Baseball is officially back! Too many nights we’ve gone over the last five months without this great game, yearning for an inning of Bartolo Colon’s sub-90 MPH fastball or a Francisco Liriano RBI single. Yes, that was how the first run of the 2016 season was scored – an RBI single by a pitcher with a lifetime .121 average.
Let’s dive in…
Cardinals v Pirates
Francisco Liriano versus the healthy Adam Wainwright was the first matchup of the 2016 season, and with every divisional rivalry, there are a few take away points.
First is that while Ruben Tejada, Brayan Pena, Jordan Walden, and now Tommy Pham have all been bitten by the injury bug, Yadier Molina looks healthy. Waino seemed confident in spiking his signature 12-6 curveball all night knowing that Yadi, was adept to block everything possible – preventing any free bases for Pirate runners. While Waino finished with a ‘ehh’ line of 6 IP, 9 baserunners, 3 earned runs, and 3 Ks, I was more excited to see him back on the mound as the ace of what is shaping up to be a quietly good pitching staff for the 2016 season.
Going back to Yadi, he was 2 for 3 with 2 hard hit singles, and seemed to be able to keep his weight confidently on his back leg at the plate – something that I rarely saw him do for a great majority of last season. With already 4 pieces down for varying amounts of time, the Cardinals can at least find some solace in the fact that, given some good luck, we may see Yadi behind the dish for more games than initially thought.
On the Pirates side of things, MLB.com jumped the gun too early on saying that Liriano dominated the Cardinals lineup – It could have been more applicably used for either of Marcus Stroman or Edison Volquez, but we’ll touch upon them later.
More accurately, Liriano dominated the Cardinals 7 and 8 hitters – Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko. In the 3rd Liriano got Wong swinging on a 2-2 slider with the bases loaded, and then forced him to pop up to second base two innings later with the bases loaded again. Wong stranded a total of 6 runners in the game. Gyorko stranded 5 of his own, the most notable being in the 6th with the bases loaded – Liriano’s last batter of his 6 IP, 8 baserunner (5BB), 0 earned run, 10 K outing.
The Pirates lineup, which will receive a nice boost when Kang returns sometime within the next month, managed a combined 6 hits from David Freese, Gregory Polanco, and Francisco Cervelli. This was due in part to their ability to jump on Waino early in counts and put the ball in play – something the Cardinals could’ve tallied a few extra runs by doing in the early and middle innings of the game.
Pirates defeat Cardinals 4-1
Next Game: Michael Wacha v Jon Niese, Tuesday April 5th 7:05 PM ET
Keep an eye on Wacha’s new cutter in this game, another plus pitch for this young arm will mean even further development of his already effective stuff.
Let’s also see how the Ray Searage effect takes hold of Niese in his debut with the Pirates.
Blue Jays v Rays
This was the game I got to see the least of, and will therefore have the least to say about – but a few things jumped out to me from the box score and radio broadcast that I used to keep up with the game.
The Blue Jays may not be too worried they let the lefty David Price walk to Boston in the offseason, as Marcus Stroman hurled 8+ innings of very effective baseball. The only blemish being some hard hit balls by Evan Longoria (2-4, 2B, RBI) and Corey Dickerson (1-4, HR), as well as an unlucky inherited runner who Roberto Osuna couldn’t keep from crossing the plate. Stroman also had a profound ability to get hitters swinging on balls out of the zone – something that often goes hand-in-hand with 8+ innings of work with less than 100 pitches.
Was this more a reflection of Stroman’s stuff or the Rays lack of bats? Only time will tell, but regardless this was a great start to 2016 for Stroman.
Archer toed the rubber for the Rays, striking out a hearty 12 batters through 5 innings, something he did often last year. One of our writer’s Paul Gildea, mentioned that he wasn’t necessarily impressed with Archer’s stuff overall, citing his tendency to leave both his fastball and slider up throughout the game. This makes me mildly concerned for Archer against teams less likely to strikeout, yet as I will often say, one (even two or three) start(s) are not enough to draw major conclusions from. Overall I’m high on Archer this year, and will make sure I catch a bit of his next start to see if he keeps his slider down in the zone.
The Blue Jays bats on the other hand did enough damage to get the W, with Kevin Pillar (2-5, 2B, RBI) looking very comfortable in the leadoff spot. Troy Tulowitzki also went yard for the first HR of 2016, the 4th time he has done so on Opening Day. So why don’t we have a little bit of fun and look at how he did in those other 3 seasons with an Opening Day HR…
I was hoping for a revelation here and a resulting bold prediction for the now 31 year old SS, but in reality, as I will always preach – try not to over apply small sample sizes!
Blue Jays defeat Rays 5-3
Next Game: R.A. Dickey v Drew Smyly, Monday, April 4th 7:10 PM ET
Take a peak at how Smyly, a lefty, fairs against a very right-handed and power-heavy lineup like the Jays (Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista – Wow).
I also hope that the Rays will be able to muster more offense against a pitcher who had a 4.83 ERA on the road last year.
Mets v Royals
The rematch that I had been waiting anxiously for did not disappoint with a 3 run 8th inning from the Mets, cutting the game to a 4-3 score, and allowing our first look at Wade Davis in 2016. On another note, I am relieved that this will (hopefully) be the last broadcast for a bit that mentions excessively Harvey’s performance in Game 5 of the World Series. The pregame ESPN broadcast showed Curt Schilling sitting down with Harvey to discuss the Lorenzo Cain AB from late in game 5? Did we really need it? No, and neither did we want it (and I doubt Harvey wanted to do that either). Why didn’t they sit down with deGrom and go through his May dominance of the Cardinals (8IP, 11 K, 1 H), probably deGrom’s best performance of the season? Or how the heck Syndergaard K’d 10 through 4 innings but gave up 7 earned runs on 10 hits in San Diego last year? The world may never know.
What better way for Harvey to start this game than with a Yoenis Cespedes (1-4, BB, R) error…
Should’ve just let it roll under the wall and left it there!
To go along with that, Eric Hosmer (3-4, RBI) got some BABIP luck and snuck a grounder through the left side in the 1st to put Harvey in the hole 1-0. Harvey’s 2nd inning looked great, and I thought he would settle in and dominate, but I was proven wrong with a mediocre outing from an arm I expect to see a lot more life out of as the season goes on. A potential excuse may be the antibiotics Harvey was on after his blood clot, but I wouldn’t buy that entirely – he’s a professional athlete after all, more likely some opening day jitters. Final line for Matt – 5.2 IP, 10 baserunners (8H), 2 Ks, 3 earned runs, on 83 pitches.
Volquez on the other hand looked great from start to finish. While he threw a lot of pitches (106 through 6IP), he gave his team exactly what they needed, a scoreless start on which they could slap hit and bunt their way to a victory on – which is exactly what they did. Michael Conforto for me was the player of the game on the Mets side. He was on base 4 times (2 BB) and drove a ball the other way to left-center off Herrera late in the game – probably the best piece of hitting I saw all day. That has to be positive for Mets fans after some speculation he may struggle to net playing time if he couldn’t produce early.
Wade Davis also looked human in the 9th. Giving up 2 baserunners, and allowing one to advance to 3rd with less than 2 outs. That brought up David Wright who just didn’t seem 100%, especially in a spot where soft contact probably would have tied the game. After a good battle with Cespedes, Davis ended the game with his 2nd K of the inning.
Royals defeat Mets 4-3
Next Game: Noah Syndergaard v Chris Young, Tuesday April 5th, 4:15 PM ET
This is where the Royals pitching depth trails off – Yes, after their first starter. I want to see the Mets take advantage against a hittable guy who won’t likely exceed 6+ innings of work.
Syndergaard, on the other hand, will have a tough matchup in trying to blow fastballs by a team that doesn’t strikeout a lot at all (Only team to K less than 1,000 times in 2015).
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons and our friend AP3.
All statistics and scores via Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.
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