1/3 innings meant it was cause for a big celebration. I also think there’s room for cautious optimism. That was good to see, from the Phillies’ perspective. It was an outing to build on.
Cleveland’s offense is embarrassing…
The Detroit Tigers profile as one of the worst teams in baseball this season. They also only allowed four Cleveland hits through eight scoreless innings. Jordan Luplow (.192 average last season) hit leadoff. Cesar Hernandez had a 106 OPS+ last season and can be a fine everyday player. He was in the two-hole, though. Just glancing up and down the lineup outside of superstar Jose Ramirez, it has the look of a dreadful offense.
We do need to consider that it was in the 30s and snowing early in the game on Thursday in Detroit. That absolutely has to come into the equation. We also have to factor in the small-sample aspect. We should never be drawing sweeping conclusions based upon one game.
The thing is, though, we really aren’t judging just on one game. I mentioned the track records of the personnel. The team ranked 12th in the AL in average, 13th in slugging and 13th in runs last season and they lost Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor from that club while really only adding Eddie Rosario.
Maybe “embarrassing” is a stretch, but this is a bad offense. Thursday was a harbinger.
…So is the Cubs’
The Cubs’ offense was very good at putting the ball in play with a runner on third base and less than two outs. They scored three runs and all three came on productive outs (sac flies). That’s good to see.
Everything else was not. An offense with names that pop like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez and even Joc Pederson and Ian Happ should inspire some level of confidence against a team expected to be the worst in the National League.
Instead, the following group of Pirates’ pitchers held the Cubs to two hits (one by Eric Sogard, who isn’t a starter): Chad Kuhl, Duane Underwood, Clay Holmes, Sam Howard, David Bednar, Chris Stratton and Richard Rodriguez.
So, again, we’ll bring up the “it was cold” defense — 36 degrees, in fact. The Pirates had nine hits, though. They had more extra-base hits than the Cubs did hits. Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings all had two hits. Again, that’s how many the entire Cubs’ team had. What’s worse, one of the Cubs’ two hits was their third batter of the game. After Rizzo’s first-inning single, the Cubs went 1 for 25 the rest of the way.
You look at the personnel and things feel like they should be a lot better, but at some point I just don’t know anymore. The Cubs were 13th in average, 12th in slugging and 10th in runs last season. The offense was good but not great in 2019. In 2018, it fell apart down the stretch.
We’ll go with slight concern here, because it’s mostly the same group that was mostly bad last year.
But the Royals are an offensive juggernaut
Even after falling behind 5-0 before they even got to bat in front of the Kauffman Stadium faithful, the Royals ended up scoring 14 runs on 15 hits. General manager Dayton Moore added Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana and Michael Taylor to the lineup in the offseason and they are looking for full seasons from quality holdovers like Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler. And it all starts at the top with stud leadoff man Whit Merrifield. This was just what they drew up and they are off with a bang, showing they’ll be one of the most improved offenses in baseball. They didn’t even have Adalberto Mondesi. Beware, AL!
OK, so let’s just say right up front it really was fun to watch them knock the ball around the yard like that and there really is a decent chance they are quite improved on offense this season.
Also, though, the Rangers are awful. Their opening day starter had a 5.35 ERA last season. Let’s pump the brakes a bit.
Remember, Giants catcher — former MVP — Buster Posey opted out of last season. His first plate appearance since the 2019 season went well.
In 2018-19 combined, Posey hit just 12 homers in 803 at-bats. He once homered 24 times in a season. Perhaps he just needed the time off to rediscover his power stroke?
Hey, it was good to see. After all, how can you not be a fan of Buster Posey? He’s also 34 years old and it was one at-bat. Good and fun? Yes. A sign of things to come this season? I’m not buying.
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