Astros make strong opening statement and other observations from MLB’s first weekend

We had rather a lot occur over the primary 4 days of the 2021 MLB season. The Reds and Cardinals had the first bench-clearing incident of the season. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger misplaced a house run when he handed Justin Turner on the basepath. White Sox rookie designated hitter Yermin Mercedes set an MLB file by beginning the season with hits in his first eight at-bats. Corbin Burnes and Jose Berrios locked up in an amazing duel on Saturday night time, the primary time in fashionable historical past each beginning pitchers allowed no hits with at the least 11 strikeouts via six innings. Shohei Ohtani threw the hardest pitch of the opening weekend (101.1 mph) and had the best exit velocity (115.2 mph). The Mets and Nationals, in fact, had their total collection postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak throughout the Washington squad.

Here are some observations from the opening weekend of motion:

1. The Astros actually made a press release with a dominant four-game sweep of the A’s in Oakland. Facing a refrain of boos and sounds of banging rubbish cans from the Oakland followers, the Astros received 8-1, 9-5, 9-1 and 9-2. They hit .320/.398/.565 with eight residence runs and 12 doubles, changing into simply the fourth crew to start a season with at the least eight runs in every of its first 4 video games (1978 Brewers, 1995 Red Sox, 2003 Yankees).

Alex Bregman hit .500 with two residence runs within the 4 video games, and Jose Altuve hit .375 — to call two gamers who noticed their numbers dip in 2020. But the most important constructive is the return of harmful Yordan Alvarez, who was so good as a rookie in 2019 earlier than surgical procedure on each knees worn out his 2020 season. He homered on Saturday and simply missed one other homer with a double off the wall within the opener. If Alvarez is a pressure in the course of the lineup, this might nonetheless be probably the greatest run-scoring groups within the league, even with the departure of George Springer.

And it would not harm to ship a message to the A’s, who went 7-3 within the common season in opposition to Houston final season, holding the Astros to simply 25 runs in these 10 video games. The Astros then beat the A’s in 4 video games within the division collection, so maybe the message is that this: The A’s may be the reigning American League West champs, however Houston may nonetheless be the crew to beat.

2. The different opening assertion got here from the Phillies, who swept the Braves in three video games, holding an Atlanta offense that was second within the majors in runs scored in 2020 to simply three runs. With apologies to Burnes and Berrios, probably the most spectacular outing to date was Zack Wheeler‘s efficiency on Saturday, when he allowed one hit in seven innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts (and went 2-for-3 on the plate with two RBIs).

Wheeler had an fascinating debut season with the Phillies, going 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA and permitting simply three residence runs in 71 innings, though his strikeout price fell from 23.6% to 18.4%. The comparatively low strikeout quantity did not trouble me since he appeared to grow to be extra of a pitcher as an alternative of a thrower, inducing smooth contact and dealing effectively. Against the Braves, he showcased his plus fastball location, firing a four-seamer that hit 99 mph on the prime of the zone after which an higher 90s sinker on the knees. He fanned Marcell Ozuna thrice swinging: first on a 97 mph sinker low and in, then on one other 97 mph sinker in an identical location, after which on a 97 mph four-seamer up within the zone. After whiffing on the 2 sinkers, Ozuna had no likelihood in opposition to the excessive warmth. In the primary inning, after Ronald Acuna Jr. fouled off a troublesome 2-2 slider, Wheeler fanned him on a 99.4 mph fastball on the prime nook of the strike zone. Perfect location; unhittable pitch.

3. On the opposite finish of the spectrum are the Red Sox, who had been swept in three video games at Fenway by the supposedly lowly Orioles. I watched the opener, and John Means was terrific on a chilly day, maintaining Boston off stability with, as Bill James put it on a Twitter, “pitching like a Nineteen Seventies Baltimore/Nineteen Eighties KC pitcher … a artful left-hander who by no means heard of a excessive fastball.” OK, however then Baltimore received 4-2 and 11-3 — behind Matt Harvey, who had a 7.82 ERA the previous two seasons, and Bruce Zimmermann, a rookie lefty making his second profession begin.

Look, it is three video games, so we won’t overreact right here, however that is such a bizarre Red Sox roster. They are attempting to following the Rays mannequin of positional flexibility, so Chaim Bloom signed the likes of Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, however there’s additionally what I name a number of “hope” gamers. You hope J.D. Martinez bounces again. You hope Hunter Renfroe could make sufficient contact after hitting .216 and .156 over the previous two seasons. You hope Franchy Cordero learns the strike zone and that Bobby Dalbec can hit within the majors. You hope Garrett Richards is wholesome and efficient (he bought roughed up on Sunday), that Nick Pivetta is helpful and that Alex Cora can work out the bullpen. It simply seems like slightly an excessive amount of hope is required for issues to work out. But … it is a lengthy season.

As for the Orioles, “It’s only a nice confidence booster for this crew, and I feel we will shock lots of people this 12 months,” Zimmermann stated. “So that is simply the beginning.” Dream when you can, Orioles followers.

4. So who’s Yermin Mercedes? He is a 28-year-old rookie who performed largely catcher within the minors, bought one at-bat within the majors in 2020 after which went 5-for-5 in his first profession begin on Friday and registered hits in his first three at-bats on Saturday. Mercedes is getting an opportunity because of play because of Eloy Jimenez‘s damage, as projected DH Andrew Vaughn began in left discipline each video games with Mercedes at DH. Here’s the factor: Despite having a little bit of a vagabond profession — he signed initially with Washington, then went to Baltimore after which the White Sox bought him within the 2017 Rule 5 draft — Mercedes can hit. He is a profession .302 hitter within the minors, and he hit .317/.388/.581 with 23 residence runs in 95 video games in 2019 between Double-A and Triple-A. It can be fascinating to see how Tony La Russa types this out, as Vaughn is not actually a left fielder. Once Adam Engel is wholesome from his strained hamstring, he may be the very best slot in left discipline together with his pace, and Vaughn may conceivably find yourself within the minors if the White Sox imagine in Mercedes’ bat.

5. The Blue Jays may need discovered a better to switch the injured Kirby Yates in 29-year-old rookie Julian Merryweather, who has pitched simply 19 innings since he was a starter within the Cleveland group again in 2017. Merryweather completed out the 3-2, 10-inning Opening Day win over the Yankees, placing out the aspect on 11 pitches with the tying run on second base. He additionally closed out Sunday’s 3-1 victory, placing out two of the three batters he confronted and once more needing simply 11 pitches.

Acquired from Cleveland as a throw-in for the Josh Donaldson rental commerce in 2018, Merryweather missed all of 2018 after which pitched six innings in 2019 and 13 innings for the Blue Jays in 2020, though he was shut down on the finish of the season with elbow tendinitis. He sits within the higher 90s together with his fastball, hitting 100.4 mph on Sunday on a pitch to Gary Sanchez, whereas mixing in a slider and changeup. It’s knockout nearer stuff.

6. Watch out for Corbin Burnes. While he ended up dropping that sport to Berrios and the Twins when Byron Buxton broke up his no-hitter with a house run, Burnes’ dominant efficiency is an early indicator that his 2020 numbers (2.11 ERA, 59.2 IP, 37 H, 2 HR, 24 BB, 88 SO) weren’t a fluke. Burnes threw 42 cutters in opposition to the Twins, utilizing that pitch as his main fastball providing, and he averaged 96 mph. Batters hit simply .162 in opposition to it in 2020 with out a residence run, and whereas Buxton’s residence run did come off a cutter, it is the pitch that keyed Burnes’ enchancment final season. Burnes’ outing solely strengthened my perception that he and Brandon Woodruff will be probably the greatest 1-2 combos within the majors.

7. Julio Urias closed out the Dodgers’ World Series final 12 months, however he’s again within the rotation, and lots of within the sport imagine that is the 12 months he’s lastly going to interrupt out: no innings restriction, no COVID-19, simply exit and pitch. He beat the Rockies on Sunday at Coors Field, permitting three hits and one run in seven innings. The better part: He threw simply 79 pitches. Not dangerous to your No. 4 starter.



Julio Urias strikes out six whereas solely permitting three hits in seven strong innings.

8. The Padres took three of 4 from the Diamondbacks, however there’s one early concern: Fernando Tatis Jr.‘s protection. He has 5 errors in 4 video games, together with throwing and fielding errors on Sunday. That’s after making simply three errors in 57 video games in 2020, when his vary metrics had been prime of the charts. Remember, after his rookie season in 2019, there was some discuss that his erratic play at shortstop may imply he would finally find yourself in heart discipline, however he erased these ideas together with his nice protection final season. The error points may very well be associated to the left shoulder damage he had on the finish of spring coaching or possibly just a few early-season jitters. Worth watching, nonetheless.

9. I did not thoughts the extra-inning runner-on-second rule final season. I feel we had been all so comfortable simply to have baseball in any respect that we lived with the particular guidelines. One factor that stunned me is that almost all managers did not appear to thoughts it — and even truly appreciated it. Here’s what the Phillies’ Joe Girardi stated about it in the course of the offseason: “I used to be in all probability slightly leery of the technique of the additional innings, however it sort of ironed itself out, and I prefer it. I feel it is a good rule. Too many instances, it’s a must to make too many adjustments in your roster since you get in a extremely lengthy sport and that upsets your roster for the subsequent 10 days. So I’m actually in favor of that one.”

However … after watching 4 video games on Opening Day determined because of the runner-on-second rule, I do not know. It did not really feel proper. I perceive what Girardi is alluding to, and you may argue that the rule rewards the crew that may work out tips on how to scratch throughout a run or rewards bullpen depth. At the minimal, I would favor to attend till at the least the eleventh or twelfth inning earlier than you go to it.

10. One of the tales to watch all through the season is the brand new ball, which can supposedly journey a few toes shorter on a typical 375-foot fly ball. How a lot of a distinction will it make? The early, early, early returns (heading into the Sunday night time sport) as in comparison with the previous two season-opening weekends:

2021: .237/.319/.395, one HR each 30.7 AB

2020: .231/.314/.392, one HR each 28.8 AB

2019: .235/.315/.403, one HR each 26.9 AB

Again, it is early. April often has decrease offensive numbers. Fourth and fifth starters have but to make their first begins of the season, and pitcher attrition will result in extra inferior pitchers getting referred to as up. The early name: Home runs will go down a bit. Stay tuned.

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