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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Opening Day wrap: Where's the offense?

By David Schoenfield

This looks like the pitching line of a dominant closer:

88.2 IP, 49 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 27 BB, 77 SO, 2 HR, 1.44 ERA

That's the collective work of Thursday's 14 starting pitchers. Eleven of the 14 allowed one run or zero runs. Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay affirmed their status as baseball's top pitchers with eight scoreless innings each. Justin Masterson and Ryan Dempster each struck out 10. Clayton Kershaw, with his own claim as baseball's best, started despite a bad case of the flu and still pitched three scoreless innings before exiting. Johnny Cueto shut down the Marlins on three hits over seven innings.

Starting pitchers: Dominant.

Hitters: Still working on their timing.

The bullpens weren't quite as effective, leading to an exciting ninth inning in Detroit as Jose Valverde, a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunites in 2011, blew a 2-0 lead; Kerry Wood couldn't hold a 1-0 lead for the Cubs, walking three consecutive batters; and Cleveland's Chris Perez collapsed in a flurry of walks and hits to surrender a 4-1 lead. That blown save eventually led to Toronto's 7-4 victory in 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in history.

Baseball, welcome back.

If anything, the dominant form of the pitchers raises the obvious question: Will offense decline again in 2012? Check out the runs-per-game totals in recent seasons:

Omar Vizquel
In an unusual move, Omar Vizquel, age 44, made just his second-ever outfield appearance.
2007: 9.6
2008: 9.3
2009: 9.2
2010: 8.8
2011: 8.6

Of course, one day -- especially when guys named Verlander, Halladay, Kershaw and Jon Lester are pitching -- doesn't signify anything. Still we had three shutouts and nearly had two others. That isn't necessarily unusual, as there were many days in 2011 with three shutouts and May 14 with six such games. Still, three of the seven games were shutouts and we nearly had four 1-0 games.

* * * *

Fun fact of the day: In the bottom of the 12th inning the Indians put runners at the corners with one out. Blue Jays manager John Farrell brought in Omar Vizquel as a fifth infielder. Technically, since he replaced Eric Thames, Vizquel was listed as a left fielder, just his second major league appearance as an outfielder. The first one came in a remarkable game in 1999. The Indians scored 10 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, capped by Richie Sexson's three-run homer off Troy Percival, to take a 14-12 lead against the Angels. Due to various moves in that inning, Vizquel moved from shortstop to right field in the ninth inning.

Fun fact No. 2: There were two previous 15-inning games on Opening Day. The Tigers beat the Indians 4-2 in 1960 and in 1926 Walter Johnson outdueled Eddie Rommel 1-0. That's right, both pitchers went the distance.

Hero of the day: How about Toronto reliever Luis Perez? He got out of that first-and-third jam with a double play and went on to pitch four hitless innings.

Good sight of the day: Johan Santana back on the mound for the Mets, throwing five scoreless innings.

Spring-training-doesn't-matter note of the day: Matt Kemp looked horrible all spring for the Dodgers, finishing with 26 strikeouts and two walks. He went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and no whiffs.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.