What a fun MLB Opening Day. We got to see every one of the 30 teams in action and they provided all different sorts of games sprinkled throughout the day. The late afternoon set was particularly exciting with some back-and-forth bouts going down to the wire.
A unique aspect of baseball is the daily nature and the grind that is a 162-game season. I often think of the movie Major League, when Rick Vaughn is flipping a baseball up and down in almost hypnotic trance before the first game of the year. The catcher and leader, Jake Taylor, comes over and grabs the ball, telling Vaughn to take it easy because they still have "161 more of these things to go."
We do. It's an awful long season and even through the entire month of April it's only a fraction of what we'll see before the dust settles and we've got our playoff field set. It's also natural to overreact to the opening day action since we're all human and it's the first real Major League Baseball we've seen since early last November.
So let's overreact and then try to steer ourselves back to reality.
Aaron Judge is hitting 60-plus homers again
The facts: The Yankees' superstar joined an exclusive club in hitting 62 homers last season. This time around, he hit a home run in his first plate appearance.
The overreaction: The beaten-into-the-ground joke after opening day is to do the whole "on pace" thing and, yes, Judge is on pace to hit 162 home runs this season. More realistically, Judge picked up where he left off last year. He took Logan Webb deep on a cold day to dead center field for the league's first home run of the season. That's incredibly hard to do. Webb only allowed 11 homers in 192 1/3 innings last season.
If Judge is this locked in already against top-notch pitching, he's going off again this year.
The reality: He might. We've already seen that he can do it. He just did it. He also hit 52 homers in 2017 and though he dealt with injuries a decent amount of the time between the 52 and 62 (2018-21), he still averaged 42 homers per 162 games in that stretch. He's fully capable of going huge in a season.
Still, 60 is an absurd number. There's a reason there was so much fanfare last year. I'd be on board with saying Judge would hit 45-plus and probably even 50-plus, but I'd strongly bet against getting to 60 again. One homer in one game just means he's 59 away with 161 to go. That's still far too brisk a pace to bet on.
The new rules are an immediate success
The facts: The game times were drastically slashed on Opening Day compared to several years going back into the past with the average time of game being two hours and 45 minutes (the average game time last season was three hours and three minutes). There was a lot more running with players going 21 of 23 in stolen-base attempts. There were 0.51 stolen bases per game last season (it was 1.4 on Thursday).
The overreaction: Baseball is far more exciting than it has been in years. It's also much more aesthetically pleasing, too, thanks to the shift limits making so many ground-ball singles a thing again. Where has this been all my life!?!?!
The reality: I'm not really going crazy overreacting. There were some violations and that was annoying -- that part of it still feels a bit wrong, I'll admit -- but those kinks are going to be ironed out as the season progresses. It was only Opening Day and everything just flowed much more smoothly. I predict that by the end of the season, we'll wonder how we tolerated the slog that the game had become in 2022.
The dreaded World Series hangover
The facts: The Houston Astros had previously won 10 straight Opening Day games. They lost to the White Sox, 3-2, in the opener at home Thursday night.
There hasn't been a repeat champion in baseball since 2000, when the Yankees completed their three-peat. Last season, the Braves started 12-16 and needed a furious late rally to win the NL East. The 2019 Red Sox and 2017 Cubs are also recent examples of teams getting off to a terrible start after their World Series title.
The overreaction: Here it comes. The hangover! Jose Altuve and Lance McCullers are hurt to start the season and the Astros offense looked punchless other than Yordan Alvarez's solo shot in the ninth inning. They'll get off to a bad start.
The reality: Nah. It's only one game. The Astros won their opener last year, but after a 4-1 start lost seven of their next nine games. They'd end up winning 106 on the season. They just faced an ace in Dylan Cease and, again, it was only one game in which they lost by just one run. They're fine.
The Padres are all hype and no substance
The facts: The San Diego Padres entered the season with the third-highest payroll in baseball and many people picked them to win the NL West, the NL pennant and even the World Series.
The Rockies beat the Padres down in San Diego, 7-2. C.J. Cron hit two homers for the Rockies. Padres starter Blake Snell couldn't get through the fifth inning. The Padres' bullpen was battered. The vaunted Padres' offense only managed two runs on seven hits (and newcomer Xander Bogaerts had three of those hits) against what many believe it a bad Rockies pitching staff. Juan Soto, coming off a down year, went 0 for 3 with a strikeout.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had their way with the Diamondbacks, exploding after falling behind early, in a 7-2 victory.
The overreaction: Yep, how many times have we seen it? The offseason darling is a colossal failure when it comes time to actually win some ballgames. The Dodgers own this division and the Padres' run to the NLCS last year was more fluke than anything else. They aren't worth this amount of money and the hype train will come to a screeching halt here rather quickly.
The reality: It was difficult to get through typing all that stuff without laughing. It was one game out of 162 and the Padres aren't even full strength. Snell is their third-best starter once Joe Musgrove comes back from his freak toe injury, Fernando Tatis Jr. is still suspended and they weren't going to go 162-0. The Padres are still loaded, but it really might take a little time here. I won't be surprised if the Dodgers lead the division at the All-Star break or later, but I'm not coming off my Padres pick until they are eliminated. They've got the goods. Patience is a virtue.
Jacob deGrom is healthy but bad
The facts: From 2018-22, the only things that really slowed Jacob deGrom down were injuries. He started 102 games in that span, pitching to a 2.05 ERA, 2.14 FIP and 0.87 WHIP with 876 strikeouts against 123 unintentional walks in 645 1/3 innings.
Thursday, deGrom was squared up by the Phillies for five runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings. The six extra-base hits allowed were the most he'd ever given up in an MLB start.
The overreaction: He wasn't hurt. He was just bad! He's also 34 years old and signed a five-year deal worth $185 million. The Rangers are going to badly regret this deal and should've seen it coming when the Mets didn't go overly hard to retain him.
The reality: Settle down, Beavis. DeGrom's stuff looked great. He just got hit. Sometimes that happens even with the best pitchers.
If there is any concern, maybe it's the fastball dipping down into the mid-97s in the fourth when it was hitting 100 in the first inning, but sitting well over 97 certainly isn't a cause for concern on the whole.
If this happens another few times before the calendar turns to May, we can start to wonder what is wrong with deGrom. Until then, we'll just consider it a one-off. As noted in the intro, this is a long season.
ADLEY FOR MVP
The facts: The Orioles improved by 31 games last season to an 83-79 record. A big reason for that would be rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and 12th in AL MVP voting.
The Orioles won in Boston Thursday, 10-9. Rutschman hit a home run in the first inning to get the scoring started and ended up going 5 for 5 with four RBI.
The overreaction: When the Orioles drafted Rutschman he was thought to have MVP upside. He never did anything in the minors to change that and now with a year under his belt, he's ready to win MVP in his second season. The Opening Day performance was just the beginning of a monster season!
The reality: He absolutely has this upside and I'm not betting against him winning an MVP someday. I would, however, pump the brakes a bit after facing a washed-up Corey Kluber and whatever the Red Sox are doing with that bullpen. Remember, the AL has players like Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Julio Rodríguez, Mike Trout, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and some guy named Shohei Ohtani.
That's just far too crowded a field. Rutschman might end up the best catcher in baseball this season. He's that good. He isn't winning the MVP, though. Feel free to save this one and get back to me in October.
Cardinals pitching, Brewers hitting are bad
The facts: On the Cardinals' side, Adam Wainwright is over 40 and started the season on the injured list. Miles Mikolas, the Opening Day starter, is nearly 35 years old. Jack Flaherty hasn't had a fully-healthy season in years. Steven Matz is a total wild card. Basically, the Cardinals have major questions in the rotation.
Thursday, Mikolas allowed five runs on 10 hits in just 3 1/3 innings. The Cardinals ended up losing 10-9.
On the flip side, most people agree that the Brewers are going to have stellar pitching this season but the questions lie on the offensive side. The Brewers went into Wrigley Field and only recorded four hits -- all singles -- against the Cubs, barely ever even mounting a rally. They struck out 12 times and hit into two double plays.
The overreaction: We knew it. The two main contenders in the NL Central are fatally flawed. The Cardinals have been a run prevention factory for years but with Yadier Molina gone and the rotation in disarray, they are going to be a slow-pitch softball team this year.
The Brewers, meanwhile, just can't score runs and that means their pitching and defense have no margin for error. Once the Cubs put up a crooked number on Thursday, the game was over and this will happen far too often this season.
The reality: The questions linger, but it's not as drastic as the picture painted above. The Mikolas outing was pretty bad, but the Blue Jays also had pretty good luck on batted balls finding holes throughout the game. The Brewers offense wasn't good at all, but Cubs starter Marcus Stroman had all his stuff working -- and he's still very good when he's on -- and a timely double play killed the Brewers' big rally.
These things will happen over the course of 162. There will also be days where the Cardinals get good starting pitching and the Brewers knock the ball around the yard.
The best view here is the long one. It's way too early to worry.
Same ol' Angels
The facts: The Angels were tasked with playing a team that all the oddsmakers believe will be the worst team in the American League this season, if not all of baseball. Shohei Ohtani started the game on the mound for the Angels against a pitcher named Kyle Muller, who brought in a career 5.14 ERA in 49 MLB innings.
Ohtani allowed only two hits while striking out 10 in six scoreless innings.
And the Angels lost, 2-1.
Mike Trout didn't get a hit (he was robbed once with a diving catch on a liner in the gap and also flew out to the left-field wall). Ohtani was 1 for 3. Anthony Rendon was 0 for 3.
The overreaction: The individuals -- yes, including me -- who picked the Angels to make the playoffs simply won't learn their lesson and adapt to the reality that the front office still hasn't learned how to put a supporting cast together. It's just a bad mix and, much like "fetch," is never going to happen.
The reality: I don't know, man. It's only one game but I might not last very long with this team before declaring it fool's gold yet again. There will be nights when Trout, Ohtani and Rendon feast, but the group as a whole felt pretty uninspiring when actually watching it play instead of envisioning what it could be when looking at it on paper.
I'm trying my damnedest to not overreact to one game -- that's the theme of this piece, after all -- but the Angels really tested me on Opening Day.