Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Ten lessons from Opening Day
By David Schoenfield
It's one of the best days of the year. Maybe the best. Especially if your team won. Here are 10 things to take away from Monday's action.
1. Bryce Harper loves the spotlight.
While Opening Day is, technically speaking, just one game of 162, it is special -- to players, to managers and certainly to fans, who fill parks across the country, even in 35-degree weather (applause to hearty Minnesotans). Opening Day isn't just another game in late July, where the legs are tired and the fatigue of a season has to be fought through. Everybody is pumped up and focused. The lights shine bright and that's why I love what Harper did on Monday. Davey Johnson showed no fear in naming the 20-year-old his No. 3 hitter and Harper's two solo home runs in a 2-0 victory showed a Ken Griffey Jr.-like flair for the dramatic (Griffey hit eight home runs on Opening Day in his career). Harper is going to take that No. 3 position in the lineup and own it for the next decade. And those gutsy MVP predictions for him don't look so crazy.
2. Yankees feed into preseason fears.
With a lineup that featured Eduardo Nunez hitting second, Kevin Youkilis hitting cleanup (his .409 slugging percentage last year was lower than his on-base percentage in 2009 and 2010), Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Francisco Cervelli, the Yankees are clearly going to struggle to score runs until they get Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira back. But will they still be in the race by then? CC Sabathia got dinged a little bit in a four-run second inning in the Yankees' 8-2 loss to the Red Sox -- two infield singles, a little flare, a groundball hit -- but he also walked four batters in five innings.
3. Jackie Bradley Jr. shows mature approach.
While Boston's rookie left fielder is already overhyped -- I worry Red Sox fans are expecting the next Harper or Mike Trout -- he showed why the Red Sox were confident he could hold his own in the majors despite playing just 61 games above Class A ball. He drew three walks, including a crucial freebie during that second inning in which he fought back from an 0-2 count and laid off three tough sliders to load the bases with one out.
4. Bullpen worries already in Milwaukee.
Brewers closer John Axford was outstanding in 2011 when the Brewers won the NL Central. He was the opposite of outstanding last year, losing his role for a spell to Francisco Rodriguez as the Brewers lost an MLB-leading 11 games they led heading into the ninth inning (MLB average: under four). So it didn't inspire confidence when he served up a game-tying home run to Dexter Fowler in the ninth. The Brewers did win the game in the 10th, but keep an eye on Axford's next few outings.
5. Cy Young candidates dominate.
Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez combined to allow ... nothing, in 41.2 scoreless innings. Jered Weaver and Johnny Cueto each allowed one run. What did we learn from those guys? Nothing! We already knew they were good. But the most impressive may have been Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who allowed two hits in eight scoreless innings against the Pirates, walking one and striking out nine. Samardzija surprised last year in moving to the rotation, especially with his command after having control issues as a reliever, and with a fastball clocked as high as 97 mph, his first outing suggests that maybe -- maybe -- he'll soon be mentioned in the same paragraphs as those other guys. Like this one. (By the way, Anthony Rizzo's home run to center was sweet, just a nice easy swing ... and boom.)
6. Angels bullpen answers first test.
The Angels had issues in middle relief last year, a problem that was hoped to be solved by signing Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett, and moving closer Ernesto Frieri to a setup role. But Madson is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and the bullpen didn't look good during the Angels' 10-20 spring training. But in relief of Weaver, the pen tossed seven innings of one-hit baseball to beat the Reds 3-1 in 13 innings. Frieri fanned Jay Bruce looking for the final out and you wonder even if Madson comes back if Frieri keeps the ninth-inning role.
7. Speaking of closers ...
It didn't take for Carlos Marmol to possibly lose his grip on the closer role for the Cubs, which is probably more important to fantasy owners than it actually is to the Cubs. After hitting Andrew McCutchen and then allowing a stolen base, RBI single and walk, the Cubs used James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa to record the final two outs.
8. The Marlins hit Placido Polanco cleanup.
And they wonder why they're having trouble selling season tickets.
9. Andrelton Simmons makes me happy.
While the three home runs the Braves hit off Cole Hamels in a 7-5 win -- Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Justin Upton (welcome to Atlanta!) -- were the big story, Simmons made a couple nice plays in the field and showed off his cannon arm. If the Braves battle with the Nationals in the NL East, Simmons' Ozzie-like defense will be a key reason why.
10. Young stars everywhere.
Look at the names cited above. Harper. Bradley. Samardzija and Rizzo. Sale. Simmons. Strasburg. Even Kershaw is still just 25 years old. This is my biggest takeaway from Opening Day 2013: Baseball is stronger than ever, with young talent oozing all over the sport. This great game is in good hands and when we get to watch players like this, so pull up a chair and enjoy the next 179 days. I know I will.