MLB opening day winners and losers: Mixed bag for Shohei Ohtani while Yankees roll, Red Sox flounder
Sure, it’s no time for sweeping declarations or enduring truths. We’ve got seven months for those, after all.
But Major League Baseball’s opening day can offer an occasionally instructive peek under the hood, even if it’s merely just 1/162nd of the season to come. Sometimes that uh-oh feeling is quite warranted, as much as some of the oh-wows that might emerge when the sport’s presents are unwrapped, one by one.
And Thursday brought the first opening day when all 30 teams got underway, thanks to cooperative weather and MLB’s desire to promote the event. So who posted an L that will sting a little more? Or triumphed in a meaningful way?
Let’s explore opening day’s winners and losers:
The Evil Empire
Hey, you gotta spend money to make money. And the Yankees spared little expense in cashing their first W of the season.
It gets no more optimal than Aaron Judge, back after a mild bit of angst this winter, homering in his first at-bat after signing a $360 million contract – against the team that offered him the same deal. Or Gerrit Cole, the $324 million ace, mowing through the San Francisco Giants, striking out 11 in six innings, the highest-paid pitcher in total value teaming with the position player earning more than any other annually to send an immediate message to the American League.
OK, it’s only one game. And it will do nothing to expedite or ensure the healthy return of Carlos Rodon, the $162 million lefty whose forearm injury will keep him out until May. But seeing such an immediate correlation between spending and success somehow brings the universe into proper alignment.
The pitch clock
That sucker is magic.
The news coming out of spring training – average game time, 2 hours, 35 minutes – seemed too good to be true. With games that count, surely the 15-second clock – 20 with traffic – would lose its efficacy as teams burned every mound visit and changed pitchers with far greater urgency.
But it really, really works.
Ten of 15 games ducked under three hours, with an average time of 2:45 chopping 18 minutes off the 2022 nine-inning average. And of the five games that exceeded the three-hour mark, three could certainly cite extenuating circumstances – final scores of 10-9, 11-7 and 10-9. Even still, Phillies-Rangers (11-7, with Aaron Nola and Jacob deGrom dispatched early) checked in at a reasonable 3:04.
We haven’t seen enough – there’s still 161 games left, after all, the weather has not yet warmed, and almost every team’s ace pitched on Thursday. At the same time, we’ve seen enough. It works.
The new collective bargaining agreement has greatly enhanced the chances you’ll see a top prospect debut when they have actually earned an opening day gig. Thursday did not disappoint in that regard.
St. Louis Cardinals rookie Jordan Walker singled sharply up the middle in his first major league at-bat – off Toronto ace Alek Manoah, no less – and later trucked down the line to avoid a double play and drive in the go-ahead run with a seventh-inning fielder’s choice. St. Louis eventually lost to Toronto 10-9.
Yankees rookie Anthony Volpe is still looking for his first major league hit, but he walked, stole a base, played seamless defense and did it all in front of dozens of friends and family from New Jersey. The Yankees won their opener and Volpe’s alma mater, Delbarton School, got a no-decision – the team postponed its game Thursday to show up, jerseys and all, at Volpe’s debut.
And though outfielder James Outman debuted briefly in 2022 - and homered in his first at-bat - the typically hesitant Dodgers tossed him right into the lineup for their opener against Arizona. And now Outman, 25, has an opening day homer to his credit, too.
Rays fans – maybe
Opening day is always your best chance to spot a billionaire in the wild, ripe as it is with ritual and ceremony and gladhanding. In St. Petersburg, Florida, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg made the rounds, expressing a significant amount of confidence a long-awaited deal for a new stadium would come together by year’s end.
Sternberg’s comments, per the Tampa Bay Times, also took a cautionary tone, as in, if no deal is done by 2024, the Rays will have exhausted their options locally.
But mostly good.
“It’s a very reasonable anticipation,” Sternberg said of a deal by year’s end. The city of St. Petersburg selected the Rays’ project as their top option to redevelop the area around Tropicana Field, a venture with dozens of hurdles to climb and billions of dollars to commit from public and private entities, including the Rays.
“And if we don’t, then there’s not a deal to be done, basically.”
He's doing it again, folks! Making his second consecutive Opening Day start, Ohtani shut out the Oakland A's for six innings, striking out 10 and giving up just two hits.
At the plate, he singled and drew an intentional walk, causing a rush to the record books for the kind of stat that only adds to Ohtani's lore.
Shohei Ohtani is the first player to draw an #OpeningDay intentional walk after starting the game as a pitcher since Brooklyn's Dutch Ruether in 1923 vs. Philaelphia https://t.co/R5rvRVXCKa
— Matt Birch (@MattBirch12) March 31, 2023
If a second MVP heading into a walk year is the finish line, Ohtani came flying out of the blocks.
And of course, the Angels blew it.
Ohtani left the mound with a 1-0 lead, the Angels needing just nine outs against the punchless, low-payroll A's to start the season on a winning note. Alas, Oakland scrapped out two runs off Aaron Loup in the bottom of the eighth inning to steal Ohtani's win and, more significantly, deal the Angels a setback in their aim to end a near decadelong playoff drought.
Oh, we're not counting them out. It's just that seeing Ohtani's handiwork wasted again - now the stuff of internet lore - creates a sinking feeling just hours into the season.
While Cole was mowing down the Giants, Boston trotted out Corey Kluber, pitching for his fifth team in as many years, to set the tone for the season. The result was somewhat predictable: Kluber recorded 10 outs and gave up five runs to the exuberant young Orioles lineup, including a home run to burgeoning star Adley Rutschman.
Just one game, sure, but it only fuels the question that has dogged the Red Sox for years – What are you doing? We’ll know soon enough if the Red Sox, as it appears, did not nearly enough to keep up in an unforgiving AL East.
And even their one proactive act – extending superstar third baseman Rafael Devers – came with an opening-day pall: He was the first batter called out due to a pitch clock violation.
No opening day magic can match that of players who stick on the roster and are set to make their major league debuts, like vaunted prospects Walker and Volpe. It's probably an even bigger deal for the more rank and file players; in fact, the opener is a huge deep breath for anyone on the fringes of the roster sweating out spring training cuts.
That's what made the pall cast over the Giants' opener all the more puzzling.
Farhan Zaidi, the club's president of baseball operations, couldn't resist working the waiver wire like it was 2019, acquiring outfielder Matt Beaty from the Kansas City Royals. It's the sort of move that came with great frequency in Zaidi's early days with the franchise.
But the Giants are a solid product now, and acquiring Beaty affected no fewer than four players who either thought they were opening-day locks or assumed they were sent down.
Nobody was quite so affected as utiilty player Brett Wisely, who flew with the club to Yankee Stadium, worked out Wednesday but was informed he would not make the club; a Thursday flight would take him to Salt Lake City for the team's Class AAA opener.
Wisely, per The Athletic, then told his parents to put the kibosh on plans to travel to New York and see his debut. But Beaty's acquisition set off a chain reaction that did, in fact, mean Wisely made the team. He was as stunned as anybody.
"My emotions are everywhere right now," he said Thursday morning.
Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB opening day winners and losers: Yankees, Shohei Ohtani shine