Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thoughts On Opening Day

Most every baseball writer tends to write some grand exposition exaggerating a team's Opening Day performance. It's usually taken for granted that this one game will be a microcosm for the next 161 games. We like to say how Xavier Nady is on pace for 324 home runs or that Carlos Gomez is suddenly a legit leadoff hitter. But, we all know that one game does not make a season. It takes a much larger sample to determine the quality of a hitter or pitcher. Having said all that, I would like to say a few things based on what I saw yesterday. For reference, I watched all or parts of Detroit-KC, Chicago-Milwaukee, San Diego-Houston, Washington-Philadelphia, Cincinnati-Arizona, Minnesota-LA, and San Fran-LA.

  • Let's not read too much into the Detroit bullpen yet. Grilli shouldn't be asked to shut down a rally with men on base. He's a long reliever capable of giving you several innings at a time and he may give up a run. I'm okay with that, as long as he keeps the team in the game and allows the other, more reliable bullpen arms to rest.
  • Denny Bautista looks to be a solid late-inning option until Rodney and Zumaya return. He continued his surprising spring and may really be a new pitcher. He has struggled mightily with his command his whole career. Fifty-seven walks in 117 innings is not good at all. But, he's always had a lightning-quick fastball and wicked movement. Harnessing those pitches are the only thing holding him back.
  • I know all the aces were going yesterday, but the cold weather still seemed to affect the hitters moreso than the pitchers. Ben Sheets, Carlos Zambrano, and Brandon Webb were masterful in the cold, especially Sheets and Zambrano. Both were delayed about 50 minutes during the third inning for rain. Yet, both came back out and continued mowing down hitters. It wasn't until the bullpens came in that the hitters took advantage. It's a shame that Sheets has been hurt so often, (30+ starts in only 3 of 7 years) because he's a joy to watch. He works very quickly, which is always a plus for fans, and he rarely walks batters.
  • It's only been one game, but this is no exaggeration. The Giants are dreadful. They're starting a guy (Brian Bocock) at shortstop who has never played above A-ball. What did he do at A-ball to deserve this promotion? Oh, just hit .243 with a .312 OBP and .344 SLG. They say he plays excellent defense, but once you lower that line for the majors, I don't even think Ozzie Smith can compensate for that. What about their 1B? Perhaps thinking this was 2001 the Giants have decided to go with Rich Aurilia. Now 36, and coming off a .252/.304/.368 year, it's inconceivable how he is starting at a corner on a team with no playoff hopes. Give the job to a youngster, please. You don't have Barry Bonds anymore, there is no reason to play this many washed-up veterans. Speaking of, Ray Durham is batting fifth, ahead of big free-agent signee Aaron Rowand. Durham, save for a fluke 2006, has largely been a .280/.360/.450 guy for most of his career. That is pretty valuable at second base, but certainly not a #5 hitter. And, why sign Rowand to such an enormous deal and bat him sixth, behind Durham and Bengie Molina? Sorry to rant, but no team confuses me more than San Fran.
  • While we're on the NL West, there is one heck of a lot of pitching in that division. Just yesterday, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, and Brandon Webb combined for 19.2 innings, two runs allowed, 13 strikeouts, and 10 hits allowed. I can't see that division separating too much until at least August. There's too much pitching for these teams to falter, save any major injury.
  • One final thing. Minnesota is being overlooked by many in the Central race, and probably rightfully so. They lack power, their starting pitching is young, and, well, they start Craig Monroe at DH. But, with Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez in the outfield, they have the speed to wreak havoc with teams. Neither may fully fulfill his potential in 2008, but one or the other should come close. If nothing else, it will be exciting to watch those two run on that turf. Plus, they each have a tremendous throwing arm. While many, including me, were predicting the demise of Livan Hernandez, he calmly went out and shut down the Angels Monday. And he did it in typical Livan fashion. He allowed seven hits, only struck out two, yet just two runs crossed the plate. Hernandez has been the exception to almost every pitching rule in his career. From his scary high pitch counts to his propensity for allowing baserunners, Hernandez simply piles up above-average innnings without injury.

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