Opening Day 2017: I Warned You

By: John Gordon

There may be 161 games left, but we saw things on Opening Day that could impact the rest of the year. Here are the four things you need to know for the remainder of the 2017 season.

Bronx Bombers? Hold on a second.

The 2017 New York Yankees have drawn comparisons to the 2015 Chicago Cubs – a powerful, young team ready to win and explode on the national stage.

But not these guys. Not yet.

In Spring Training, the Pinstripes tallied 24 wins – four more than any other club. That seems promising going into the regular season. The problem is it’s Spring Training. There’s a reason people say to stay away from those numbers.

Last year, if we looked at those numbers and used Spring Training to predict the season that actually matters, here is what we would’ve thought: Instead of losing 90 games, the L.A. Angels would have won the AL crown. The Diamondbacks would have led the league in wins, rather than failing to get 70 wins. The Cubs would have finished with the fifth-worst record in baseball, and Bill Murray would have never made a second career by just attending sporting events.

The Yankees have one ace who made a run for the Cy Young Award last year, but when he’s off – New York is in trouble. Masahiro Tanaka didn’t even make it through three innings before allowing seven runs against the Tampa Bay Rays who had the second-worst record in the MLB last year.

More importantly, the “Baby Bombers” – Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge went a combined 1-13 against Tampa Bay on Opening Day. These three sluggers are the future of the New York Yankees and are carrying a lot of hype into 2017, but performances like we saw on Monday should reveal just how young and inexperienced these guys are.

Sanchez
Gary Sanchez played less than half of a season last year, but his 20 HRs nearly placed him as AL Rookie of the Year. The 24-year-old went 0-5 with his bat last game with an error behind the plate.

Sanchez, who sprung onto the scene late last year by launching 19 homeruns faster than any player in the modern era, was hitless in his five at-bats and left the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

Bird went 0-4 in the cleanup spot and made an arrant play on a ground ball at first base where he looked at the first-base bag before corralling the ball in his glove. Remarkably, it was not deemed an error, but plays like this are not good signs for Joe Girardi.

Of course, there are 161 games left, and the Yankees strung together an excellent second half of 2016, even winning 13 of 17 at one point. MLB Pipeline ranked this farm system as the second best in baseball.

Maybe 2018, perhaps the favorite in 2019, but the spotlight is too big for the young core, this year.

Madbum is the Russell Westbrook of the Giants.

In fact, he might even be better (And no, there will not be a co-MVP debate).

Westbrook is known as the do-it-all player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His triple-double record speaks for himself.

Madison Bumgarner, on the other hand, is turning into the “do-it-all guy” for the Giants…and he only plays every five games.

A career ERA of 2.99, at least three HRs in each of the three previous seasons, and a postseason ERA of 2.11 doesn’t even begin to tell the story of Madbum.

Of his three World Series titles, Bumgarner’s best performance came in 2014 when he set the record for most innings pitched in a single postseason with 52.2 and tossed an ERA of 1.03. In game seven of the World Series against the Royals (on two days rest) he tossed five scoreless innings in relief, finishing that series with a perfect 2-0 record, a save, and a 0.43 ERA. Bumgarner’s remarkable performance earned him not only WS MVP honors, but also Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award as well as the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year award.

The man ate his Wheaties.

On Opening Day 2017, he recorded another quality start and launched two no-doubters over the left field wall. Bumgarner is the first pitcher to ever hit two homeruns on Opening Day. That now puts him at 14 HRs since the beginning of the 2014 season.

Think about that for a second.

Since 2014, every 16 times Bumgarner comes up to the plate, he hits a homerun. Mike Trout is currently hitting one every 17 at-bats.

Did I mention he’s a pitcher?

Here’s where Madbum and Westbrook follow the same line: Both of their teams desperately need them. Westbrook is literally averaging a triple-double this season, and his team is still only going to get a sixth seed due to the fact that there is no supporting cast in Oklahoma City.

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It may not be an even year, but that doesn’t matter to Madison Bumgarner. He’ll be trying to get his Giants past the NLDS where they lost to the Cubs last year.

Bumgarner’s second homerun on Opening Day gave the Giants the lead in the seventh inning against the Diamondbacks. However, the Giants bullpen failed Bruce Bochy again as they blew two different leads in the last two innings.

Madison and Russell’s biggest difference comes in the postseason. Madison Bumgarner is likely the first player you would take in a game seven, because Westbrook is still searching for his first ring and his field goal and three-point percentage traditionally dip in the playoffs (but just barely over one percent).

It’s guys like Bumgarner that make you think twice before wanting the DH in the National League.

The Year of the Reliever was a Fluke

Do you remember last year when everyone was talking about how the arms coming out of the bullpen need to be valued higher? That the game ends in their hands so their pockets that should be getting stuffed?

Well, the Giants bought into this big time.

San Francisco decided to give $62 million over four years to Mark Melancon in exchange for an average of one inning of work per outing. I’ll put this into perspective. As just detailed above, Madison Bumgarner has an overwhelming presence to the city of San Francisco.

He makes half of what Mark Melancon makes. Half! ($35 million/5yrs)

After Bumgarner hit two homeruns, struck out 11 and reached the seventh inning with a lead, the Giants bullpen not only blew the lead once, but twice on Opening Day. The 32-year old Melancon came in for the save in the ninth, retired the first two batters, but couldn’t seal the deal. Four hits and two runs later, the Diamondbacks took Opening Day in walk-off fashion. The Giants are no stranger to this blown save ordeal, as they led the league last year in blown saves with 32. Giants fans are also still trying to scrub the taste of game four of the NLDS out of their mouths when they blew a four-run lead to the Cubs while using five different arms one inning.

Elsewhere, the Marlins had a two-run lead over Bryce Harper and the Nationals going into the sixth inning Monday. Edison Volquez pitched five marvelous innings of scoreless baseball to start off the game, before he called it a day and settled in to watch his bullpen secure him the win.

Boy, was he wrong.

David Phelps, who is coming off of his best year after a 2.28 ERA season, allowed three runs off of two homeruns to Bryce Harper and Adam Lind. Miami turned another 30-year-old righty in Junichi Tazawa whose 2016 season was a different story compared to Phelps. Tazawa spent his entire MLB career with the Red Sox until last year when he tossed one of his worst seasons in relief – 4.17 ERA, nine homeruns (career-high), and 14 walks (second most). Tazawa walked two batters on Opening Day before Daniel Murphy pieced together an RBI single. That was the end of the day for the Tazawa who was unable record an out. It was also the end of the day for Marlins as Don Mattingly’s squad fell 4-2.

And by the way, both of these relievers are cashing bigger checks in 2017 than centerfielder Christian Yelich who led the team in RBIs last year.

You can’t forget about the Cardinals who are lucky that Randal Grichuk came to their rescue Sunday night.

Who?

Exactly.

St. Louis had a three-run lead heading into the ninth, but the Cubs reminded people like me why you don’t shut the TV off until the fat lady sings.

She put down her Ultimate Stadium Tater Tot Nachos and sprinted toward the microphone, ready to cry out to the world that the best team in baseball just got shutout, but Seung-Hwan Oh stood in front and took a charge like no other. Oh, also known as “The Final Boss,” allowed a three-run shot over the left field wall and it looked like the Cubs were picking up right where they left off in 2016.

Fortunately for the Cards, Grichuk sent off the fireworks at Busch Stadium with a walk-off single.

Seung-Hwan Oh claimed the win instead of Carlos Martínez, who started pitched over seven scoreless innings against the defending champs in his 2017 debut.

And you know I’m going to say it. Oh also claimed the bigger salary.

Tough to Have Fingernails if You’re a Mets Fan.

The Mets will not fall apart because Noah Syndergaard has a blister. However, they do not have much assurance in their rotation after Thor.

Each of New York’s five starters enter the 2017 season with a doctor on speed dial.

We’ll start with Syndergaard who pitched a good chunk of 2016 with bone spurs in his elbow. This is not an injury Terry Collins wants with his ace, especially considering he throws harder than any other starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. Syndergaard must be closely watched this season.

Steven Matz had a similar issue last year, but he chose surgery over playing through injury. Here we are six months later and Matz is back on the disabled list with a flexor tendon strain. The Mets hope to have him back by May.

Then, there’s Jacob DeGrom who looked promising in 2014 as the NL Rookie of the Year with a 2.69 ERA. Since then though, he’s been plagued with elbow and shoulder injuries. Rotator cuff tendinitis is not something anyone should be dealing with just three years in the big leagues.

What about Matt Harvey? More like, what happened to Matt Harvey?

In just his second year in the majors, the North Carolina Tarheel posted a 2.27 ERA and was poised to be the face of the Mets franchise for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Harvey was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, and although he bounced back in a big way in 2015, the 2016 season was an injury-riddled season. He started 17 games, but was forced to go under the needed once again to treat thoracic outlet syndrome – a condition in which there is a compression of the nerves. Seth Lugo filled Harvey’s spot in the rotation in 2016, posting a 2.68 ERA in eight starts, but in true injured-Met fashion, the team announced the right-hander/left-hander has a slight UCL tear in his elbow and is out four to six weeks.

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Matt Harvey, who just turned 28 last week, will need to keep the injury bug away if the Mets wants to get back to the World Series like they did in 2015.

Bottom line for the Mets: There are question marks, everywhere.

The good news for every skip and general manager is that the end of Opening Day means there are 161 more games to write their story for 2017.

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