MLB opening weekend: One takeaway for each team, including resurgences for Joey Votto and Giancarlo Stanton

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Diamondbacks look better: Credit where credit is due, the Diamondbacks have altered their road uniforms to the point where they look good now. (Hey, we never promised that everything had to be about baseball-playing itself. Besides, the sub-.500 D-Backs would probably prefer to focus on positives wherever they can find them at this point.) Rotation should be a strength: The Braves will be without Cole Hamels for at least a little while, but they’ll be just fine if Mike Soroka’s and Max Fried’s first starts are any indication. The pair combined for 11 innings, six hits, two runs, two walks, and eight strikeouts against the Mets. It’s to be seen if everyone else in the rotation can keep pace, though each has the talent to keep the good starts coming. Alex Cobb looked healthy: Cobb hasn’t performed up to expectations since signing with the Orioles, but he looked good while holding the Red Sox to four hits and a run over five-plus frames. His signature split-change missed bats on nearly half the swings taken against it, and he struck out six batters — notable since it was only the fourth time in his Orioles career he finished with more punchouts than innings pitched. Cobb has a long way to go before anyone is convinced he’s back to being a mid-rotation starter. Even so, Saturday’s outing was a good start down that road. The rotation is bad: This is a surprise to only those who haven’t paid attention. Still, it’s not encouraging that the most impressive part of Martin Perez’s start was that he found a way to squeak through five innings. It’s not encouraging that Nathan Eovaldi (whose start did look good in the box score) struggled to miss bats (seven whiffs on 89 pitches) and manage contact (90.3 mph average exit velocity-against) versus what is possibly the league’s worst lineup. The Red Sox don’t have many reliable rotation options at this point. They need Perez and Eovaldi to be decent, or otherwise things are going to get ugly. Bullpen is going to be a work in progress: The Cubs for the most part eschewed veteran relievers over the winter. They opted instead for an assortment of journeymen and youngsters, hoping that they could coach them up. That might prove to be the case, but that approach led to some shaky results on Saturday. We’ll see if it proves to be a blip or a trend soon enough. Impersonating Minnesota: Remember how the Twins shocked the league last season by fielding a lineup that hit home run after home run after home run? It’s early, but the White Sox have already shown the potential to ride the same formula to success. Chicago has the pieces in place to have two or three (or even more) hitters go yard in the same game. This is suddenly a deep lineup, and one that could get even better when they promote Nick Madrigal Votto is starting off well: We’re not willing to commit to saying Joey Votto is back, but we will note that he’s homered twice and made contact on every swing he took in Cincy’s first two games. The Reds need more out of him than they received last year if they’re going to make a real run at winning the NL Central. Bieber is for real: Shane Bieber is having to step into some mighty big cleats this season, in replacing Corey Kluber as the Cleveland ace. His first start against the Royals suggests he’s capable. Bieber overpowered and outwitted the Royals en route to 14 strikeouts. Sometimes he would take the traditional route, spotting his fastball and then baiting the Royals outside of the zone with a breaking ball, and sometimes he would go in reverse, finishing with a freezeball on the edge of the plate or beyond (catcher Roberto Perez extracted strike calls off the plate throughout the game). It was a masterful outing, in short, and one that bodes well for Bieber and Cleveland alike. Story’s defense remains unheralded: It feels silly to write that Trevor Story is underrated — he’s made two All-Star Games and received MVP consideration in each of the past two years — but we think his bat might overshadow his glove. If you accept that as the case, then plays like this, wherein Story shows off his athleticism and defensive wherewithal, are a nice reminder that he’s a legit big-league shortstop in addition to being a thumper. It’s going to be a K-filled season: This Tigers team is making good on its potential to strike out and to strike out frequently. Not only did Detroit batters fan in more than 40 percent of their plate appearances over the first two games, but they made contact on just 60 percent of their swings, which represents the lowest clip in baseball. Those numbers will regress, certainly, but the Tigers are going to keep racking up the strikeouts: Christin Stewart, Niko Goodrum, JaCoby Jones, and Jonathan Schoop all struck out more than a quarter of the time last season and are expected to play frequently this year. Tigers fans are unlikely to care if their team keeps winning series, though. Bullpen merits watching: The Astros are going to be different this year for any number of reasons. One that has gone under the radar is their bullpen. Joe Smith opted out; Will Harris signed elsewhere; and Brad Peacock is injured. That leaves Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski to lead a group that is heavy on young, unproven arms. Do you know who Bryan Abreu is? What about Enoli Paredes or Cristian Javier? Can you guess which arm Blake Taylor or Brandon Bailey throw with? If not, make it a point to tune in. There are some interesting arms in that group — especially Abreu — and their ability to adjust to the majors on the fly will go a long way in determining Houston’s strategy at the deadline. Singer looks like he belongs: Brady Singer had made 26 professional appearances before making his big-league debut on Saturday. You couldn’t tell based on how he pitched. Singer struck out seven and held Cleveland to two runs on three hits. There are still legitimate concerns about his ceiling heading forward (he has two average or better pitches, in his fastball and slider, and a bulldog’s demeanor, yet lacks a good changeup), but what he did on Saturday wasn’t easy, even if he made it look so. Bundy’s debut goes well: Anytime a pitcher with more talent than results switches teams, it’s worth checking out what tweaks the new team seemingly imposed. In Dylan Bundy’s case, his impressive first outing with the Angels saw him emphasize his slider in favor of his four-seamer and changeup: he threw it more than 33 percent of the time, versus about 23 percent in 2019. Statistically, that seems like a smart call. Last season, he held opponents to a .152 average on his slider, as opposed to .335 on the heater and .254 on his cambio. Bundy’s slider was responsible for eight of his 11 swinging strikes on Saturday.  Kelly has no trouble with his curve: Joe Kelly threw 17 pitches in his season debut, and 15 were curveballs. We’re going to go out on a limb here and suggest that’s by design, and that he’ll be throwing his bendy thing frequently throughout the year. Batters hit .137 against it last year, so why not? Rojas has developed: Shortstop Miguel Rojas, along with the rest of his teammates, doesn’t get much attention. Nonetheless, he’s turned into a decent player since being acquired from the Dodgers prior to the 2015 season. He’s an above-average fielder and a capable bathandler who can put the stick on the ball as needed. Rojas would likely be a reserve on a better team due to his lack of thump and on-base skills, but whatever. Sometimes it’s nice to just applaud a player for making the most of their opportunity, the way he has over the last several seasons. Counsell stays diligent: Here’s a question for the season: how often will the Brewers allow their pitchers to face more than 20 batters in a start? Craig Counsell has so far not permitted Brandon Woodruff (19), Corbin Burnes (16) or Freddy Peralta (15) to reach that mark. Given how aggressive he is in preventing his arms from being exposed to the third-time-through penalty, the best answer to the introductory question might be “not often.” This is Wisler’s year: Look, it’s absurd to draw conclusions from a single relief appearance. We know that, and so please recognize that it is mostly in jest when we write that this is it, this is the year Matt Wisler makes The Leap to being a respectable, reliable big-league reliever. We’ve been believers of his for a few years now because of his quality slider, and the Twins seem like the perfect team to encourage him to just spam the dang thing over and over and over again until batters prove they can hit it. Based on last year’s results when he threw it more than 70 percent of the time (a .206 average against and 40 percent whiffs), it doesn’t seem like they can. Gimenez can really field it: Andres Gimenez is one of the Mets’ better prospects, but he’s likely to serve as a defensive sub this season. He’s already shown that he’s a smooth fielder. Take a look at this play, which is not as easy as he made it look. Or this one. Whether or not he ever hits enough to be a starter is anyone’s guess; there’s no questioning his glove though. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy: Stanton being limited to 18 games last year, with a juiced-up ball flying all over the place, was an unfortunate development. Thankfully, he appears hearty and hale and ready to hit the ectoplasm out of this year’s superball. Through two games, Stanton delivered two impressive home runs and a double. Entering the summer, the thinking was that 20 home runs ought to be enough to lead the league. If Stanton can stay on the field, he might be the one to top that mark — and perhaps not by a home run or two. Luzardo is fun: We already knew and enjoyed Jesus Luzardo’s pitching, but it’s nice to get renewed confirmation — even if he was pitching out of the bullpen for his season debut. Presuming he’s moved back to the rotation, we think there’s a fairly good chance he ends up being the A’s best starter over the long haul. Realmuto’s ‘stache is A+: J.T. Realmuto was going to be our top free agent this winter barring an injury or some other unforeseen issue. That he’s grown a plus-plus lip sweater is just another indicator that he’s a keeper. Holmes might have cracked the case: Right-handed reliever Clay Holmes seldom treated his curveball like his primary pitch last season, despite the breaking ball boasting the best results in his arsenal (.217 average against, 43 percent whiffs). It seems like the Pirates‘ new coaching staff may have instructed him to lean into his strengths, because 13 of his 22 pitches in his season debut were curves. Holmes hasn’t had much success in his big-league career, so it’s to be seen if the shift pays off. It can’t hurt, right? Pham has the green light: Jayce Tingler is new to managing, but it’s clear that he’s a fan of the running game and that Tommy Pham has his trust. Need evidence? Pham entered Sunday having attempted a steal four times on seven opportunities. The rest of the league — that is every player in MLB minus Pham — had swiped 11 bags.  Win or lose, disrupt: The Giants are unlikely to be competitive this season — and they’ve made seven errors at a time when only one other team has made more than two — but it’s clear that manager Gabe Kapler is a believer in the “move fast and break things” philosophy that emanates from start-up culture. He’s withholding his starters until later than normal; he’s using openers and unusual pitching arrangements; he’s pinch-hitting for veterans who are accustomed to playing entire games; and so on. Basically, he’s doing stuff that’s going to make him polarizing to folks, both inside and outside of the organization. Lewis hits the ball hard: By now, you’re probably familiar with Kyle Lewis’s background. He’s a former top prospect who endured some grueling injuries and reached the majors late last year. It’s a cool story of perseverance and triumph, and he showed that he’s good for more than filling column space by hitting the ball hard during his big-league cameo. Lewis has already homered twice against Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. He needs to reel in the swing-and-miss in his game, but if he can do that then he has a chance to be a part of the next competitive Mariners squad — you know, just as they hoped he would back on draft. Wong is still smooth: Despite playing second base, Kolten Wong is one of our favorite defenders to watch because of how easy he makes the position look at times. He hasn’t had the opportunity to start a double play with his trademark flip just yet, but take a few seconds and appreciate how quickly he made the transfer here for a fielder’s choice. Even more bullpen depth: The Rays showed off two interesting rookie relievers over the weekend, in Ryan Thompson and Pete Fairbanks. Thompson made the club after an impressive summer camp. He’s a tough at-bat for right-handed hitters due to his sidearm release. Fairbanks came over in a trade with the Rangers last summer. His main method of attack is throwing one high-90s fastball above the zone after another. Add those two to a ‘pen that includes Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo … well, let’s just get to the point: the Rays have a fun bullpen. Hernandez, Gibaut bear watching: So much attention has been paid to the Rangers’ remade rotation that it’s been easy to take their bullpen for granted. Thus far, two young hard-throwing right-handers have stood out as worth monitoring heading forward: Jonathan Hernandez and Ian Gibaut. Manager Chris Woodward tossed Hernandez into the eighth inning of a one-run game on Opening Day, meaning he already be a part of Texas’ high-leverage plans. Gibaut, meanwhile, looked better than he did last season after the Rangers added him from the Rays. Bullpen is indeed a work in progress: We knew coming into the season that the Blue Jays had the potential to field a solid to good lineup and a decent rotation. The bullpen looks questionable on paper, and has looked sketchy on the field. You can see the potential in Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis, among others, so it’s on the Jays to get things figured out, and quickly if they intend to compete for the postseason in a serious capacity.  Robles is off to a quick start: The only thing separating Victor Robles from star status is better offensive production. It’s too soon to call this a breakout, or whatever, but he went 3 for his first 6 with a home run and a double. Considering he’s a well-above-average defender and fast baserunner, he doesn’t need to hit too much better to be one of the most valuable players in the game.



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