The wait is finally over — baseball is here. After months of analyzing the “what if” scenarios for the historic World Series clash between the Astros and Dodgers, the other 28 teams re-enter the fray in an attempt to write a new page in the record books. With every team wrapping up their first series of the 2018 season, here are the 10 biggest takeaways from the opening weekend:
The Astros Remain Team to Beat
There are signs of a World Series hangover in Houston, as the Astros have bolted to a 3-1 record in 2018. The usual culprits are still producing — as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have gotten an early lead on the AL MVP vote. The star-studded middle infield have combined for 16 hits on 32 at-bats. Houston’s lineup has even gotten a nice boost from formerly injured outfielder Jake Marisnick. Marisnick missed the entire postseason run from a year ago with a fractured thumb, but has provided utility, a solid glove, and two home runs through three starts in the early going.
Houston’s ability to constantly improve separates themselves from the rest of the league. Their core is just beginning to enter their prime. On top of that, the franchise just added 27-year-old Gerrit Cole to the mix this past off-season.
Speaking of Cole, he was absolutely electric in his debut. The righty from UCLA gave up one run and fanned 11 in 7.0 innings against Texas on Sunday. If he keeps it up, Houston’s top four of Verlander-Keuchel-McCullers-Cole is the best quartet in the league.
Oh, and if you ever needed a reminder of how much fun George Springer has playing baseball, look no further:
Before George Springer hit a leadoff bomb yesterday, he told Adrian Beltre he might bunt on him because he’s fat pic.twitter.com/NhfWd0y3Hx
— Kent Murphy (@KentMurphy) March 31, 2018
Dodgers Will Miss Justin Turner Immensely
When Justin Turner went down with a broken wrist a couple of weeks ago, optimism remained in Los Angeles. After all, the Dodgers possess the deepest bench in baseball. If any team had the resources to navigate through a high-profile injury, it would be LA.
Turner’s impact on this lineup cannot be overstated enough. Although the Dodgers were able to split the series against the Giants, they probably could have swept the four-game stretch had Turner been healthy. Both losses came by the score of 1-0, and the Dodgers looked absolutely lost offensively in those first two games.
In Turner’s place, LA opted to use Logan Forsythe and Kyle Farmer at the hot corner. Neither are natural third basemen, but their main issues occurred at the plate. The duo went a combined 0-for-16 against San Francisco. The only base that either player recorded was when Farmer was hit by a pitch in Sunday’s 9-0 victory.
Big Red can’t return soon enough.
The Giants Still Can’t Score
In the opposing dugout, the Giants faced their own offensive struggles.
San Francisco entered this past off-season with the understanding that scoring runs is imperative to winning baseball games. The Giants were second-to-last in runs scored last year (639), and ranked dead-last in team home runs, team slugging percentage, and team OPS. They thought the additions of Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, and Austin Jackson would help to alleviate some of the offensive woes. The early results haven’t been promising.
The Giants have scored two runs through four games. Both of those runs were solo shots by second baseman Joe Panik (off of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, impressively enough). At this rate, Panik is on pace to obliterate the single-season home run record — though a team that scores 81 runs through the entire season will likely miss out on a playoff spot.
One of San Francisco’s other bats has to wake up. Buster Posey is still finding ways to get on base, but it will be all for naught if San Francisco’s splashy off-season moves prove to be duds.
Nationals Poised To Win Third-Straight NL East Title
Washington entered the year as heavy favorites in a shaky NL East. Nothing that happened over the weekened has us believing any differently.
The Nats made quick-work of the Reds in a shortened three-game series. The three-headed monster of Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg-Gio Gonzalez combined to allow a total of two earned runs, accrue 24 strikeouts, and record three wins. Adam Eaton has made a thunderous return after his first season in Washington was cut short. The former Chicago White Sox is 8-of-13 from the plate, and has homered in back-to-back games. Bryce Harper already appears to be in the hunt for his second NL MVP trophy. Despite their well-documented postseason struggles, this isn’t a team that anybody wants to face.
It’s Going to Be A Long Year for Managers
Manager Gabe Kapler and the Phillies entered the year with high hopes. Taking over a young team brimming with offensive talent, the 42-year-old Kapler had a perfect opportunity to grow alongside his club. Thus far, it hasn’t gone swimmingly.
In Kapler’s debut, he chose not to start 2016 All-Star Odubel Herrera. He then inserted Herrera for certified masher Rhys Hoskins. From there, Kapler pulled ace Aaron Nola after giving up three hits on 68 pitches in only five innings of work. In just three games, Kapler has managed to use 21 different pitchers. On Sunday, he signaled for a pitching change from the bullpen — and nobody was warming up.
Gabe Kapler just doubled down and didn’t admit a mistake on the worst decision I’ve seen in two years. That was a spectacularly bad interview. Someone better wake him up quick. This is going to go VERY badly for him. Not admitting mistakes is not a good look in this town. #phils pic.twitter.com/VrvDMv1jQS
— Justin Windheim (@jwindheim) March 30, 2018
It’s been a rough go for the rookie manager, but he’s not the only newcomer struggling out of the gates.
MLB’s opening weekend proved that no amount of Game 7 walk-offs can save a manager from ridicule. Former ALCS star Aaron Boone has taken over the reigns in New York. Though early, Boone’s situational decision-making — coupled with poor bullpen play — has gotten him into some trouble.
After winning the first two games in Toronto, the Yankees played the Blue Jays to a 3-3 tie through seven innings on Saturday. Boone called upon Dellin Betances (he was actually warming up) to pitch. Boone inexplicably afforded him a 40-pitch leash in the bottom of the 8th. Betances eventually gave up two runs — including a solo shot to Toronto newcomer Yangervis Solarte.
On the next night, New York held a 4-3 lead entering the bottom of the 8th. With two runners on, Boone opted to intentionally walk Josh Donaldson in order to face Justin Smoak instead. Smoak, who had already homered in the prior inning, proceeded to belt a moonshot over the center field fence for a Grand Slam. The Yanks would go on to lose the game by a score of 7-4.
It’s far too early to tell how any of these young managers will hold up. With that said, expect to see plenty of Twitter users campaigning for these guys (and a few others) to get the ax throughout the year.
The Brewers New Offense is Legit
The Brew Crew are ready to mash.
Few teams improved their roster more than Milwaukee did this past off-season. Adding All-Stars Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich gave the Brewers not only a great defensive outfield, but two legitimate threats at the top of the order. The pair went 15-of-28 in the team’s first series, and both of them reached safely in each of their first three games.
Milwaukee went 3-0 against an improved Padres team. Ryan Braun looks comfortable at first, and both Travis Shaw and Eric Thames are looking good after each hitting 30 homers last year. The Brewers missed the playoffs by a single game in 2017. This year, they appear ready to contend.
Shohei Ohtani Will Be Just Fine
After an abysmal showing in Spring Training, it appeared as if Shohei Ohtani would fail to live up to his lofty expectations in Year 1. He might not be the next Babe Ruth, but if his first official start means anything, he’ll be pretty darn good.
The flame-throwing righty was in peak form against Oakland, leading the Angels to a 7-4 victory. Aside from giving up a 3-run shot to Matt Chapman, Ohtani showcased everything that made him baseball’s No. 1 international prospect. His fastball hit triple-digits early, and stayed around the 98-99 range into the 6th inning. Ohtani forced 18 swing-and-misses against Oakland, according to ESPN.
He may never hit at a Major League level, but Ohtani has enough stuff on the mound to ensure he’ll be around for a long, long time.
Shohei Ohtani getting Matt Olson on three pitches
100mph Fastball + a pair of filth at 89mph pic.twitter.com/3TLieASQhX
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) April 1, 2018
King Felix Is Back!
All hail, the King of the Pacific Northwest!
Félix Hernández turned the back the clock with a vintage performance against a Cleveland team that won 104 games last season. The 31-year-old from Venezuela gave up just two hits, struck out four, and pitched a shutout through 5.1 innings of work. It’s a welcomed sight for the Mariners, as their ace is coming off the worst season of his career.
The decline of Hernández was a bit overstated. He always possessed a style that would age well. It’s taken him some time, but the Mariners ace looks ready to begin the final act of his illustrious career.
Other Aging Stars Are Not!
Part of being a veteran is understanding that the season isn’t a sprint, but rather a marathon. Just because it’s a long race, doesn’t mean you can trip and fall right out of the gate and expect to catch up.
McCutchen’s and Longoria’s struggles have already been alluded to in this piece, but they aren’t the only 2010 All-Stars that haven’t played up to snuff. Dexter Fowler, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Reddick, Carlos Gomez, Brett Gardner, and Chris Davis are all integral pieces to their respective teams, and were virtually useless with a bat in their hands over the weekend. The plus-30 club has seen better days.
Giancarlo Stanton Will Take Over as the Face of MLB
Aaron Judge swept the nation in 2017 with a powerful swing and an NBA-player body. The Yankees rookie was tailor-made to be a star in New York. His No. 99 jerseys flew off the shelves, and the Judge’s Chambers regularly filled up with fans sporting the wigs of our forefathers. Judge played well enough to see him in the AL MVP race against the vertically challenged Jose Altuve. The difference in height made for great meme material, and only helped in creating the legend of Judge. Judge would go on to grace the cover of Playstation’s MLB The Show 18. In a league that has struggled mightily to create new stars, Judge rapidly blossomed into the biggest in the game.
Fast-forward a few months later, and Judge may not even the biggest star on his own team.
Last December, the Yankees pulled off a blockbuster deal to land reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. They effectively paired the two best long ball hitters in the league on one roster. Combined, the pair hit 17 less home runs than the entire San Francisco Giants team in 2017. However, things are going to get extremely awkward when baseball fans realize a simple fact: Stanton is simply superior to Judge.
In virtually every facet of the game, Stanton has Judge beat. He has just as much power, strikes out a fraction of the time, and posts a higher slugging percentage. Stanton also has nearly seven more years of Major League experience over Judge while only being two-and-a-half years older.
Through the team’s first three games, both players appear to have picked up exactly where they left off last season. Stanton started in peak-form, belting a deep shot to center in his very first at-bat wearing the pinstripes. On the other hand, Judge has reverted to playoff-form — the one that broke the record for most strikeouts in a single postseason.
The league is too smart to not adjust to Judge after his spectacular rookie season. Both the Indians and the Astros found holes in his approach, and in a copy-cat league Judge should expect to see those same looks from every team. How well he adjusts will be very telling for the rest of his career. But for now, Stanton is the far more polished player and looks poised to steal the spotlight.
All rise, for the honorable Giancarlo Michael Cruz Stanton.
Giancarlo Stanton HOMERS in his first at-bat of the season! pic.twitter.com/d2uaBtMcby
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 29, 2018
Sources: Kevin Sousa/USA TODAY Sports, Twitter/jwindheim, Twitter/YESNetwork, Twitter/PitcherList, ESPN, Twitter/KentMurphy