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Bitter Mike’s Baseball Bites – Week 1 Recap

Greetings everyone!  WE MADE IT!  THE 2020 BASEBALL SEASON HAS STARTED!  Thanks to all the Players, Managers, Coaches and Staff for making this happen!  This country needed it considering all that is going on.  LET’S DO THIS!

  • Continuing in the spirit of cooperation, right before first pitch of the Nationals-Yankees game MLB and its players agreed to an expansion of the playoffs, something they couldn’t agree on during the Spring negotiations.  This format is a little different, calling for the top two teams from each division plus the remaining two teams in each league with the best record making the cut.  The Wild Card round will be a best of three with the higher seeded team hosting all three games. From there, the remaining rounds will be same format as before (best of five in Divisional Series, best of seven the rest of the way).  The Players will receive a minimum $50 million payout with more available depending on the number of total games played.  The only open item (and it’s a doozie!) is how to handle tie-breakers.  However, kudos to both sides for getting this done!
  • We saw MLB and its Players also unite in raising awareness to racial inequality by taking a knee during pre-game ceremonies including the playing of the National Anthem.  And although both emphatically stated they meant no disrespect towards the flag or those who fought and died for it, many fans took to social media to accuse them of that very thing.  Indeed, I know many who are swearing off Baseball (not to mention other sports) for good.  Personally, I find it a shame that instead of Baseball uniting the country and making us forget about all of its ills, the well-intentioned pre-game actions of the players and coaches only served to drive a further wedge between people. 
  • A quick glance at the dugouts and the field will tell you that players and coaches are not following COVID 19 protocols to the letter.  I’m seeing many faces without masks on (or worn incorrectly) high-fives, spitting, and no social distancing in the dugouts.  Does this explain four Marlins coming down with COVID, including Sunday’s scheduled starting pitcher Jose Urena? Does this explain other high-profile players including the Nationals’ Juan Soto and the Reds’ Mike Moustakas affected by COVID?  Ballplayers are creatures of habit and yet don’t like learning new ones.  But this is a whole new world and if the season is going to be played successfully, MLB will need to get really diligent about enforcing the protocols that both sides agreed to. That being said, Opening Weekend had some great moments:
  • CHC SP Kyle Hendricks rekindled memories of 2016, spinning a complete game three hit shutout of the Brewers.  His fastball never touched higher than 87, but he did his best impersonation of Greg Maddux with pinpoint control and off-speed pitches that baffled the Milwaukee bats.
  • Memo to the rest of the AL (and NL) East: Giancarlo Stanton is BACK. Taking full advantage of the delayed start, he healed up and trimmed down.  The results: the bat speed and hip turn has returned and he’s destroying the baseball, hitting a 469-foot home run on Opening Day and a 483-foot bomb on Saturday.
  • The AL favorite Yanks beat the defending champion Nationals in Washington, but don’t thank their bats for that.  It’s early but New York is off to a slow start, hitting .224 as a team; Judge, Sanchez, Gardner, Voit and Hicks are a combined .089 (4-45) with one HR and two RBIs.
  • My pick destined to meet the Bronx Bombers in the Fall Classic, the LA Dodgers, received some bad but unsurprising news Thursday when they placed SP Clayton Kershaw on the injured list with back stiffness three hours before his Opening Day start against the Giants.  Barely missing a beat, LA did the LA thing, using their pitching depth and plugging #1 pitching prospect Dustin May in his stead.  Pitching like that free-flowing red hair was on fire, he scattered seven hits over 4.1 IP, striking out four en route to an 8-1 Dodgers win.  On the flip side, their $365 million dollar man, RF Mookie Betts is off to a slow start, hitting only .125 (2-16) with no extra base hits, entering the finale against SF.
  • Leave it to the Oakland A’s, who seem incapable of playing a game in less than three and half hours, to be the first to break in the new extra innings rule (with an assist from the LA Angels).  After blowing a 3-2 lead in the 9th, the A’s got some help from LA’s Shohei Ohtani, who may be a great two-way player, but pulled a baserunning boner.  After being placed at second base to start the top of the tenth, he hesitated on his way to third when Jared Walsh grounded sharply to first.  To make matters worse, he failed to get in a rundown long enough to allow Walsh to get to second, thus wasting a golden opportunity.  In the bottom half, A’s 1B Matt Olson sent the cardboard cutouts “home” happy with a walk-off Grand Slam home run!  (PS: early impression of the new extra inning rule: I LIKE IT! I go into extras expecting a run to be scored.)
  • Speaking of cutouts, I LOVE how former Braves 3B Chipper Jones (with help from his employer) is trolling Mets fans with a cardboard cutout of himself and his son Shea.  In his 19-year career, the 2018 HOF inductee absolutely murdered the Mets, especially at their old home of Shea stadium (hence his son’s name!), hitting .313 with 19HR and 55RBIs in only 87 games in Queens.  MLB paid for the cutouts of Jones, who works games for MLB Network, with proceeds benefiting the Mets foundation.  A great gag for a great cause!
  • Back to Ohtani, the much-anticipated return to the mound of Shohei went over like a lead brick on Sunday.  Trying to make up for Friday’s baserunning mistake, Ohtani started Sunday for the Angels but never got an out, allowing 5 runs on three hits while issuing three walks.  More ominous was his velocity and pitch selection: he averaged 92.7 MPH on his fastball, fully four MPH slower than his 2018 rookie campaign.  Further, not once did he throw his patented split fingered fast ball.  I’m not sure if new manager Joe Maddon pulled that arrow from his quiver, but clearly Ohtani wasn’t regular season ready!
  • The Astros may have won their opening series against the overmatched Mariners, but they received what could be devasting news after Sunday’s loss when they announced that Opening Day starter and the staff ace Justin Verlander would be “shut down” for at least a couple of weeks while he deals with a forearm strain.  Twitter was blowing up with lots of speculation including unconfirmed (and later disputed by Verlander himself) reports that Verlander was lost for the season.  Regardless, losing a key piece like Justin in a short season like this will have a huge impact.  Here’s to a speedy return for Kate’s hubby.
  • Other notable injuries out of the gate: Rangers SP Corey Kluber, a two-time CYA winner, exited his first start after only one inning with shoulder stiffness (he’ll be evaluated Monday); CHW lost two players in the same inning: SP Reynaldo Lopez gave up a Grand Slam to Minnesota’s Jake Cave, with LF and highly touted rookie LF Eloy Jimenez crashing into a padded fence post.  Lopez would leave one batter later with shoulder tightness and Jimenez would leave due to dizziness; finally, Nats SP Stephen Strasburg was a late scratch from his scheduled start Saturday due to a nerve issue in his right hand and is considered day to day.
  • Rookie Watch: Royals fans are simmering over the surprising lack of hitting by their lineup, but they have to be thrilled about rookie Brady Singer’s major league debut on Saturday: 5IP, 3H, 2ER, 7Ks.  What I liked was he was pitching, as opposed to throwing, mixing speeds and trusting his stuff.  KC may be a couple of years away but their future is bright; CF Luis Robert was the only bright spot for the White Sox, getting a hit in each game against the Twins, including his first ML home run, a 419-foot bomb to dead center; Mariner CF Kyle Lewis was even better with 2 bombs against Houston and a clutch two out, 2-RBI single in the 8th inning Sunday in their only win this weekend; topping all of them was A’s LH Jesus Luzardo. Throwing three shutout innings, he ranged 87-98 mph.  A’s Manager Bob Melvin brought him in to get Luzardo some work because of a late start due to being on the COVID injured list to start Summer camp.  Don’t be surprised if Luzardo’s next outing is as a starter.  And finally:
  • Bitter Mike’s “Giant Rants”: my early take on my favorite team in SF is that I hope their defense improves, otherwise this is going to be a long “short” season.  Manager Gabe Kapler is trying many different lineups and its showing in the lousy defense.  Guys are playing out of position, making mental and physical errors.  Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores are in the lineup for their bats but will never be confused for gold glove fielders; Maurico Dubon is being groomed to be a utility man because aging veteran Brandon Crawford is holding down his natural position of SS. I worry this experiment will kill Dubon’s confidence because he won’t be able to focus on playing one position; it’s already affecting him at the plate going 0-10 with 5 Ks in the first three games.  And I get that Kapler is taking advantage of his solid bullpen and expanded rosters by pulling his starters early (only Drew Smyly has seen the fifth inning.) But when the ace of your staff Johnny Cueto voices frustration over an early hook after the first game?? Not a good look!  And although as I write this the Giants are looking for a 2-2 against their hated rival Dodgers, it’s easy to point out the difference in talent between the two teams.  Look, I know my team is deep in a rebuilding mode – but it still sucks to watch!

Give me a shout at:

babotmichael@gmail.com @thebittermike

About Fred D.

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