The Opening Weekend of the MLB Season has come and gone, so everything is going to stay the exact same as the way it played out throughout the entirety of the 162-game season.
Calm down, everyone. We’re quite literally 1.85% done with the year that will last us until you see the bundled up fans wearing parkas and knit caps in the bleachers during October baseball.
The reality is that we have no right to react to anything this early, but first impressions are powerful, and we’re chomping at the bit to throw out a take, be it we want something to believe in or we think the sky is falling for our teams. The excitement and the newness of having baseball back after its hiatus is too much for us to contain ourselves to come to our senses that this is the least-consequential part of the year with players and coaches adjusting just as much as we are.
That doesn’t mean we can’t praise what we saw that looked very good and real or admonish what were very bad practices of baseball this weekend that could be a sign of what’s to come. Introducing the good, the bad, and the First Takes, also known as the possible fool’s gold storylines that are more than likely created to throw out an overreaction Monday that jump the gun on Opening Weekend. It’s important to stop and be a rational sports fan during series one.
GOOD: The Complete Cardinals
The Cardinals are coming off of a season with the NL MVP winner (Paul Goldschmidt), the NL MVP runner-up (Nolan Arenado), and are far and away looking like the favorites to win the Central, but the series win against the Toronto Blue Jays looked like a statement. Their only loss came in a back-and-forth dog fight of base hits in the opener, but in that game their lineup roughed up Cy Young candidate Alek Manoah, getting 9 hits off the ace with every man in the lineup getting at least one knock. They followed up the series with two wins, a gritted-out 4-1 win with 8 singles off Kevin Gausman and then a 9-4 slugfest to end the series. Aside from Tyler O’Neill, who is still a reliable bat, every Cardinal in the lineup is batting over .300, leading the majors, and the struck out the fewest of any team. Every Cardinal feels like a reliable, tough out on offense, and 20 year-old prospect Jordan Walker was the story of Spring Training, so there’s no telling what he’ll evolve into.
Admittedly, starting pitching was the question mark surrounding this team, especially with former ace Jake Flaherty continuously trying to come back from his injury and getting that imposing command back in the same way that he posts a gif of the Heath Ledger Joker and you feel like it’s about to go down. Flaherty gave up no hits in his start, but surrendered 7 walks and had a hit batter. The defense of the Cards will help out Flaherty, but if he can regain that command, he’ll make St. Louis look like one of the most-complete contenders in the NL
BAD: The Pride at the Bottom of the AL Central
The Royals and Tigers have made attempts to create their rebuild as the 2012, 2014, and 2015 AL Pennants feel like they occurred in the Prohibition Era. In recent offseasons, they were praised for at least praised for making attempts at free agency around their top prospects like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, and Bobby Witt Jr., but the clock is ticking, and the duds they put up this weekend were… shameful.
Each team got swept, but it’s the fashion in which it happened. Detroit went on to get outscored 21-3, albeit to a Rays team that could potentially be close to the top of the AL, but they got blanked by all 3 Tampa starting pitchers- McClanahan shining, Eflin only giving up one run in their 12-2 rout that the Rays’ account tweeted was “batting practice,” and Springs threw 6 hitless innings to round out the weekend. As if that wasn’t enough, the Tigers’ pitching allowed Wander Franco to lead the league in average to open the weekend and Randy Arozarena is off to hitting .300, hitting homers, flexing, and casually eating stroopwafels in the dugout afterwards, unphased. It was a clowning, and they get checks notes the Houston Astros
The Royals went on to score a total of 4 runs in garbage time of a route in game 3 only, Bobby Witt Jr. remains hitless, and Joey Gallo, one of the, let’s call him “meme characters” of baseball social media, went on to crush two monster homers as he was a consolation prize to get right with less stakes in Minneapolis. The Twins haven’t exactly been the pitching powerhouse organization over the years either.
The clock is ticking in Detroit and KC.
THE FIRST TAKE: The Red Sox are Back as the Big Market Powerhouse That we all Know
The narrative around Boston was that after finishing last in the AL East and having an offseason where the only big-name free agent they signed was an unproven rookie in Yoshida, they let Xander Bogaerts walk, and Trevor Story is out for the year, that it would be a season of doom and gloom in the loaded AL East.
However, would you look at that! They took ⅔ from the rising Orioles in electric fashion, the offense looks great, and Fenway was buzzing!
Boston still gave up 22 runs to Baltimore this weekend, the highest OPS allowed in the majors and the most stolen based, slapped the ball around in a hitters’ park, and were only capable of hitting that walk-off homer in game 2 because of a botched outfield catch in left by Ryan Mckenna that would have been a routine fly ball. They could easily be 1-2 with an entirely different narrative, but because of the jersey and the market, you may be told that they’re right back in the AL East pennant chase. It’s early, it was in Fenway against a milquetoast Orioles pitching staff, and the formula of “let’s score enough runs to get through our abhorrent starting pitching until the bullpen” is not sustainable.
GOOD: The Dodgers are the Swiss Army Knife Organization
What separates teams like the Dodgers and Braves from the rest of MLB is that while they not only have the capacity to spend money on talent, it’s their development in their youth that let’s them build winning in the inexpensive long game as well.
The story around the Dodgers this year was that there were more holes than usual- Walker Buehler is out with Tommy John, they lost Trea Turner, and Kershaw continues to be old man dusting off his cleats for one last ride while his back is still in one piece. Rather than spend big on a name this offseason, they chose to stay quiet as the rumor is that they could just be writing off this year to spend big on Shohei Ohtani.
Then the Dodgers continued to win by maximizing the talent of every other player on the roster.
The Dodgers’ coaching operates as a class above everyone else, developing diamonds in the rough. Trayce Thompson was a player who couldn’t make the TIGERS’ rosters, and he opened up the scoring for the Dodgers with a 3-homer, 8 RBI game in game 2 against Arizona. James Outman bullied his way up through Triple-A, got the opening day start, and went yard. Noah Syndergaard was left for dead by the Mets, Phillies, and Angels, so of course, he signs with the Dodgers on a flier that goes 6 innings with only 1 run, looking like his velocity is back. Then, their prized prospect that got the call-up, Miguel Vargas, walked 8 times in 4 games and batted .400.
Oh yeah- and Dustin May, 25 and coming off Tommy John, threw a 7-inning shutout and they still have Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman. We’re fools for deeming this team as “questionable.”
BAD: Anthony Rendon Finally Cares, but in the Worst Way Possible
The Nationals won the 2019 World Series largely in part to Anthony Rendon, who went on to sign a 7-year, $245 million contract with the Angels that runs through his age 36 season, when he will still be receiving $38 million that year.
A breakdown of Rendon’s Angels tenure:
2020: COVID-shortened year; began the season by going hitless in his first 12 games and leading the league in double-plays
2021: batted .240 in only 58 games
2022: batted .229 in only 47 games
He has remained hitless this year ON the field, and the criticism of him in the baseball world has been his perceived lack of care. Well, he certainly cared about whatever a fan had to say to him this opener as he grabbed an A’s fan and tried to slap him in the face, getting a 5-game suspension. This contract is looking like it’s only going to age more poorly from here on out, and if you’re an organization trying to sell Shohei Ohtani that you have everything under control and can afford to give him his asking price, spending all of this money on Rendon is another example of Angels malpractice.
THE FIRST TAKE: “Those Padres Look Pretty Foolish Spending all of that Money to Split with the Rockies, Huh?”
Yes, the Padres and the Rockies started off the season at an even split. Yes, the Rockies’ owner set a preseason expectation with an all-time absurd quote of “I think we can play .500 ball” after spending essentially no money as a laughing stock organization. And yes, the Padres spent almost $177 million on their 26-man payroll.
The Rockies for some reason play the Padres pretty tough historically despite their talent gap, hovering around a split record through the last 6 seasons. CJ Cron sprayed the ball into the stands several times to steal the weekend in a pitchers’ park, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez went out and threw gems against the Padres’ star-studded lineup, and odds-on MVP favorite Juan Soto was held to just one hit in 4 games.
There are still many new elements that need to adjust to this team in the early part of the season, but Xander Bogaerts seems to have settled in cozily, hitting .429 with two bombs, and the knock on the Padres was their high disparity of skill from their superstars to the bottom end, but Seth Lugo went out and threw a 7 inning gem.
With Tatis Jr. coming back, Joe Musgrove recovering, and their lineup finding their way, San Diego needs to take a deep breath after remaining afloat against an inferior team as the hounds will look for any way to rag on the team that talked their talk after spending Scrooge McDuck amounts of money as a small market this offseason.