Winners and Losers from the 1st Week of the MLB Season
Depending on where your rooting interests lie, you're either ecstatic that the 2014 MLB regular season has begun or you're hoping against hope that it's all just a dream and that, in reality, Opening Day is still another week or two away.
Well, the games count and the baseball is real, and with that comes winners and losers.
With the first week of the regular season in the books, join me on a trip around baseball as we look at the biggest winners and losers from MLB's Opening Week.
Winner: Grady Sizemore
Four months ago, Grady Sizemore was an afterthought, just another former player whose career was cut short due to injury. When the Boston Red Sox signed him to a one-year deal in late January, Sizemore was still an afterthought, a potential feel-good story if he was able to make the club as Boston's fourth outfielder.
Except someone forgot to tell that to Sizemore.
Not only did he outplay Jackie Bradley Jr. in spring training to win the starting job in center field for the defending World Series champions, but he's managed to stay healthy through the first week of action—no small feat for a player who's experienced a seemingly endless run of injuries and surgeries since 2009.
While his batting average isn't where anyone wants it to be—hovering around the Mendoza Line at .214—Sizemore hasn't taken things easy in his first week back in the major leagues since 2010. He's sacrificed his body to make a diving catch in the outfield and slid into a catcher at home plate—two scenarios that had people cringing at the thought of what might happen—and he's popped right back up, no worse for wear.
Sizemore a;sp notched his first home run since July 15, 2011, against the Baltimore Orioles—amazingly enough, his last home run before this also came against the Orioles—and recorded his first stolen base since May 11, 2010.
That Grady Sizemore is back to playing like Grady Sizemore—and able to continue playing—makes him a huge winner in baseball's opening week.
Loser: Yasiel Puig
After the latest off-field distraction involving Yasiel Puig, you couldn't blame the Los Angeles Dodgers if the team decided to send the exciting, polarizing and talented 23-year-old down to Triple-A Albuquerque.
That's not going to happen, of course.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly doesn't seem all that bothered by Puig's late arrival to the ballpark for Friday's home opener, telling reporters that it isn't "that big a deal," per Mark Saxon of ESPN.
And really, it's not. We've all been late to work at least once—especially when we were in our early twenties, as Puig is now. To his credit, Puig took responsibility for his actions, saying, "I asked him (Mattingly) for forgiveness as well as my teammates. It was my mistake. I'll be here early tomorrow."
But saying the right thing—and doing the right thing—are two totally different things, with the former often far easier than the latter. Given his past transgressions—both on and off the field—Puig finds himself in danger of his coaches and teammates beginning to find that his words ring hollow.
It's a danger that former MLB outfielder Frank Catalanotto alluded to on Twitter shortly after the news of Puig's benching broke.
"Mattingly has his hands full w Puig. This kid better start respecting the game and be a good teammate before it becomes a big problem," he tweeted.
Upon his return to the lineup against the San Francisco Giants Saturday, Puig went 1-for-4 but was picked off by Madison Bumgarner in the third inning. He also failed to drive in a run for the Dodgers when he stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, managing only a shallow fly ball to right field.
Since making his MLB debut in 2012, Puig's 12 outs on the basepaths (not including being caught nine times on 20 stolen base attempts) are tied for the most in baseball, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Not only is he causing issues for his team off the field, but he's not helping things once he gets on base, either.
Winner: Jose Abreu
After being handed the largest contract in Chicago White Sox history, 26-year-old Cuban import Jose Abreu was expected to hit the ground running when the regular season started.
Boy, has he ever.
He's hitting .261/.379/.435 with three extra-base hits (no home runs) and a team-best six RBI, looking very much like the middle-of-the-order bat that Chicago thought it was signing.
According to Baseball-Reference (subscription required), Abreu became the first player since the Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward in 2010 to record a multihit game in his MLB debut on Opening Day—and the first member of the White Sox to accomplish the feat since Lee Richard in 1971.
Losers: Arizona Diamondbacks (2-7)
You have to give Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers credit. With his club off to the worst start in franchise history, he refuses to push the panic button, as he explained to MLB.com's Steve Gilbert:
I still believe in these guys. I think a really good group of players. We're going to get in sync and put it all together. All we need to do is go out and win two or three games in a row and exhale a little bit. We haven't played very good baseball. That's pretty evident. We haven't been able to put two and two together. The games that we swing the bats well, we don't have pitching. We get pitching performances; we're not swinging the bats.
It's early enough in the season that any deficit in the standings can still be made up, but the Diamondbacks haven't shown anything, either at the plate or on the mound, to generate the kind of optimism that Towers has in his club.
Nobody expects the GM of any team to abandon his ship, but facts are facts—and the facts so far say that the Diamondbacks simply aren't a very good team.
The rotation ranks among the worst in baseball in ERA (6.18, 30th) and WHIP (1.45, 25th) and has served up more home runs (eight) than any other starting rotation. The bullpen has been equally inept, ranking 25th in ERA (6.11) and 27th in WHIP (1.75) and surrendering four long balls of its own.
Offensively, the Diamondbacks have been offensive. Outside of Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Owings and Mark Trumbo, none of the team's regulars have done much of anything at the plate, resulting in a rather mediocre .249/.301/.369 slash line.
Don't be fooled by that .369 slugging percentage—that's largely the result of Goldschmidt and Trumbo, who have combined for 11 of the team's 23 extra-base hits and six of its seven home runs on the year.
Winners: New York Yankees (3-3)
Even though the New York Yankees dropped two of three to the Houston Astros and head into the second week of play without Mark Teixeira—on the 15-day disabled list with a hamstring injury—there's reason for optimism in the Bronx.
Both Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka were outstanding in their Yankee debuts, injecting life into the team's hope that the pair, along with Ivan Nova, could form the core of its future rotation—at least for the moment.
Pineda, who hadn't seen a major league mound since 2011, was the hard-luck loser against the Toronto Blue Jays this past Saturday, tossing six innings of one-run baseball with five strikeouts and no walks. Both his fastball and slider, two of his bread-and-butter pitches when he broke into the league, were effective.
Heading into Masahiro Tanaka's MLB debut in Toronto Friday night, only three starting pitchers of Japanese descent had lasted at least seven innings in their major league debuts, while only one left his first game without issuing a free pass, according to Baseball-Reference.com (subscription required).
His final line—seven innings, six hits, three runs (two earned), no walks and eight strikeouts—made him the fourth and second members of those clubs, respectively. He showed the poise of a veteran after a rough first two innings to retire 13 of the last 14 batters that he faced.
It's impressive that he lived up to the hype that surrounded him, especially when you consider that only one of those four pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka, pitched under equal, if not greater pressure. For a team with a farm system that is devoid of high-ceiling pitching talent (at least any that is remotely close to the big leagues), that's huge.
Loser: Jose Reyes
At least Jose Reyes was in Toronto's lineup for close to 40 at-bats in 2013 before landing on the disabled list with a leg injury. He lasted all of one at-bat this year.
While his hamstring, which he originally tweaked during spring training, isn't expected to keep him out of action for months as last season's ankle injury did, that the 30-year-old shortstop is back on the sidelines due to his failing legs has to be a major concern for baseball's only team that sits north of the border.
Reyes relies heavily on his legs, both at the plate and in the field, to perform at an All-Star-caliber level. With the unforgiving turf at Rogers Centre, it's hard to imagine that his legs won't continue to be an issue once he returns to the lineup.
While he's not ancient by any means, Reyes celebrates his 31st birthday in June, and the older we get, the slower our bodies are to recover, regardless of what kind of physical shape we may be in.
Toronto needed a healthy Reyes atop the lineup this season. Instead, the Blue Jays are getting an injury-prone speedster, someone they can't reasonably count on to be in the lineup on a daily basis.
That's a recipe for disaster.
Winners: Detroit Tigers (4-1)
The Detroit Tigers were supposed to take a step back toward the rest of the AL Central this season, having traded Doug Fister and Prince Fielder and lost Andy Dirks, Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon to injury and manager Jim Leyland to retirement.
Problem is, someone forgot to tell that to the Tigers.
Detroit heads into the second week of the season a game-and-a-half up on the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins—the largest lead that any division leader has over its second-place competition—and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Of the team's everyday starters, only two, Victor Martinez (.238) and Alex Avila (.083), are hitting below .300. Meanwhile, 38-year-old Torii Hunter sits in a four-way tie for the most home runs in the American League with three.
On the mound, Detroit's starters have pitched to a stellar 1.93 ERA and MLB-best 0.95 WHIP, performances made even more important by the ineptitude of the team's bullpen, which has struggled to a 6.30 ERA and 1.65 WHIP over the first week of the season.
Losers: New York Mets (2-4)
The hits keep coming for the New York Mets, who announced late Sunday that closer Bobby Parnell is out for the season, scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, per Adam Rubin of ESPN.
Losing Parnell is bad news for a bullpen that has pitched to a 6.75 ERA and 1.85 WHIP, leaving 36-year-old Jose Valverde as the closer by default.
Things haven't been any better at the plate, with the Mets hitting an MLB-worst .178 with a .597 OPS. Curtis Granderson, the team's big offseason addition, has mustered only four hits in 24 at-bats (.167), while Travis d'Arnaud, the team's catcher of the present (and future), has gone hitless in 15 at-bats.
If there's a silver lining to it all, it'd be the starting rotation, which has performed admirably (3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP). But with no run support from the offense and little reason to have faith in the bullpen, it's shaping up to be a very long season in Flushing once again.
Winners: Miami Marlins (5-2)
"Ladies and Gentlemen, your first place Miami Marlins!"
That's something that nobody expected to say—at any point—during the 2014 season, but it's exactly where Miami finds itself in the NL East standings after the first week of the regular season.
Not only have the Marlins scored more runs than any other team through the season's opening week, but two of the four MLB players with double-digit RBI totals so far—Giancarlo Stanton (12) and Casey McGehee (10)—are Marlins.
Things have been even better on the mound, as the Marlins pitching staff ranks in the top half of the league leaders in nearly every major pitching category, including ERA (2.43, fifth) and WHIP (1.17, 11th).
After one week of baseball, the Marlins sit with the best run differential in baseball at plus-21. That's impressive.
Miami isn't going to win the division, nor is it going to have one of baseball's most potent lineups by season's end. But for a team in the midst of a rebuilding process, weeks like the one that just passed are a great reminder that better days lie ahead.
Losers: San Diego Padres (2-4)
After playing winning baseball over the second half of the 2013 season (34-32) and having a decent spring training (11-13) this year, the San Diego Padres had quickly become one of the popular picks for a team that could surprise in 2014.
But while the team's pitching has been solid (3.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP), its offense has been, well, downright offensive.
San Diego has managed to score only 12 runs over its first six games of the season, the lowest total in baseball. The team is hitting a combined .189 with an MLB-worst .513 OPS, mustering only seven extra-base hits.
The core pieces of the offense—Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley and Will Venable—are hitting a combined .147 (13-for-88) with three extra-base hits and four RBI, drawing only five walks while striking out 26 times.