10 Biggest Takeaways from 2014 MLB Opening Day

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IApril 1, 2014

10 Biggest Takeaways from 2014 MLB Opening Day

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    Kim Johnson Flodin

    Baseball is back.

    While the season technically started two weekends ago with a Dodgers-Diamondbacks tilt in Australia and continued with another NL West battle on Sunday night—this time with the Dodgers and Padres—Opening Day represented the true start of the 2014 campaign.

    After a long, cold winter—literally in most parts of America—baseball returned. As with most great events, it was worth the wait.

    At one point on Monday afternoon, four of the six games were tied and two were in extra innings. The NFL is famous for it's must-see quality and game-by-game appeal, but baseball took that mantle during the afternoon slate.

    With one full day of the 2014 campaign in the books, a slew of box scores, statistics and narratives will be there to weave through and chew on. Luckily, Bleacher Report is here to get the conversation started. 

    Here are the biggest takeaways from Opening Day 2014.

    Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN, unless otherwise noted. 
    All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.

Ryan Braun Is Beloved in Milwaukee

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    Ryan Braun's connection to Biogenesis and 65-game suspension in 2013 may have tarnished his legacy, future Hall of Fame credentials and reputation around the game, but it didn't change how Milwaukee Brewers fans treated their best player on Opening Day.

    As Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chronicled on Twitter, Braun was welcomed back to baseball with a standing ovation by his home crowd.  

    Much like Barry Bonds in San Francisco or Alex Rodriguez—when he was hitting well—in New York, hometown fans tend to support tainted stars, allowing past transgressions to be judged by national media and road crowds.

    After a single, stolen base and victory in Braun's first game back, expect the cheers to continue in Milwaukee. 

Jimmy Rollins Deserves Respect

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    Opening Day represented the 14th consecutive season that Jimmy Rollins started at shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. Yet, after a spring training of turmoil and questions surrounding his future with the organization, it's time to give Rollins some respect.

    Not only did his grand slam against the Texas Rangers prove to be a seminal moment in Philadelphia's 14-10 victory, it profiled as an historic hit.

    According to MLB Play Index on Twitter, Rollins' 200th career home run placed him in rare company in baseball history. After the blast, only three players—Rollins, Johnny Damon and Paul Molitor—own the following career stat line: 400 doubles, 100 triples, 200 home runs and 400 stolen bases.

    On a day where the Phillies offense exploded, Rollins stood out as the veteran leading the attack. Not bad for a player that was involved in offseason trade rumors.

Instant Replay Will Be an Overwhelming Success

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    Prior to the first pitch of Opening Day, Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey expounded on why instant replay wouldn't be good for the game and how fans would miss the interaction between managers and umpires on the field.

    Through the first day of extended action with instant replay available to managers, Harvey's theory was proven wrong.

    Replay was an overwhelming success, providing managers with simple and succinct routes to achieving the correct call.

    No arguments, no banter. Just results.

    After the request of a challenge, umpires—starting with the Cubs-Pirates game at PNC Park, per John Perrotto of USA Today—communicated with MLB replay headquarters in New York in order to get the call right. 

    As baseball's first Opening Day with expanded replay concluded, the game is better for it.

Nelson Cruz Will Have an Impact on the AL East

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    When spring training began, the Baltimore Orioles were a talented team starring down the aftermath of a confounding offseason. Instead of adding to a roster that had become a winner under Buck Showalter, the Orioles saved their money during November, December and January. 

    Eventually, patience was rewarded in the form of free-agent acquisitions Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.

    On Opening Day, Cruz had the first chance to be a difference maker for the AL East contenders.

    During a tie game with the Boston Red Sox, the former Texas Rangers slugger launched a solo home run off Jon Lester. The blast proved to be the difference in a 2-1 victory for Baltimore, sending the reigning World Series champions to a loss.

    According to ESPN Stats & Info, Cruz's blast was his 10th home run in his last 23 games against the Red Sox. 

    In the AL East, five or six games could separate first place from fourth place. With two wild card spots available, a marginal difference could be what catapults a team into October baseball.

    After hitting 27 home runs prior to suspension last season, Cruz showed that he's capable of being a contributor and difference maker in Baltimore.

Grady Sizemore Returns in Style

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    He's back.

    From 2005-2008—during what were his first four full big league seasonsthe American League's best center fielder hit 107 home runs, stole 115 bases and was worth 24.6 WAR.

    That player was Grady Sizemore.

    After injuries derailed a sterling career, Sizemore resurfaced this spring, made the Red Sox roster and was named the Opening Day center fielder. With a solid spring training (.310/.356/.429) under his belt, the 31-year-old took the field at Camden Yards with an eye on rewriting the narrative of his career.

    When a high fastball from Orioles starter Chris Tillman was deposited over the right field wall for a game-tying home run, Sizemore did just that.

    Time will tell if the former star can stay healthy, hold on to a starting role and replace Jacoby Ellsbury's offense for the defending champs. For one game, he did that and surprised the baseball world.

Francisco Liriano Wasn't a Fluke

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    Keith Srakocic

    From 2009-2012, Francisco Liriano was a bad pitcher. 

    Regardless of what caused his struggles—including injuries—the former Minnesota Twins lefty arrived in Pittsburgh last season with the following four-year stretch attached to his credentials: 34-45, 4.85 ERA, 4.1 BB/9, 2.11 SO/BB and 86 ERA+. 

    Those numbers likely prompted snickers from Pirates fans when the team brought the southpaw aboard to provide a boost to the rotation. By October, Liriano was the one doing the snickering. Over 161 innings, Pittsburgh's acquisition dominated the NL to the tune of a 3.02 ERA and 9.1 SO/9. 

    On Opening Day 2014, the 30-year-old picked up where he left off by striking out 10 Cubs batters over six scoreless innings.

    One bounce-back season could be viewed as an anomaly, but Liriano left no doubt about his resurgence.

David Price Carries over Second Half Dominance

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    Chris O'Meara

    Few pitchers were more dominant in the second half of 2013 than Rays starter David Price. Across 15 starts, the former AL Cy Young award winner posted a 2.87 ERA, 2.72 FIP and walked just 1.10 batters per nine innings.

    After suffering through a triceps injury early in the season, Price established his dominance as the Rays made another push for the postseason.

    It's been more than five months since baseball fans saw Price on the mound, but very little changed.

    On Opening Day, Tampa's No. 1 arm shutdown (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO) the potent Blue Jays attack and earned the first of what's likely to be a 15-plus win individual season. 

    With Price atop the staff, Tampa has a legitimate chance to win the AL East and make a deep run through October. If he can pitch like this for the majority of the season, the division championship could go through Tropicana Field.

Jose Fernandez Is Special

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    Judging by WAR, Jose Fernandez's 2013 season was the fifth-best season in the history of 20-year-old pitchers. By posting a 6.3 WAR for the Marlins, Fernandez put himself on a list alongside Bert Blyleven, Christy Matthewson, Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).

    On Opening Day, the Marlins ace looked ready (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 9 SO, 0 BB) for an encore performance in 2014. In fact, he could be poised for an even better campaign.

    According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Fernandez tied the franchise record for Opening Day strikeouts, matching Josh Beckett's mark against the Expos in 2004.

    Last season, Fernandez only posted one game of at least nine strikeouts and zero walks. Despite his season-long excellence, that start didn't occur until July. Through one night, one of the most amazing young pitchers in baseball history is on track to surpass his age-20 campaign.

Mike Trout: $144.5 Million Bargain

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    Jae C. Hong

    Mike Trout's $144.5 million contract extension was a boon for both the Angels and baseball's best young player, but don't sell Los Angeles' front office short when discussing the ramifications of the deal.

    Simply put, they got a steal.

    At first glance, committing $99.75 million for three free-agent years isn't quite shopping in the clearance aisle, but Trout's talent is so immense and overwhelming that it's impossible to put a price on what he could be worth when he hits his prime.

    That's right, folks. As Trout enters his age-22 season, his prime is still years away. 

    For now, he'll work his way up to his best by profiling as the best player in baseball for the third straight season. On Opening Day, that pursuit began with a mammoth home run against Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

    Considering Trout's trajectory, the Angels exchanged nearly $145 million in guaranteed salary for a player likely to be worth far more than that over the life of the deal. 

Jose Reyes Symbolizes Blue Jays' Struggles

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    For a brief moment in Tampa, Fla., Jose Reyes was active and healthy enough to play shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Then, much like his career in Toronto, the excitement disappeared quickly. When the electric star felt lingering tightness in his hamstring, he was removed from Opening Day.

    Before long, the precaution led to another precaution: Reyes has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, per Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com.

    In the report, a downtrodden Reyes explains the frustration with his latest injury.

    "Hopefully it doesn't get any worse," Reyes said, per Chisholm. "If it gets any worse, it's going to be disappointing not just for me, but for the whole team. I worked so hard this offseason just to get ready for Spring Training, play for a full year, and now I have to deal with this thingit's no fun at all. I want to be on the field, but it's one of those things, injuries happen, it's part of the game and I have to deal with it."

    After a season of disappointment, the Blue Jays will attempt to deal with the loss of their most dynamic player. 

    What was your biggest takeaway from Opening Day 2014?

    Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball.

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