While many in the north and eastern part of the country huddled under blankets and carried around umbrellas, America’s pastime commenced this past week. The Kansas City Royals opened up the season against the New York Mets, the same match-up from last year’s thrilling World Series. In similar fashion, the Royals defeated the Mets on Opening Night by a score of 4-3, capitalizing on Mets miscues just as they did in the Fall Classic. It was an exciting first week in Major League Baseball, and in what will become a staple of this site, we look back at the opening block of this six-month long marathon.
Slide, Jose, Slide
Not once, but twice in the opening week did MLB’s new slide rule (i.e. The Chase Utley Rule) come into effect at the end of a ballgame. The Blue Jays lost to the Rays on Tuesday night after Jose Bautista reached out at Logan Forsythe’s leg while sliding into second, which Mike Everitt judged upon video review to interfere with Forsythe. Had the call on the field not been reversed, Toronto would have scored two runs on the play to take a 4-3 lead. Bautista felt that he was well within the rights of the new rule to make contact, so long as he remained within reach of the bag. Jays manager John Gibbons suggested the teams “wear dresses tomorrow” for their following game.
Another two controversial plays occurred on Friday. Starlin Castro was judged upon review to have not touched the bag while attempting to turn a double play in Detroit. The Yankees second baseman was taken out on a legal slide, limped around, but appeared to be fine. It is the first time that the removal of the “Neighborhood Play” has successfully been challenged. Later that night, the Astros lost a game to their former division rivals in Milwaukee. Colby Rasmus raised his leg while making a slide in a successful break-up of a double play at second, and also overslid the base, both of which are now ruled illegal. This play needed no review; Rasmus and the batter (Jose Altuve) were ruled out, and the game ended.
Rasmus “didn’t see what was wrong with that slide,” but did concede that he has to “start learning how to maneuver and slow down on the bases without these things coming into play”. It will take runners a while to adjust to the rule change, which should help cut down at injuries at second base. But if the rule’s intent is to prevent injuries, then the neighborhood play needs to be re-instituted as a rule, or make the neighborhood play not reviewable, so that only the most egregious infringements are punished.
Fairy Tale Story
When the Rockies traded away Troy Tulowitzki at last year’s trading deadline, they left a void at the shortstop position. Waiting in the wings was Trevor Story, who split time between AA and AAA last season. In 130 games (61 of which were in AAA), the rookie from Irving, TX hit .279 with 20 home runs. On Opening Day, he was in the starting lineup against Zack Greinke and took the former Cy Young Award winner deep, twice. The following night he hit another one, and one more on Thursday, and then just for good measure hit another pair on Friday afternoon. Six of his first eight hits have left the ballpark. It’s one of the most impressive power displays to start the season in recent memory. From fairy tale, to non-fictory, Story’s debut has been a mixture of delight and doubt. He became the first rookie since Willie Mays to homer in his first four games, and that feat is without a doubt worth of a Pulitzer Prize. However, let’s also remember that he plays in Colorado, a launching pad for home runs, and the only other park he played in was Chase Field in Arizona, whose own elevation is over 1000 ft. above sea level. One also remembers Chris Shelton hitting 9 home runs in the first 13 games of the 2006 season serves as the ultimate cautionary tale for players who get off to red-hot starts. Like Shelton, Story is strikeout prone. He’s been punched out seven times in 5 games entering Sunday. If Story does continue to even put up moderately strong power numbers, he will quickly make Rockies fans forget about the oft-injured Tulo. It’s an incredible start, but let’s reserve judgement on him until he faces the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw in a wide-open NL West. Speaking of which…
Bumgarner vs Kershaw
It seems that the kryptonite to Clayton Kershaw is Madison Bumgarner. No, Bumgarner doesn’t constantly outduel the Dodgers ace, but he is only one of two players to take Kershaw deep twice since the beginning of last season (Daniel Murphy is the other). Bumgarner homered five times last season, including this no-doubter off of Kershaw last May.
Yesterday, he rounded the bases off of baseball’s best pitcher yet again. And while the Dodgers would get the last laugh against the Giants with a come-from-behind, extra innings victory, the power that MadBum brings to the plate against Kershaw is sure to continue to throw a wrinkle into what is already a must-watch pitching match-up.
Perhaps the most unfortunate news this week was Cubs outfielder/catcher Kyle Schwarber going down for the season with an ACL and MCL tear in his knee.
Schwarber, who had an OBP of .355 in his rookie season (at the cost of being a defensive liablity), was supposed to be a part of the Cubbies youth movement to help them break their 108 year-old curse. His involvement may be gone, but do the Cubs still have a reasonable chance of being as good or even better than they were in 2015? Yes. The Cubs are 4-1 entering Sunday and have out-scored their opponents 35-11. Schwarber’s injury will hurt their depth, and Joe Maddon’s decisions to put out a strong line-up from top to bottom will have to be more precise. However, until the National League adopts the DH rule, it’s impossible to say that the Cubs will be completely incapacitated because on player in their lineup went down. On full display last October was Schwarber’s inability to make routine plays in the field when given a chance everyday in the starting lineup. The Cubs offense certainly won’t benefit from his loss, but overall, if you’re a believer in WAR (his was only 1.2 in 2015, despite his powerful bat), it may not be completely bad for his team.
Sunday Night’s Yankees-Tigers game has been postponed, so enjoy Sunday’s slate of games while you can.