20 Things We Learned From 2013 MLB Opening Day
20 Things We Learned From 2013 MLB Opening Day
I'll cut right through the changing-of-seasons imagery: It's MLB Opening Day!
Sunday night cleansed our palette for Monday's main course of baseball action and if the result — the Houston Astros and their league-low payroll prevailing 8-2 over the Texas Rangers — is any omen, then we could see plenty of teams surprise us this first week.
Speaking of turning over a new leaf, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants headlined the afternoon slate in a battle between not just heated rivals, but pitting the defending champs against the the odds-on favorite to win the National League.
L.A. began their journey back from postseason hiatus Monday afternoon as Clayton Kershaw fronted a high-profile pitching staff that has added Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett. Southern California waits with bated breath to see whether their Dodgers' spending increase from $95 million in 2012 to $213 million in 2013 pans out.
Both Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals fans got to finally catch a long-anticipated glimpse of their aces taking the mound in a regular season play, with neither on roster at the close the 2012 season for different reasons. Stephen Strasburg rejoins the Nats starting rotation after he was shut down in early September to protect his arm post-Tommy John surgery, while James Shields makes his debut for K.C. following a bold offseason trade to acquire him from the Tampa Bay Rays, a move many critics panned for sending off top prospect Wil Myers.
Monday provided the first indicator on whether this was worth it and much more across the league.
No Sophomore Slump for Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper started hot out the gate to follow-up a rookie campaign that saw him narrowly edge the field for NL Rookie of the Year honors, continuing to hit his astronomical expectations by launching two homers that proved the difference in a 2-0 win. Harper started 2013 at around 10-to-1 odds to win NL MVP and proclaimed that he's at the forefront of the conversation on Opening Day.
Stephen Strasburg Back on Track
There was more excitement than worry about Stephen Strasburg coming back after being shut down in early September for precautionary reasons, but it is intriguing to see Strasburg attack his first season without innings limitations. The 24-year-old fire-baller allowed his first base-runner in the first inning and second base-runner in the seventh inning, after which he left having given up zero runs and three hits.
Justin Verlander Not Changed By Money
After finishing top three in AL Cy Young voting in three of the past four years, Justin Verlander earned himself of a record deal that could surpass the $200 million mark. Getting paid seems to have taken nothing way from his game judging by his first start, striking out seven and allowing zero runs in a Detroit Tigers win.
Chicago Cubs Might Not Be Worst Team
In full rebuilding mode, the Chicago Cubs were expected to have fans uttering "Wait till next year" after the fifth inning if not already. Topping the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 thanks to a complete-game two-hitter by Jeff Samardzija may not necessarily change that, but does inspire confidence that the Cubbies may not be the absolute worst team this year. Glass half-full, guys.
Following a decent-yet-unspectacular 2012 campaign that saw C.C. Sabathia fall completely out of Cy Young voting for the first time in four years, Sabathia further underwhelmed on Opening Day in front of the Yankee Stadium faithful. Sabathia allowed eight hits on 102 pitches in five innings work, getting knocked around by a collection of singles in a four-run second inning that gave him the loss.
Yanks Hampered By Age
The latest cover of the New Yorker magazine, "Hitting Forty," features Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez and other key aging Yankees with walkers, cane and wheelchair. Artist Mark Ulriksen explained "In this lineup I put together, I added the ages of all the players and found the average was forty. And forty in baseball is old." Thanks to the injuries that have ravaged them already, the cover subjects were all absent on from the field Opening Day except for Ichiro Suzuku, who went 1-4 as the New York Yankees lost.
Young Red Sox Bats Come Through
The Boston Red Sox Opening Day win at Yankee Stadium was largely fueled by the production of young players, including Jackie Bradley Jr. and timely hitting from Jose Iglesias at the back of the lineup.
MLB Publications Department noted that the 241 players on 2013 Opening Day rosters ranks fourth-most all time, including Mexican Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo.
Mets Win New York on Day 1
While the Yankees' Opening Day starting lineup meekly mustered two runs, the New York Mets did not disappoint in their home-opener. Collin Cowgill launched the season's first grand slam as the Mets won 11-2.
Another Long Season for Rockies
The Colorado Rockies were dominant heading into the eighth inning. A blown save and extra-innings loss later, and the Rockies sit at 0-1 despite outhitting their opponent 12-8. It's just one game, but it's a tough way to start for a team that's had a rough run in recent years.
Power Outage for Angels
Any team with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton at the top of the lineup is a guarantee for an incredibly potent output — well, for the latter two that's true more like a couple years ago. Pujols and Hamilton must prove they're not fading this year, and certainly not combine for 0-for-8 like they did on Opening Day.
Greatest Walk-Up Music
The day after AMC television program "The Walking Dead" wrapped up its third-season finale, Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett paid awesome tribute by using the theme song as his walk-up music Monday afternoon.
Worst Pump-Up Video in the Majors
There have been some bad ones over the years, but the Chicago White Sox might have taken the cake for 2013: via the aptly title Deadspin article "Comcast SportsNet's White Sox Intro Video Is One Of The Worst Things Ever Put On Television And Possibly Harmful To Your Health."
Pablo Sandoval Stays Hot
After the Giants slugger slammed three homers in a World Series game last season, Pablo Sandoval along with Angel Pagan was the only offensive source for San Francisco in its shutout loss to L.A. Totalling half the San Fran hits in the contest, it will be critical for Sandoval to continue producing in front of Buster Posey in the lineup.
Clayton Kershaw Most Valuable Dodger
Not only did Clayton Kershaw throw a complete-game shutout against the defending champs on Opening Day, he got himself the win by snapping a scoreless tie with a homer of his own. A 4-0 win over the archival is a great way to start a new chapter.
Milwaukee Closer Woes Continue
The Brewers were nearly left with a bad taste in their mouths on Opening Day when John Axford blew the save before the Brew Crew, who would win in the 10th inning. Axford blew nine saves in 2012 and blew an Opening Day save in 2011, which has to worry manager Ron Roenicke.
Opening Day Done Right
Starting with Yankees-Red Sox followed by Dodgers-Giants on Opening Day is a fine way get people to take off work for the afternoon, and I'm surprised this afternoon combo hasn't happened more often. Per ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, the last time these two matchups were both featured on Opening Day was back in 1926.
Shin-Soo Choo to Rescue
It seems through one game at least that the Cincinnati Reds have found the man to effectively fill their void at leadoff. Despite the overall anemic Reds offensive performance on Opening Day — only scoring one run on three hits — new leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo reached base three times and scored Cincy's sole run.
Joe Mauer Bats Second in Twins Lineup
It's hard to judge the new batting order too quickly, but Joe Mauer did produce (2-for-4 with a walk) more than anyone in the lineup, while leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks struck out three times and only reached base on a walk.
MLB Really Making Push for Opening Day Holiday
This tweet from @MLB close to noon ET was retweeted over 7,000 times within three hours: "We think #OpeningDay should be a holiday. RT to sign this petition. pic.twitter.com/tI9I81V8wz"