Here we go, here we go, here we go. Opening Day is already in the rear-view. We're in the trenches, folks. Let's take a look around the big leagues, huh?
1. It's been a long time coming, but Jim Thome has decided to bring back the "Baltimore Chop" this year. The free agent slugger turned Minnesota Twin took advantage of his first big pinch-hit opportunity to bounce a grounder in front of home plate high enough into the air that he almost beat it out for a single. Remember, this is Jim Thome we're talking about. Perhaps he's trying to make up for the speed lost when Carlos Gomez was traded away?* I hope I don't have to say it too often this year, but I fear the worst: why is Ron Gardenhire not giving Thome more starts against right-handed pitching? Refer to my earlier blog entry ("Thome Time") for more detailed research on the topic. Or don't.
2. Mark Buehrle is whatever the opposite of a schlemiel is, and also, whatever the opposite of a schlamazel is. His deflect-dive-flip-out play on Opening Day was just remarkable! Watch it on YouTube (or maybe whitesox.mlb.com). Or on every single "Baseball Tonight" promo from here to eternity.
3. I had occasion to post this on facebook the other day: "Nathan Coles is learning fantasy baseball lessons, such as: the guy (Ian Stewart) who you just dropped from your (fantasy) team will be the guy who hits a home run against your (real) team (the Milwaukee Brewers), but it's ok because your (fantasy) opponent has the (Brewers) pitcher on his team. WTFFTW."
4. Jason Heyward, rookie outfielder for the Atlanta Braves is going to be something else this year. "Heyward the home run Jason hit on Opening Day finally come down?" "Two towns over..." When it comes to writing about prospects, I'm no Peter Gammons (although I suspect I can out blues-rock him when the chips are down), but it's hard to see anyone else taking NL Rookie Of The Year this year, unless pitchers Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg have insanity in their numbers, or Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar can somehow perfect a double-backflip while turning an unassisted triple play.
5. Downhearted because your favorite team started the year with a 0-1 record? Losing on Opening Day is not a great predictor of how your team's season will go. However, since 1996 began (the first year with a full slate of April games after the stupid strike in '94 robbed the Expos of certain postseason glory, and by extension, Montreal of Major League Baseball itself), only 22 out of the 112 teams that have made the playoffs finished April with losing records**. 28 teams have met in the World Series since 1995. Of them, only four finished April in debt to the Win Gods. Think about that as the month named for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles's favorite tv reporter unfolds. Don't push the panic button if your favorite team hits International Labor Day with a losing record - but do be aware of the odds, and how they begin to stack against you, like evil pancakes.
*Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez hit the first home run of the season for the Milwaukee Brewers. However, since he also stole a base, we can be reasonably certain that he and Jim Thome are not disguised as each other for some nefarious purpose, or perhaps as a result of some ill-conceived wager ("Ok big guy, it's infield singles versus home runs. Loser has to kiss Ron Gardenhire on New Year's Eve at midnight.")
**How bad can you be and still make the playoffs? Last year (2009), the Colorado Rockies finished April with an 8-12 record. They struggled through May, and on June 1st, they were 20-29. Then, something clicked (to those who say that managers don't matter, consider that Clint Hurdle ran the team for the first 46 games; after he was fired, the Jim Tracy-led Rockies went 74-42. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I'd like to suggest that we not rule out managerial skills entirely...). Colorado tore it up for the rest of the season, and made the playoffs via the Wild Card. Whereupon they were promptly bounced by the Phillies... who started the season 27-20. So it goes.