MLB Opening Week – What Did You Miss?

Every year, the experts set forth at the beginning of the season with an attempt at predicting what the coming year holds for the sport.

We all take our shot at MVP, Rookie of the Year, Playoffs, World Series, and much, much more. Somehow, a week into the season, it would seem that many of the experts are already quite wrong.

Now, I realize that one week doesn’t predict the entire season, but let’s look at some of the early surprises.

Unexpected Records

I predicted that the Orioles would win 79 games because of their pitching. They’ve started 4-0 with their pitchers allowing 7 runs in 4 games.

That’s a pretty good start, especially given the offense that they’ve got. They’ve allowed the second least amount of runs and, as a result, have the 4th best run differential in the majors.

We predicted the Reds would only win 73 games because they don’t have much other than Joey Votto.

They’ve started 3-1 and have a +8 run differential. That’s good for 5th best in the majors thus far.

What’s really impressive is that Votto hasn’t swung the bat well to this point. They’re winning without their superstar doing the damage.

Jay Bruce and Eugenio Suarez have been their best players in the first 4 games. It’ll be interesting to see if the Reds can keep it up.

On the other side, I predicted the Cardinals to win 90 games this year and they’ve started 1-3 with a -5 run differential which is tied for 9th worst in baseball.

Only 10 teams have allowed more runs than the Cardinals. That can be explained by their first four starters having ERA’s of 4.50, 6.00, and two guys having 8.31.

Those numbers aren’t acceptable. I expect them to change as the Pirates have always played well against the Cardinals, but it’s not a pretty start.

Surprising Rookies

Some of the best early surprises are the rookies who are showing that they’re here to stay.

If you haven’t heard the name Trevor Story, you need to learn it, and fast. Not only is he a rookie, he’s never played a major league game before this season.

In his first 4 games, he has 6 HR. Story is the first player ever to hit a HR in each of his first 4 major league games.

Trevor Story Sets MLB Record

No player had ever hit a HR in each of his first 3 games, so Story is truly in a class of his own already.

Tyler White, the Astros’ first baseman is a rookie who is doing quite well himself. He’s leading the majors with a .692 average, .714 OBP, and 2.022 OPS.

He’s 3rd in total bases, tied for the 5th most HR, and 4th most RBI. The kid is a great hitter.

Finally, one of the great young talents that is pushing the Oriole’s streak forward is a kid named Joey Rickard.

He’s no Trevor Story, but he’s got a .467 average with 7 hits and 1 HR. Those are pretty solid stats for a guy who was picked up in the rule 5 draft.

At the start of Spring Training, no one was sure that Rickard would even make the team.

Injuries

The most devastating turn of events for any fan, player, or team is a significant injury.

To this point, there have been two major injuries that could turn the baseball world upside down. AJ Pollock and Kyle Schwarber may both miss the rest of the season.

AJ Pollock had been battling elbow problems throughout Spring Training. Manager Chip Hale decided to play things cautiously and had Pollock sit for a few days.

Sadly, on his first game back, he fractured his elbow sliding into home. As I thought Pollock could fight for the MVP, this injury devastating for the Diamondbacks.

He’s one of the best Center Fielders in the game, and still has a lot of room to grow.

The truly shocking injury thus far was the injury to Kyle Schwarber. He’s one of the hottest young players around. Ask any fantasy fan, he was expected to do great things this year.

The guy plays LF for the Cubs and can fill in at Catcher when needed. After 16 HR in just 69 games last season, he was expected to flirt with the 30 HR mark this year.

Schwarber was slotted to be the #6 hitter for the Cubs this year. His power offered protection to guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

You couldn’t just walk them for fear of letting Schwarber come up with men on base.

2016 Rule Changes

One of the most surprising changes this year was the result of last year’s playoffs.

During the Mets’ World Series run, Chase Utley made a slide hard into second base and broke Reuben Tejada’s leg.

As a result, MLB created a rule that forces players to slide into second, and they can, no longer, intentionally try to get in the way of a defensive player attempting to complete a double-play. It’s been a bit controversial to say the least.

Nick Markais and the Braves had the joy of being the first team to be on the wrong side of the Utley Rule.

Markakis made an aggressive slide into second base, but then slid past the base. After the slide, Daniel Murphy made a bat throw to first.

I think Markakis would have been ok if he had stayed on the bag, but the new rule says that you are required to stay on the base unless the play is at home plate.

As a result, Markakis was out, and the runner who would have been safe at first was called out as well.

The slide was intentionally pushed toward the defender, and showed that this rule isn’t entirely perfect yet. In previous years, it would have been considered a “good” slide.

In the 9th inning of a Blue Jays game, Jose Bautista slid into second on what was eventually determined to be an illegal slide.

With Bautista’s slide into second, Logan Forsythe made a bad throw to first, allowing two runs to score. Those two runs gave the Blue Jays the lead.

‘Stros manager Brad Ausmus challenged the play, and Bautista’s slide was determined to be illegal because he attempted to grab Logan Forsythe’s foot.

That means Bautista was out, and the hitter was out as well.

That also means that the two runs were erased, and the game ended on a replay for an illegal slide that ended up being a double play.

On what is one of the more questionable calls of this rule, the Astros lost a game because of a double play call.

Houston was in the middle of a rally, with 1 out and men at first and second in the 9th inning.

On a grounder to the short stop, Colby Rasmus made a clean slide, but never stayed on the base.

While he didn’t even try to make contact with the defensive player, Rasmus was called out.

What’s worse, the defender didn’t even try to turn the double play, and the hitter was called out.

So, like the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista, the call ended the game on a double play.

Needless to say, this isn’t a very popular rule. Many players and manages have complained about it.

John Gibbons (Jays Manager) was quoted as saying that the rule “turned the game into a joke” and stated “Maybe (tomorrow) we will come out wearing dresses.”

The Astros star pitcher, Dallas Keuchel tweeted “Are we even playing baseball anymore??? #unbelievable”. This rule is going to get a lot of flack, and it should.

It was specified to avoid the injury that happened to Tejada, but doesn’t account for any specifics in a real game situation.

There’s no reason for the Astros to get called on a double play when the second basemen never tried to throw the ball, or even move towards first base.

AJ Hinch may have the best and most reasonable quote about the rule thus far. As painful as it was to lose the game on that call, Hinch said that his game “ended on a play that this rule is not intended to protect.”

He went on to say “There needs to be more clarification, more interpretation . . . You go through these rules changes . . . this isn’t the first one that sort of needed to be tweaked along the way.”

It’s going to be a long season if we keep seeing games end like this. Most teams have played 4 games or less, and we’ve seen this rule end two games, and make a fairly significant impact on another.

There will be growing pains over the next season or two, but it will be interesting to see how MLB responds to these issues.

I think the rule was used appropriately in the case of Nick Markakis and Jose Bautista. They were in the wrong – Markakis tried to take out Murphy, and Bautista literally grabbed another player to stop him from making the play.

Where I have an issue with the play is when Colby Rasmus makes an “innocent” slide on the opposite side of the base, where the defender doesn’t even try to turn a double play. That is where MLB needs to make some adjustments to fix the rule.

So, that’s the beginning of the season. We’ve seen some teams play a significantly different game than we expected.

We’ve already seen that we have an exciting batch of rookies this year that could compete with the young stars of last year.

One of those young stars (Schwarber) is already out for the season. And we’ve seen a rule that was created to avoid injuries already being used, sometimes perfectly, other times, it’s been arguable.

What do you think of the season thus far? It’s only been 1 week, but it looks like it’ll be a great 2016 season. Did you take anything away from week 1 that I missed?