Finally, we witnessed full day of meaningful baseball. The overwhelming majority of Major League Baseball teams (the Yankees and Nationals were off after Thursday’s opener) played a regular season game Friday for the first time since Sept. 29, 2019. It felt so good to watch the best players in the world ply their trade. It had been way too long.
Now, this version of Opening Day overreactions is definitely going to be some tongue-in-cheek fun, just as I have had fun the last few years doing so. The overreactions to one game in a 60-game season still exist, but they aren’t nearly as silly as going nuts about one game in a 162-game marathon. One game now counts nearly three times as much as it normally does. Though, it must be noted, some of this is mitigated with 16 out of 30 teams making the playoffs. So, yeah, we still shouldn’t overreact. Let’s run through some possible overreactions and discuss their validity.
Yo is back! Diaz is fixed…?!
The Mets won, 1-0, against the Braves behind stellar Jacob deGrom work and the bullpen keeping up with the zeroes. The lone run came courtesy of a solo Yoenis Cespedes shot (full story here). Edwin Diaz locked down the ninth, issuing a walk to Freddie Freeman — and being careful with him and a one-run lead is never a bad decision — and nothing else.
So, yeah, Mets fans, go nuts. Diaz is fixed with his newfound confidence and Cespedes is back, giving the Mets a ridiculously lethal power combo with Pete Alonso and Cespedes. Get excited!
The reality here is that both of these overreactions could actually prove to be true. Diaz was an absolute beast before being traded to the Mets and falling apart last season. At 26 years old, it’s not like he hit a wall due to age. He just blew some games and then it snowballed into a lost season. It happens to the best of ’em. The outing on Friday will likely give him confidence that he just needed to turn the calendar to 2020. I’d bet on him being back. The problem is we can’t be definitive about it. We need to see more than a four-hitter outing to be sure.
Similar sentiment goes for Cespedes. He only played 81 games in 2017 and 38 games in 2018 before missing all of 2019. He hadn’t played in a meaningful game in more than two years. The home run was very exciting and he looked the part, but he’s also 34 years old and has been out of practice for quite some time.
Cautious optimism is fine. Past that it’s a major overreaction.
Yelich is broken
Former MVP Christian Yelich, who could have won it last year to go back-to-back before a fractured kneecap sidelined him, struggled mightily in his summer camp games. It was well-documented throughout. Reports varied as to what the actual numbers were, but it was something like 4 for 34 with 16 strikeouts. That was the most common tally I found.
Friday against the Cubs, he didn’t look good at all. He tapped out weakly to the pitcher in his first at-bat, then struck out twice before harmlessly grounding out in the ninth with a runner on (it was a fielder’s choice, technically). He swung-and-missed five times, including twice with two strikes.
It’s entirely possible he’s in for a down year after something that could have proven to been a career-altering injury. The smart money, however, is that this is a superstar in the middle of his prime and that he’ll eventually get things figured back out. Even if he can’t return to MVP level, he was All-Star level before that.
The Reds are the breakout many thought they’d be
The Reds have been a trendy pick to win the NL Central and they came out of the gates incredibly strong. They scored seven runs on nine hits while allowing just one run (a solo homer) and three hits. Sonny Gray was excellent on the mound. They didn’t burn any of their top-flight back-end relievers. Mike Moustakas had quite the Reds’ debut, going 3 for 4 with a mammoth home run. Joey Votto had a pair of hits, including a home run. Shogo Akiyama debuted with an RBI single in two at-bats. Nick Castellanos had an RBI double. It was a pretty complete performance with lots of good signs. They appeared to be as awesome as many thought they’d be.
The Reds might be great. We can’t overreact and say beating down an atrocious team proves anything, though.
The upstart Padres, too!
The Padres are a team I have been pushing as a good sleeper this season for weeks. Months, probably. The Diamondbacks were a playoff contender last year and added Starling Marte and Madison Bumgarner in the offseason, so they were a formidable opponent heading into Opening Day for the Friars.
And the Padres, behind Chris Paddack’s dominance (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) on the mound, quality bullpen work and Eric Hosmer exploding with three hits that included a pair of three-RBI doubles, cruised and absolutely looked the part of contender. Tommy Pham stole two bases, Fernando Tatis looked the part of star as usual, Jurickson Profar drew two walks to load the bases in front of Hosmer with two outs to set the table for the six-RBI night and this team in general just had the look of a team San Diego will rally around.
It is, of course, just one game. It was 0-0 for a while. The timeliness of the Hosmer doubles was fortunate and the entire game swung on them. But man, it was hard not to get excited about the Padres. As I like to say, cautious optimism is probably the proper lane here, San Diego.
Uh oh, Phillies
Phillies’ ace Aaron Nola looked like an elite-level pitcher for the first five months of 2018. Since then, he’s been more good than great and even sometimes closer to mediocre. Friday, the Marlins got him for four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He did strikeout seven against one walk, but he got knocked around in a four-run sixth.
Meantime, the Phillies’ offense accounted for just two runs on five hits. They were mostly dominated by Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara.
Has nothing changed? Are the Philies still closer to just mediocre instead of being good? If that’s the case, that means fourth place in the NL East … or worse? The Marlins just handled them somewhat easily.
I’d say there is some level of concern here, but let’s not go crazy. Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto did nothing at the plate and they are safe bets to perform on a consistent basis the rest of the way. The pitching part is somewhat a concern, but they do have Zack Wheeler added to last year’s group. They’re better than they played.
Well look at that. The “Buffalo” Blue Jays have lots of young talent and brought in Hyun-Jin Ryu to serve as the staff ace. The Rays are a playoff team thought to be the biggest threat to the Yankees in the AL East. The Jays went in and punched Rays’ ace Charlie Morton in the mouth. A Cavan Biggio home run chased him with the following line: 4+ IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.
Meantime, the Rays’ offense only collected five hits. Sure, they were timely enough to get four runs, but some of that is just good fortune. They went 5 for 33 and that’s a .152 average. Frankly, the lineup doesn’t look that impressive on paper.
So have the Jays already passed the Rays?
Probably not. Again, this was only one game. I do think a takeaway from this game, however, is that the Jays are going to be competitive this season and very fun to watch. Even if they miss the playoffs, a good foundation is in place.
Lucas Giolito: one-year wonder
White Sox starter Lucas Giolito was the worst starter in baseball in 2018 by ERA among qualified starters, with a wretched 6.13 ERA. Last year, he made himself into an All-Star who finished sixth in Cy Young voting. Now he’s expected to front the rotation of an upstart contender on the South Side of Chicago.
Friday night, Giolito was pounded for seven runs on six hits in 3 2/3 innings. He walked three. Baseball history is lined with pitchers who were short-term flukes and just never could live back up to that one great season over the long term. Giolito appears ticketed for one-year wonder status after Opening Day, right?
I suppose it’s possible. I don’t think it’s likely. He was a talent drafted in the first round out of high school and a top-five prospect for several minor-league years. He put it all together at age 24 last season and ran into a stacked Twins offense on Friday. The smart money is he’ll be just fine. With only around 11 starts left, though, and one stinker in the books, don’t count on a Cy Young. Speaking of that award and Chicago …
Hendricks for Cy Young!
Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs threw the second Opening Day shutout since 2003 and fifth since 1993 (full story here). He was remarkable in every way. He looked every bit the Cy Young contender he was in 2016, though he’s since added a very effective curveball.
Hey, with only 11 starts remaining and having a shutout already under his belt, maybe this won’t be an overreaction, but Hendricks hasn’t gotten a single Cy Young vote since 2016.
Globe Life Field is a pitcher’s dream
The Rangers debuted a new ballpark and won. I wonder how truly excited the clubhouse is — at least on the position player side — after this one, though. The two teams combined for one run on six hits. There has been some discussion the last several weeks about the possibility that this ballpark would play the opposite of Globe Life Park and would be a pitcher’s haven. The first game sure looked like it. Lance Lynn is good. German Marquez has good upside and has generally been very good away from Coors Field, but still, this didn’t exactly give off a hitter-friendly vibe. It appears the Rangers have had the awakening the Padres did when they opened Petco Park.
Eh, let’s wait a second. It’s just one game. We didn’t declare Wrigley Field a pitcher’s park after the 3-0 result with few hits on Opening Day. We also have to keep in mind the above mention that the pitchers are good and we also have to keep in mind the Rockies are generally pretty terrible hitting away from Coors Field. It does seem possible this is a pitcher-friendly yard, but we don’t have enough to go on just yet.
The Tigers and Orioles are awful
Yeah, that’s not an overreaction. They both are. Hard telling which was worse, but it really doesn’t matter. They’ll pick 1-2 again in next year’s draft.