MLB Opening Day 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Baseball is finally here. No more predictions and projections—we can finally get some real numbers to chew on. There's really no better feeling than Opening Day.
There were six games on the Opening Day slate:
Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees: CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander
Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals: Derek Lowe vs. Livan Hernandez
Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds: Yovani Gallardo vs. Edinson Volquez
LA Angels at Kansas City Royals: Jered Weaver vs. Luke Hochevar
San Francisco Giants at LA Dodgers: Tim Lincecum vs. Clayton Kershaw
San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals: Tim Stauffer vs. Chris Carpenter
Some great pitching matchups highlighted today's action, as well as the return of some of the most promising young players in baseball.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the day's action.
The Good: Mark Teixeira off to a Hot Start for a Change
Teixeira, a notoriously slow starter, batted just .222 through the first three months last season. He finished with 33 home runs and 108 RBI though, so he always makes up for it.
He didn't waste any time in 2011 though, clubbing a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning off Justin Verlander.
After a Russell Martin single and a Derek Jeter walk, Teixeira pulled the ball around the right field foul pole to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. The Tigers scored single runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to pull even, but the Yankees went on to win, 6-3.
Teixeira is just one of many great hitters in the Yankees lineup, but getting off to a hot start and avoiding his usual early struggles will only help the Yankees in their quest for No. 28.
The Good: Milwaukee Gives Edinson Volquez a Rude Hello to 2011
The Reds gave Edinson Volquez the Opening Day nod early in the offseason. Maybe they should have waited a little while longer.
Rickie Weeks led off the game with a home run to left center off Volquez, and Carlos Gomez followed that up with one of his own.
Last season, Weeks had the best season of his career, playing in 160 games and setting career highs in home runs (29) and RBI (83). With Zack Greinke on the DL, it's important for the Brewers to get off to a hot start and establish themselves against division rivals.
Unfortunately, John Axford blew the save—badly—giving up four runs in the ninth inning, including a three-run, walk-off home run to Ramon Hernandez.
The Good: Derek Lowe off to a Nice Start
The Braves can certainly contend in the NL East this season, having one of the best offenses in the league, but the difference maker will be their starting rotation
With the "Phab Phour" in Philly, it's important for the Braves starting rotation to step up and show there are good pitchers in Atlanta as well.
Derek Lowe showed that today, getting the win by throwing 5.2 innings of shutout ball against the Nationals today in Washington. Lowe struck out six and walked just two. He gave up three hits.
The Good: Craig Kimbrel Gets His First Save of the Season
One of the few questions surrounding the Atlanta Braves heading into this season was how Craig Kimbrel would handle the closer's role.
Well, one game and one save for Kimbrel, who didn't allow a hit and struck out two to close out Atlanta's 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals.
It's a long season but Kimbrel was impressive. He'll be an important part of that Atlanta bullpen all season.
The Good: Yankees Bullpen Works as Planned
After being spurned by Cliff Lee, the Yankees needed to make a splash. Bringing in guys like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation wasn't going to impress anyone.
So they turned their attention elsewhere, signing Rafael Soriano to set up for Mariano Rivera. The addition gave the Yankees the best bullpen in baseball. To combat a weak rotation, the Yankees wanted to ensure that any lead they brought into the late innings would hold up.
Well, today against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium, that's just how it went.
Joba Chamberlain kept the game tied 3-3 by pitching a spotless seventh inning, collecting one strikeout. The Yankees took the lead in the bottom of the frame off a Curtis Granderson solo shot to right and a Derek Jeter sac fly.
Soriano struck out two in a scoreless eighth, and Rivera did his thing in the ninth.
The three relievers combined for three hitless innings and three strikeouts.
That's the way it's going to go for the Yankees all season long: Chamberlain/David Robertson, Soriano and then Rivera.
Yankees win it, 6-3.
The Good: Curtis Granderson
Granderson's Opening Day was in serious jeopardy after he suffered a quad injury earlier this week, but he recovered in time to start in center field for the Yankees.
Good thing too.
Granderson went 1-for-3 in his first start of the season. His lone hit was a solo home run, and it gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.
He also made two excellent defensive plays, a diving catch in the first and a great running catch on the warning track in the ninth. He played very shallow the whole game, but it didn't seem to matter for the speedy Granderson.
Granderson seems poised for a big season in the Bronx.
The Good: Jered Weaver in Midseason Form Against Royals
Weaver was fantastic against the Royals today, improving to 3-0 in his last four starts against Kansas City.
He allowed no runs on just two singles in 6.1 innings. After leading the AL in strikeouts last season, Weaver K'd six while walking just two.
With a healthy Kendry Morales returning and the addition of Vernon Wells, the Angels have their eye on returning to the top of the AL West. An improved Oakland team and the defending AL champion Texas Rangers stand in their way, but if Weaver continues to pitch like he did today, they won't be there for long.
Good: Clayton Kershaw Defeats Tim Lincecum
Clayton Kershaw is a trendy pick for the Cy Young this season, and he backed up the picks with an excellent performance against the Giants last night.
Kershaw pitched seven innings of four-hit, shutout baseball, collecting nine strikeouts with just one walk.
His counterpart, Tim Lincecum, was equally impressive, going seven innings and giving up just one run on five hits, but he left the game on the hook, as his teammates were completely shut down by Kershaw.
The Giants are built around their pitching, but they'll still need to score runs. Adding rookie Brandon Belt to their lineup will help, but when they come up against an ace like Kershaw, you can see that the Giants pitching staff can only take them so far.
The Dodgers have offensive issues of their own, but they're off to a good start, earning the 2-1 win.
The Good (Really): Ramon Hernandez
Is it just me, or do the Reds always seem to come back in games? This could be the toughest team in all of baseball.
Down 6-3, the Reds loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth. At the time, they were 0-for-8 with RISP and had stranded 10 men on base.
John Axford was in to close it out for the Brewers, but it was not to be. Jay Bruce struck out, and Jonny Gomes hit a sac fly to bring the Reds closer.
Still down 6-4, Ramon Hernandez strolled to the plate. Already 3-for-4 on the day, Hernandez clubbed a walk-off, three-run home run to right field to give the Reds the 7-6 win on Opening Day.
Red October, anyone?
The Bad: The Atlanta Braves Offense
The Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals, 2-0, so it's hard to really get on them; a win is a win. But many consider the Atlanta offense to be one of the best, if not the best, in the National League.
They didn't look very good today.
They collected five hits—nothing to turn up your nose at, but consider that Chipper Jones and Brian McCann each had two of the five, and it loses a little of its luster.
Jason Heyward contributed a home run in the second inning as well.
Highly touted rookie Freddie Freeman went 0-for-3, and the top of the Braves batting order, Martin Prado and Nate McLouth, were a combined 0-for-4.
Offseason acquisition Dan Uggla also went hitless in four at-bats.
The Braves offense will be fine, and they should be able to contend with the Phillies in the NL East, but their offense didn't look good today.
They didn't score after Heyward's solo homer in the second inning, and they had only two hits.
They got the win, though, so who am I to judge?
The Bad: Yankees Fans Playing Both Sides of the Fence
I know. Why would hearing fans chanting, "Derek Jeter!" throughout Yankees Stadium be a bad thing?
But it's on here because of how badly Jeter has been ripped and kicked around after the worst season of his career in 2010. There were questions about whether Jeter should still bat leadoff, which manager Joe Girardi answered by moving him to the two hole and batting Brett Gardner leadoff.
But the guy is just too good a player to suddenly not be able to hit .300.
Yet there were Yankee fans calling up on New York radio shows, writing in their blogs and posting comments wherever they could, trashing Jeter. I've been told Jeter is "washed-up," "a has-been" and a "waste of space."
Yet here he is on Opening Day, hearing his name chanted. I have to assume some of the fans that have been dragging his name through the mud are the same fans who were cheering him on at the game today. It's not a bad thing to cheer your players on, but stick to one side of the fence.
The Bad: Buster Posey
Buster Posey, last season's Rookie of the Year, had a rough night against the Dodgers. He was okay at the plate, finishing 1-for-4, but he struck out twice.
Behind the plate is where Posey made his biggest mistake. An excellent defensive catcher, Posey made an ill-advised pickoff attempt of the Dodgers' Matt Kemp in the bottom of the sixth inning. Posey's throw sailed down the left field line, allowing Kemp to score the game's first run, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
Posey had no business making the throw. Kemp reached base on a walk and advanced all the way to third on a throwing error by shortstop Miguel Tejada.
Lincecum then hit Juan Uribe with a pitch, and the ball rolled to Posey's left. Noticing Kemp wandering off the bag, Posey picked up the ball and made a snap throw that caught third baseman Pablo Sandoval by surprise.
Posey also had a passed ball charged to him.
The Bad: Kansas City Royals
For now, the words "bad" and "Kansas City Royals" are synonymous with one another.
The Royals lost to the Angels today, 4-2, and didn't look good in the process. Through the first five innings, the Royals had only one hit and committed three errors.
Jeff Francoeur homered in the seventh inning to put the Royals on the board for the first time, and Mike Aviles homered in the eighth to give them their second run.
Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar went 5.2 innings and gave up four runs, three earned, on nine hits with five strikeouts.
Let's face it—the Royals are just biding their time until their wealth of young prospects hits the majors. There may be a Mike Moustakas sighting soon, with Eric Hosmer to follow.
Get your jokes in now because it won't be so funny in Kansas City much longer.
The Ugly: Austin Jackson
Last season, Jackson struck out 170 times, the most in the AL. While he did finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting, batting .293 with 27 stolen bases and 103 runs scored as Detroit's leadoff man, it would be nice to see him improve his .345 OBP by cutting down on the strikeouts.
He didn't look very good today against the Yankees' CC Sabathia.
Jackson went 1-for-4 with a run scored and three strikeouts in the Tigers' 6-3 loss.
It's still early, of course—very early, in fact—but it's not good to see Jackson striking out three times, especially not when facing a lefty like Sabathia.
The Ugly: Edinson Volquez
Like I said previously, it's important that the Red gave Volquez the Opening Day nod because he's going to have to lead this starting rotation to an NL Central title repeat this season.
It's not off to a good start for Volquez though.
He pitched six innings, surrendering five runs, all earned, on seven hits. He walked two and struck out five.
Volquez made just 12 starts for the Reds last season in his return from Tommy John surgery. He finished the regular season 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA and 35 walks in 62.2 IP.
The Ugly: St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen
Ryan Franklin only had a one-run lead to protect, but he couldn't get the job done. After Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday hit a go-ahead solo homer to right-center, Franklin gave up a two-out, game-tying home run to Cameron Maybin.
With the loss of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals are going to have to score runs and make sure those runs stand up in the late innings. That means Franklin needs to have a good season.
Unfortunately, he's not off to a good start. The boo birds were out in force in St. Louis today.
After Franklin gave up the home run to Maybin, who would later leave the game with an injury, the Cardinals bullpen looked bad. After Brian Tallet pitched a scoreless inning, Bryan Augenstein allowed two runs on three hits in an inning of relief, giving the Padres a 5-3 lead and the win.
The Ugly: Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols had an ugly day at the plate today, going 0-for-5 and hitting into three double plays.
It's the first time in his career that he's hit into three double plays in a single game.
If Pujols has a rough start to the season, fans will be quick to point to his contract situation as the cause. The only question will be if they'll blame the Cardinals front office or Pujols himself.
The Ugly: Elton John Looks a Lot Like Pete Rose
Thank god cameras at baseball games are always on the lookout for things like this. That's Pete Rose, not Elton John. I know—I did a double take too.