Bryce Harper's Encore and Biggest Takeaways from 2016 MLB Opening Day

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 5, 2016

Bryce Harper's Encore and Biggest Takeaways from 2016 MLB Opening Day

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    Bryce Harper is back—and just as good as ever.
    Bryce Harper is back—and just as good as ever.Associated Press

    Everyone, say hello to the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

    Following a practice run Sunday, Opening Day arrived for real Monday. And though rain washed away two games and delayed a third, the day's action still gave us plenty of things worthy of immediate discussion.

    From some noteworthy home runs to an ace's surprising flop to the rise of a formidable lineup, let's take a look at the top nine takeaways from the season's first full day of baseball.

9. Madison Bumgarner May Still Be in Spring Training Mode

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    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    On the eve of the 2016 season, some know-it-all at Bleacher Report ranked Madison Bumgarner the No. 3 ace in baseball. In the parlance of our times: "Welp..."

    Bumgarner didn't look the part of the San Francisco Giants' ace in his Opening Day assignment against the Milwaukee Brewers. Though the Giants came away with a 12-3 win, Bumgarner gave up three runs on five hits and five walks in five innings. Two of those hits could not be contained by Miller Park.

    Bumgarner does have a good excuse for his rough outing: He had the flu. After the left-hander met with reporters following the game, Andrew Baggarly of the Bay Area News Group noted Bumgarner looked and sounded "legitimately sick."

    But it's possible Bumgarner was also still reeling from a rough spring training in which he struggled with his mechanics. That contributed to an 11.12 ERA in four starts and may have been the underlying cause of his five walks Monday. He hadn't walked that many in a game since May 2013.

    Since this is one game out of 162, panic is not advised. But because Bumgarner is normally very, very good, some anxiety is OK.

8. So That's What the 'Chase Utley Rule' Looks Like

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    In October, Chase Utley's hard slide into second base nearly shattered Ruben Tejada into a million pieces. A few months later, MLB instituted the so-called "Chase Utley rule."

    And now we know what it looks like in practice. 

    Watch the above clip from Monday's tilt between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, and you'll see Nick Markakis break up a double play with a hard slide. But because Markakis didn't make what the rule book deems a "bona fide slide" into second, both he and Hector Olivera were called out.

    Them's the rules, folks. And depending on who you ask, that's a bummer. Sean Roman Strockyj of the New York Post fears the new rule will "further erode the flow, and the purity, of the game."

    But perhaps it won't be that bad. The Utley rule aims to do the same thing for middle infielders that the "Buster Posey rule" does for catchers. And though it took time for players to get a handle on that statute in its initial season in 2014, it's now just another part of the game. 

    Eventually, the same will probably be true of the Utley rule.

7. Daniel Murphy Refuses to Stop Hitting for Power

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Daniel Murphy raised many eyebrows when he displayed Ruthian power in the New York Mets' run to the World Series in October. But after he signed with the Washington Nationals this winter, it figured we'd surely seen the last of it.

    Apparently not. And don't call me...well, you know.

    Murphy broke out his power bat to help lead the Nationals to a 4-3 win in extras against the Atlanta Braves on Monday. He slugged a solo home run to center in the fourth inning and plated the go-ahead run with a double in the 10th.

    As much as it feels like it should be, maybe this isn't surprising. Murphy enjoyed a power spike even before the postseason last year, after all. And with a career-high pull rate and a fly-ball rate above his norm, he certainly earned it.

    Because Murphy is a 31-year-old veteran and not a young up-and-comer, conventional wisdom holds that his evolution into a power hitter is an elaborate trick of some kind. But at this point, it's easy to remember conventional wisdom has been wrong before.

6. Cole Hamels Proves He's Good, Rangers Prove Baseball Is Weird

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    After helping push the Texas Rangers into the postseason last summer, Cole Hamels is now ready for his first full season in Texas.

    So far, so good. Though Hamels ran into early trouble by allowing long balls to Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, the veteran left-hander still pitched like an ace in leading the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners. In seven innings, he allowed four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts.

    If the Rangers get more of that from Hamels, they'll be pleased. Especially as they wait for Yu Darvish to make his return from Tommy John surgery.

    In other news, Monday's clash between Texas and Seattle also confirmed for the masses that, yes, baseball is still just the weirdest darn thing. The Rangers won despite the fact that they collected only one hit. Per Baseball Reference, they're the first Opening Day winner to do that since 1913.

    Given that Felix Hernandez was the one opposing his team on the mound, however, Texas manager Jeff Banister will take it. As he told Mike Leslie of WFAA: "We did something today that we weren't capable of doing all year long last year, and that's putting runs across on Felix."

5. Don't Call It a Comeback for Robinson Cano

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Robinson Cano entered 2016 hoping to make everyone forget about a 2015 campaign that was his worst in seven years. To this point, he's doing such a good job that you'd swear he was using a neuralyzer.

    On the heels of a spring season in which Cano put up a 1.234 OPS with seven home runs, the Seattle Mariners' veteran second baseman kept right on crushing Monday. In his first regular-season at-bat, he took Hamels over the wall in right field at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

    Like it does with Daniel Murphy, conventional wisdom posits that expectations for Cano should be held in check. At 33 years old and coming off his worst OPS since 2008, his trajectory is more likely to keep heading down than it is to go back up.

    The X-factor, though, is Cano's health. After fighting through a stomach problem in 2015, he told Greg Johns of MLB.com at the outset of spring training that he was at "98 percent."

    Everything Cano has done since then has made that sound like more than just talk. If he can keep it up, he'll have a classic don't-call-it-a-comeback comeback season.

4. The Giants Offense Should Be Really Good

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    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    The book on the San Francisco Giants is that they're about pitching first and hitting second. Nowadays, though, that's probably definitely not the case.

    Albeit with an assist from the Milwaukee Brewers' not-so-star-studded pitching, the Giants offense opened 2016 with a veritable bang Monday. It scored a dozen runs on 15 hits. Four of those cleared Miller Park's fences, including back-to-back-to-back shots by Denard Span, Joe Panik and Buster Posey in the eighth inning.

    And don't overlook Matt Duffy, who collected four RBI with a second-inning single and two-run homer. Duffy finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, so he might actually be for real.

    Same goes for the San Francisco offense as a whole. This is a team that was among the National League's five best in runs and OPS in 2015. With the addition of Span and a full season of Hunter Pence, even better things should be in store this season.

    If that wasn't apparent before, it's apparent now.

3. But, the Dodgers Offense Could Be Even Better

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    The San Francisco Giants offense made a statement Monday, all right. But later, the Los Angeles Dodgers offense made an even bigger one.

    Though tasked with a tough assignment in San Diego Padres right-hander Tyson Ross, the Dodgers blew through him and everyone else the Padres threw at them en route to a resounding 15-0 win. They collected 17 hits and scored their 15 runs without the benefit of a single home run.

    Naturally, it was a collective effort. Chase Utley, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson collected multiple hits apiece. Though he only gathered one hit, uber-talented rookie Corey Seager took some good hacks in knocking an RBI double and a sac fly.

    Consider this a reminder that Los Angeles also has a pretty good offense lined up for 2016. It's returning almost everyone from a lineup that flirted with being one of the best in baseball history early last season. And according to Baseball Prospectus, the only National League team with a better run-scoring outlook this season is the Chicago Cubs.

    But the Dodgers enjoyed more than just a lot of offense in their season opener...

2. Clayton Kershaw Status Update: Still Really Good

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    By now, Clayton Kershaw carving up opposing lineups like Christmas hams shouldn't surprise anyone.

    That doesn't mean it's not still fun to watch him do it, though.

    The ace southpaw was at it again Monday in the Los Angeles Dodgers' drubbing of the San Diego Padres. Kershaw pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and one walk. He struck out nine.

    And yeah, he looked good doing it. The 28-year-old's fastball was in the low to mid-90s. And as per usual, his slider and curveball looked like optical illusions.

    You'd expect nothing less from a pitcher with a 2.11 ERA over the last five seasons, much less a pitcher whose career ERA+ is matched only by Pedro Martinez. And with 301 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA to his name in 2015, Kershaw arguably should have won his fourth National League Cy Young Award.

    No matter. If he can keep pitching like he did on Opening Day, that fourth Cy Young could find its way to his trophy case this winter.

1. Bryce Harper Picks Up Where He Left Off

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    In recent weeks, it seemed like Bryce Harper was best known for having the gall to tell Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine that baseball is a "tired sport."

    But Monday, he reminded everyone he's also quite good at baseball.

    Direct your eyes to the video above, and you'll see Harper teeing off on Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran in his very first at-bat of 2016. It was the fourth Opening Day home run of his career, and it made avoiding the phrase "picked up where he left off" utterly impossible.

    Harper went from being a young player with MVP potential to an actual MVP last year. And how. The Washington Nationals' 23-year-old right fielder hit .330 with 42 home runs, and led all of MLB in OBP (.460), slugging (.649) and OPS (1.109). It was the most dominant offensive season since a fellow named Barry Bonds' campaign in 2004.

    When a guy is that good, it's hard to write him off as a fluke. When the same guy begins the following season with a dinger, it's even harder.

    Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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