The only way the MLB’s Opening Day(s) could’ve gone better is if President Trump hadn’t turned down an invitation to throw the first pitch at the Nationals’ opener. It would of been the perfect juxtaposition between an excellent start to a season, and a disastrous beginning to an administration. (Plus he probably would’ve bounced it and then spent weeks arguing that he threw a strike and that his terrible dirtball was “fake news.”)
Opening Day 2017 was another classic, treating fans to some incredible catches, huge home runs and dramatic walk-off wins. It was the kind of baseball that can make 162 games seem like a reasonable number. (Of course, by August, you’ll regret ever thinking that while begging for the playoffs to arrive.)
Bryce Harper got off to yet another hot start, yet Mike Trout continued to show him up. Madison Bumgarner was good on the mound and great in the batter’s box. Byron Buxton looked like the next great Gold Glover in center field, and might also hit .182 on the year. And most importantly, the Cardinals put an end to the Cubs’ chances at a 162-0 season.
Even though it was a minuscule sample size in an enormous season, the return of meaningful baseball has me so excited, I’m looking for meaning everywhere. So what stories from Opening Day can continue forward for the rest of 2017? Let’s look at the odds for some early overreactions.
Wes Ferrell has held the record for 86 years, and no pitcher has even come close since Mike Hampton hit seven dingers in 2001 (while playing in the very hitter friendly Coors Field). Bumgarner is off to an excellent start in pursuit of the record with two on Opening Day, but he’ll need to hit homers at a historic level if he actually wants to pass Ferrell.
Seriously, he’ll have to hit HRs at a Barry Bonds-circa-2001 pace.
From 2011 to 2016, Bumgarner averaged 79 plate appearances per season. While his improved batting in recent years has led to more opportunities, including hitting as a DH in American League parks, he’ll still likely fall short of 100 plate appearances. So to finish the year with double-digit dingers, he’ll need to hit a home run more than 10-percent of the time he’s up to bat. I’m pulling for the guy, but that’s a tall order.
Despite that great effort we already discussed from Mad-Bum, the Giants still lost, because they’re apparently cursed at the closer spot. Following a 2016 season in which the team had 30 blown saves, the Giants managed two blown saves in their first game, including one from newly acquired closer Mark Melancon. With a career 2.63 ERA, Melancon has been a pretty reliable closer in the past, hitting 51 saves in 2015 and never blowing more than five chances in a season. Yet something is wrong with the water in San Francisco, and it looks like the three-time All-Star is not immune.
It was the usual scene for Bryce Harper, starting his season with an Opening Day solo homer for the third-straight year. Last year’s booming introduction was supposed to kickstart another MVP campaign, but Harper’s numbers took a big dive, and he finished the year hitting just .243. Will this year’s fast start be a good sign like 2015, a harbinger of doom like last year, or settle someplace in the middle?
This is a much bigger reach, but that’s what today is all about. The Cards outfielder had a huge hand in his team’s win over the defending champs, with three RBIs, including the game-winning run. Sure, Grichuk is a career .255 hitter, but that career isn’t even three full seasons old. Perhaps this is the breakout season for the 25-year-old? After all, he is on-pace for 162 HRs and 486 RBIs.
Who’s better: Trout or Harper? What used to be a fun barstool discussion has turned awfully one-sided in recent years. Outside of Harper’s 2015 campaign, he hasn’t come close to matching the two-time AL MVP. But after one game in 2017, they’re on pretty even footing. Can Harper avoid injuries and slumps to keep pace with Trout this year?
In a way, the Padres 14-3 drubbing at the hands of the Dodgers was actually an improvement: they lost last year’s opener to L.A. 15-0. Still, San Diego looks like they’re going to be a terrible team once again, and I wanted to find one milestone they could pursue. So I’ve decided catching the 1899 Cleveland Spiders’ mark can be their goal this season. Only -712 more runs to go!
One of the top-ranked prospects over the last three years, Buxton flashed some of his defensive brilliance in Minnesota’s 7-1 win over the Kansas City. But the young center fielder hasn’t been able to hack it with it the terrible Twins for a full season, because his bat continually disappoints. If he can finally get things going offensively, then Buxton will have plenty more opportunities to make amazing catches in the field. If his offensive struggles continue (he was 0 for 5 on Opening Day) he may not be in the lineup enough to contend.
The Jays outfielder had trouble getting a grip on his bat, losing the handle on back to back swings in the eighth inning. It could have just been a few bad bats, and all that’s needed is a stern talk with the equipment manager. Or perhaps all of Toronto’s lineup is feeling the pressure of replacing Edwin Encarnacion’s offensive production? I imagine a few more fans will be heading home with souvenirs this season, because Pillar has always been a bit of a wildcard at the plate.
Photo Credit: SD Dirk (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
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