The first day of the 2017 regular season is in the books. The traditional Opening Day around the league is Monday, though Sunday -- what used to be known as Opening Night -- brought us three games. Here are the final scores:
- Tampa Bay Rays 7, New York Yankees 3 (box score)
- Arizona Diamondbacks 6, San Francisco Giants 5 (box score)
- St. Louis Cardinals 4, Chicago Cubs 3 (box score)
In the grand scheme of things, Opening Day is just another game, and we shouldnât read too much into what we see in the season opener. I remember trading Aaron Harang in my old Fantasy league after he allowed nine runs on Opening Day in 2006, then I watched him go on to lead the NL in wins and strikeouts that year. I am much wiser now.
Now, that said, Opening Day is not meaningless. The game certainly counts in the standings, and some of the information it brings is useful, if not in a predictive way than in a descriptive way. Here are eight takeaways from the first day of the 2017 season, in no particular order.
Chris Archer looked like pre-2016 Chris Archer
Last season was a tough one for Archer. He led baseball with 19 losses and, more important, his 4.02 ERA (101 ERA+) was quite a bit higher than the 3.26 ERA (117 ERA+) mark he posted from 2013-15. Archerâs home run rate climbed from 0.8 HR/9 from 2013-15 to 1.3 HR/9 in 2016, which is significant. Home runs were up around baseball last season, so everyoneâs home run rate climbed, but Archer seemed to get dinged especially hard.
On Sunday though, Archer looked very much like the 2013-15 version of himself. He held the Yankees to two runs in seven innings on Opening Day while striking out five. Three of the seven hits he allowed were little squibbers that managed to beat the shift. Not exactly rockets. And in the biggest moment of the game, Archer jumped ahead in the count against Gary Sanchez and got him to roll over on a weak grounder with the bases loaded. Hereâs the video and hereâs the reaction:
Archer did finish the season strong last year, pitching to a 3.11 ERA and holding opponents to a .213/.260/.345 batting line in his final 13 starts and 84 innings. Thatâs the Archer the Rays saw Sunday. He retired 14 of 15 batters at one point and battled through the heart of New Yorkâs order in the late innings.
Gary Sanchezâs sophomore season got off to a rough start
Speaking of Sanchez, the New York catcher started the new season by going 0 for 5 with a strikeout on Opening Day. He grounded out with the bases loaded in the seventh and struck out with two runners on base in the ninth. Ouch. Sanchez was a one-man army down the stretch last season, hitting 20 home runs in 53 games, but he also closed out his season in a 2 for 29 slump. The league started to adjust to him late.
That said, Sanchez was not completely overmatched Sunday. He hit a rocket back up the middle in his first at-bat that just so happened to hit Archer in the leg. Hereâs the video. At 115.7 mph, it was the hardest Sanchez has ever hit a ball in the big leagues. Harder than any of those 20 home runs last season.
Furthermore, before grounding out with the bases loaded to end that seventh inning, Sanchez poked an Archer slider that landed juuust foul down the right field line. It was inches away from being a bases clearing double. A game of inches, folks. A few inches is the difference between Sanchez picking up a single in the first and a double in the seventh.
The 0 for 5 was not a good way for Sanchez to start his season. Thereâs no doubt about that. Weâre still a ways away from talking about a sophomore slump, though.
Zack Greinke labored and is still missing velocity
Like Archer, Greinke did not have a representative season in 2016. He went from a 1.66 ERA (222 ERA+) in 2015 -- that was the lowest ERA by a qualified pitcher since Greg Maddux two decades earlier -- to a 4.37 ERA (101 ERA+) in 2016. I donât think anyone realistically expected Greinke to pitch to a 1.66 ERA again, but I also donât think anyone expected him to add nearly three runs to his ERA either.
Greinke, now 33, did not have a particularly good spring training, allowing six runs on 13 hits and three walks in 10 2/3 innings. His velocity was down, too:
Zack Greinke today: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K. Mostly 88-89 mph, per Gameday, which had 90 mph-plus three times, topping at 90.4 mph.— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) March 28, 2017
Still, with a veteran guy like Greinke, you trust him to know what he has to do to get ready for the regular season. Heâs not the first 33-year-old pitcher to lose velocity and he wonât be the last. Greinkeâs command is so good that he should still be able to be effective with reduced velocity.
On Sunday, the velocity was still missing, and Greinke still labored. His fastball averaged 91.0 mph and topped out at 93.2 mph on Opening Day per PitchFX, which is down noticeably from his first start in previous years. Last season, his heater averaged 92.5 mph and topped out at 94.2 mph on Opening Day. Greinkeâs velocity was down and the Giants really made him work. Look at his pitch count by inning:
- First: 23 pitches
- Second: 20 (43 total)
- Third: 18 (61 total)
- Fourth: 15 (76 total)
- Fifth: 15 (91 total)
Throwing your 60th pitch in the third inning is never good. Same with approaching 80 pitches through four innings. Greinke exited having allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in five innings, which isnât terrible, but it was a real grind. Lots of long at-bats and tough outs.
Perhaps itâs taking Greinke a little longer to build arm strength now that heâs entering his mid-30s. The D-Backs have to hope so given the $172.5 million they owe him the next five years. They either want to keep Greinke and have him pitch effectively, or have him pitch well long enough to cash him in as a trade chip.
Madison Bumgarner remains a two-way threat
I am one of those curmudgeons who believes Bumgarnerâs hitting ability is overrated. I mean, the guy did hit .186/.268/.360 (67 OPS+) last season. Thatâs really bad. Itâs good for a pitcher, but really bad in general.
Well, Bumgarner shut me up Sunday. Boy, did he ever.. Two! And they were no-doubters. He crushed both of them. Hereâs the video:
Bumgarner retired the first 16 batters he faced, so he hit his first home run as a batter before allowing his first baserunner as a pitcher. Impressive. Between his Axisa-shutting-up power displays and the historic postseason excellence, Bumgarner is truly a larger than life character. What a fun player.
The D-Backs are glad to have A.J. Pollock back
A broken elbow limited Pollock to only 12 late-season games last year, and by time he returned, the D-Backs were well out of the postseason race. This is a player who hit .311/.363/.498 (131 OPS+) with 58 doubles, 27 home runs, and 53 stolen bases from 2014-15, remember. And thatâs on top of very good center field defense. Pollock is an impact player on both sides of the ball.
The elbow is healthy now and Pollock is a full go this season, and, on Sunday, the D-Backs were reminded just how much he can help their team. Pollock went 3 for 5 with a home run on Opening Day, including a two-run home run off Bumgarner that tied the game at 3 in the sixth inning. Check it out:
Iâm not sure whether the D-Backs can contend this season, but I do know this: they wonât contend if Pollock misses nearly the entire season again. He and Paul Goldschmidt made the team go.
The Giants bullpen picked up where it left off in 2016
You remember how the Giantsâ season ended last year, right? They blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cubs. The four-run rally sent the Cubbies to the NLCS and the Giants home. San Francisco led the majors with 30 blown saves during the 2016 regular season.
So, in the offseason, the Giants overhauled their bullpen. Veterans Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were let go as free agents, Mark Melancon was brought in to close, and youngsters like Derek Law and Ty Blach were entrusted with setup work. And in the first game of the season, .
Bumgarner hit two home runs -- two! -- and retired the first 16 batters he faced Sunday, and the Giants still lost. Bullpens, man. Theyâll break your heart. I suspect Melancon will be fine, though. This was nothing but a poor outing by a good pitcher.
Kyle Schwarber is healthy and ready to rake
It was truly remarkable what Schwarber did last season. He tore his ACL in the first week of the season, then managed to get healthy in time to DH during the World Series. He didnât get a token roster spot, either. He was a force. Schwarber went 7 for 17 with a double, and his single started the game-winning rally in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. He also drew three walks for a cool .500 on-base percentage.
This season Schwarber has a new role: leadoff hitter. Unconventional? Sure. You donât see many players with his power hitting atop the lineup. But is it effective? Based on Opening Day, yes. Schwarber singled to right in his first at-bat, doubled into the right-center field gap in his second at-bat, struck out in his third at-bat, and worked a walk to load the bases in his fourth at-bat. (He was actually hit by the pitch that would have been ball four.) Schwarber is one of those guys who could roll out of bed in December and rake. He looks locked in already.
Mike Matheny doesnât trust his bullpen much
I say this for two reasons. 1) Matheny attempted to use closer Seung Hwan Oh for a five-out save Sunday, allowing him to throw 38 total pitches. Oh allowed a game-tying three-run home run to Willson Contreras in the ninth. Matheny used Oh aggressively because the Cardinals are off Monday, so heâll definitely get some rest, but still. You donât see many managers pushing their closers for a five-out save this early in the season. Not these days.
2) Matheny did not pinch-hit for Carlos Martinez with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. The Cardinals were up 1-0 at the time and had a great chance to tack on some runs. Instead, Martinez banged into an inning-ending double play. Martinez was cruising and he had only throwing 83 pitches up to that point, so leaving him in was defensible.
Carlos Martínez: 1st Cardinals pitcher with a 10-K game on Opening Day since Bob Gibson in 1975 (Gibson and the Cardinals lost that game).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 3, 2017
It just seems like itâll take more than one run to beat the Cubs most days, yet Plan A for Matheny was hoping that one run stood up. Not pinch-hit and try to break the game open, and trust the middle relief to get a few outs. He was staying away from his non-Oh relievers at all costs.
The six teams that played Sunday -- Yankees, Rays, Giants, D-Backs, Cardinals, Cubs -- all are getting Monday off. The other 24 teams will get their seasons underway, however. Itâs the traditional Opening Day. I canât wait. Three games are down. There are still 2,427 more to go.