Opening Day III is in the books (don't forget about Opening Day: Japan and Opening Day II: Miami), and now it's time to look back and then look forward to Opening Day IV: Jason Voorhees Ghost Protocol, in which the 13 teams yet to play in 2012 will, at long last, open the season. Now that everyone else has ...
Johan Santana, Mets. In his first regular-season start since early September of 2010, Santana tamed the Braves: 5.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 5 K, 2 BB. He also boasted a nice velocity gap between his fastball and his wipeout changeup. Is Santana back? It's obviously far too early to say, but so far so good.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. If you glanced at the Dodger box score and saw that Kershaw worked a mere 3.0 innings, you might have entertained your darkest fears. But worry not: Kershaw is not injured. He's just sick -- sick enough to hurl after the first inning. Kershaw is presently battling stomach flu, and pretty much every Dodger with any standing begged him not to pitch on Thursday. But Kershaw insisted upon taking the bump. So he casually tossed three scoreless (and went 1-for-1 at the dish) while afflicted with a malady that leaves most of us in bed and in close proximity to a toilet for at least a week. A warrior, that one.
Austin Jackson, Tigers. Triples are cool, and Jackson hit one on Thursday. He also went 3-for-5 with a run scored (a hustle play on a shallow sac fly) and mustered a walk-off single in the ninth with the bases loaded. None should be as grateful as closer Jose Valverde, who blew the save in the ninth but picked up a "vulture" win thanks in large part to Jackson. He's on pace to bat .600 and rack up 162 triples.
The Cleveland Indians. As you may have heard, the Indians lost to the Blue Jays at home in a record-16 innings on Thursday. They did not lose, however, because of a lack of opportunities. In fact, the Tribe's win probability on Thursday was north of 90% for much of the day and reached a high of 97.4% in the eighth. Then closer Chris Perez blew up in the ninth. Then they squandered prime scoring chances in the home halves of the ninth and 12th. On the day, Tribe hitters combined to leave 21 runners on base. At least they're off on Friday.
Runs scored. A mere 33 of them were scored on opening day. The highest-scoring affair, which went down between the aforementioned Blue Jays and Indians, unfolded over the course of 9+7 innings and yielded one-third of that total of 33 runs. The Marlins, Pirates and Braves were all shut out, while teams that scored only one run on the day managed a .667 winning percentage!
Mark Melancon/Bobby Valentine, Red Sox. It took all of 1/3 of an inning for Melancon to jeopardize his already tenuous hold on the Boston closer's job. Against the Tigers on Thursday, Melancon started his outing by retiring Ryan Raburn on a fly-out, but then Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila notched back-to-back singles. Despite the fact that Avila's safety was a bloop, manager Bobby Valentine promptly yanked Melancon. Peralta's pinch-runner eventually scored the winning run, and the story was written. Melancon noted the quick hook in his post-game comments, which might serve to annoy the easily annoyed Valentine. Further dramatics to come, one may assume.
Game 162 redux. The Rays comeback, 8-7, 12-inning win over the Yankees in the final game of the 2011 regular season was the capstone on what was, quite simply, an impossible finish. These two clubs figure to joust for the AL East title (and one of two AL wild-card berths) in 2012. Hostilities kick off on Friday in St. Pete when CC Sabathia opposes James Shields. While we have a tendency to dismiss early-season encounters, they count just as much as stretch-drive games. In divisions as contested as the AL East, every head-to-head between contenders is worth your while. 2:10 pm CST.
NLCS redux. Last season, the Brewers claimed the NL Central flag by six games, but the Cardinals, you'll recall, topped the Brewers in the NLCS and went on the win the World Series in white-knuckled fashion. Since 2009, the Cards are 29-28 against the Brewers (counting that NLCS triumph), so it's hard to find a more hotly contested rivalry around. Yovani Gallardo takes up the Brewer cause against Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals. Garcia has traditionally been less effective on the road, and this one's in Milwaukee. 3:10 pm CST.
NL West throwdown. Speaking of "every head-to-head between contenders is worth your while," we have the Giants and Snakes squaring off in Phoenix. 2011 breakout ace Ian Kennedy will face two-time Cy Young-winner Tim Lincecum. Lincecum, who reportedly won't be throwing his slider early in the season, is coming off a rough spring and a 2011 campaign in which his peripheral numbers began to decline. Can Kennedy sustain last season's gains? Can Lincecum prove he's still a top-shelf ace? The early returns come Friday. Subplot: It's also Buster Posey's return to regular-season action. 6:10 pm CST.
- Troubles ahead for the Royals?: Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star opines that the Royals, whose TV contract will pay them a comparatively meager $20 million per through the 2019 season, aren't poised to benefit from rising media-rights fees.
- Brian Wilson has limitations: Giants closer Brian Wilson tells CBS's Jim Rome that he can't change history or achieve some inscrutable standard of "handsome." He can, however, safely reach a target heart rate of 410 during a workout. He's also a robot.
- Ryan Braun is an optimist: Last season, the Brewers won a franchise-record 96 games. This winter, they lost Prince Fielder to free agency. Ryan Braun thinks they'll be better in 2012. "“There's no doubt that there's a challenge replacing Prince offensively and you don't do that with a single player,” Braun told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I think, collectively, the combination of (Aramis) Ramirez, (Alex) Gonzalez and (Mat) Gamel is going to be better than what we had at any point last year. I really believe that."
- Cubs fans are not deluded: Let me offer proof that at least a certain sampling of baseball fans are thoroughly and unmercifully self-aware.
- All your journalists are belong to Albert Pujols: In what is being called a "news mob," the Orange County Register is assigning 70 (!) reporters to cover Friday's
Los Angeles Angelsopener. Among the many revealing nuggets in the story is this one: the OC Register has a total of about 100 reporters on its entire staff. As mentioned, 70 of those 100 will be on the Halos beat on Friday. For their overwhelming and collective sake, let's hope it's a good game (9:05 pm CST!).