The paint hasn’t even dried on the opening week of the baseball season, and there are already plenty of unforeseen subplots unfolding. Perhaps the biggest one is in Denver, where an unheralded rookie is suddenly making Rockies fans forget about a departed legend. There are also slide rules, shutouts galore, and comebacks. So let’s not waste any more time, and dive right in:
No Bedtime Story
I saw some experts sneak Trevor Story’s name into their 2016 surprise columns, and now I know why. Okay, four home runs in three games won’t land him in Cooperstown, but it is a Major League first. If there is pressure to replace Troy Tulowitzki, maybe it’s offset by the lack of pressure of playing for the lowly Rockies. I say “lowly” a little bit tongue in cheek, because there has never been a doubt about their ability to rake. FanGraphs aptly pointed out that Story has a recipe for success in Denver: putting the ball in the air. He has done that 90% of the time on balls in play thus far. And to think, he hasn’t even played a game at Coors Field yet.
What’s up with the San Diego Padres? Are they really that awful, or do they just have a case of the Los Angeles Dodgers? San Diego is the first team in MLB history to be shutout in its first three games, and the Dodgers are the second team to do it (the 1963 Cardinals are the other). Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda looked great, but things might always be different against a Major League-worthy lineup. Just when you thought general manager A.J. Preller’s wheeling-and-dealing couldn’t look any worse, three goose eggs have added a painful exclamation mark.
What a way for the Blue Jays to suffer their first loss. The new slide rule isn’t the issue. I hope that it doesn’t discourage hard, clean slides, but there is a massive need to eliminate Chase Utley-type sieges. Jose Bautista did nothing similar to Utley, but he did interfere with Logan Forsythe. Just as a defensive end can alter a quarterback’s throw by hitting him, Bautista’s swipe of Forsythe’s ankle did just that. Whether it was Bautista or someone else, eventually, this rule was going to manifest itself in a controversial manner at a critical point in a game. Better to have it happen in Game 3 of the regular season than Game 3 of the World Series.
Why, O Why, is Baltimore an Afterthought?
Many pundits have the Orioles ending up in the American League East basement. In a way it makes sense, because the Red Sox and Yankees beefed up, the Blue Jays are a sexy World Series pick, and Tampa Bay always seduces experts with its dynamic young rotation. But don’t sleep on the O’s. A lineup chock-full of 30-homer bats and a stout bullpen has a chance to overcome the team’s supposed Achilles’ heel, its starting rotation. That is fair to question, but Chris Tillman should bounce back from a down year in 2015, and Yovani Gallardo very well could be this year’s version of Edinson Volquez. Gallardo isn’t seen as an ace, yet his numbers are comparable to a lot of No. 1 and No. 2 starters in the game. And perhaps beating the Twins twice to start 2016 is a good omen for the Orioles, considering they went 0-7 against Minnesota last year.
Speaking of thunderous lineups, the Tigers are going to be fun to watch this year. For all the talk about Toronto’s band of sluggers, Detroit is rolling in the deep with powerful bats. Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez are now joined by Justin Upton. And if the team can get anything from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which it did yesterday, look out. Salty’s big game proved quite ironic; the Marlins are still paying off his contract while he homered and drove in four runs against them.
There are team comebacks, like the Mariners had yesterday, and then individual ones, like Robinson Cano. Four home runs in three games are sound proof that Cano is back from a dismal 2015 campaign that was marred by a stomach parasite and his grandfather’s passing… It’s nice to see Jimmy Rollins not only still playing, but contributing. J-Roll hit a game-winning home run on Tuesday in his hometown of Oakland to lift the ChiSox to a 5-4 win… It’s just too bad for the Phillies, who have a talented young rotation but are going to be up a creek if their best closing option is Dalier Hinojosa (and David Hernandez is next). Philly and Atlanta will not only battle for NL East inferiority, but quite possibly the worst record in the league.