Play ball! The 2013 season begins
Well, here we are in the glorious month of April, and Our National Pastime is back in action! (Given the chilly weather, it must be said that this is not an April Fool's joke!)
Harper, Strasburg lead Nats win
The Washington Nationals got all the runs they needed today from Bryce Harper, who hit solo home runs in the first and fourth innings. He is the youngest Major League player to hit two homers in an Opening Day game. It's quite an accomplishment, as the Marlins' starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco is known for not allowing many home runs. It added a spark of jubilation to the big crowd, eager to put last years' NLSD Game 5 behind them and make history in the 2013 season.
Nats' starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg lived up to his sky-high expectations, showing sharp command and blazing speed. The Marlins' Juan Pierre singled in the first inning, jarring some nerves, and only a diving grab by Ryan Zimmerman prevented a run from being scored. After that, Strasburg retired 19 batters in a row. Three hits and no runs allowed over seven innings; not a bad outing! Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano got the relief job done to preserve the shutout. See MLB.com. 45,274 fans were there in Nationals Park, the biggest regular-season game attendance in history.
Opening Night in Houston
Opening Night provided quite a surprise, as the lowly Houston Astros defeated their cross-state rivals (the Texas Rangers) by a score of 8-2. It was the Astros' first game as an American League club, and this may be a signal that they won't be a doormat for the rest of the AL Western Division after all. I was pleased that two former Washington Nationals players had a big role in that win: Justin Maxwell hit two triples, with two RBIs and two runs, and made a terrific lunging catch in the dark recess of left center field at Minute Maid Park. It was a carbon copy of the play by Roger Bernandina last August. And designated hitter Rick Ankiel pinch-hit a three-run homer to give the Astros a commanding lead. It was a good start for the Astros' new manager, Bo Porter, who was the Nationals' third base coach last year.
I was paying close attention to Minute Maid Park during that game, and couldn't detect any changes such as the rumored lengthening of the left field dimension. That may come next year. I did notice some details that I need to correct on my diagram, however, so stay tuned...
Soaring expectations for the Nats
A year ago, the Washington Nationals were an up-and-coming team of uncertain potential, and all of a sudden this year they are widely regarded as the best team in baseball. What a strange sensation this is, almost like an April Fool's joke. According to Sports Illustrated, "The Nats will win 100 games this year and take their playoff run a few steps farther, winning the World Series." Oh, no, the infamous Sports Illustrated cover curse! The fact that it's the April 1 issue with Strasburg on the cover only adds to the element of doubt. Well, I'm not going to worry about that. It's going to be one hell of a fun year, that's all I can say.
We finally have MLB TV with our cable service, but I only managed to see a few spring training games here and there. Henry Rodriguez had a good outing in the game with the Yankees on Friday, and was rewarded with a spot on the team roster. Ryan Zimmerman showed gradual improvement, and even hit three home runs in a game last week. (See MLB.com.) He is still rather cautious with his throwing arm, and I don't blame him. He is smart enought to make sure his shoulder fully heals from the surgery he had last October.
Here is the starting lineup:
- Denard Span (CF)
- Jayson Werth (RF)
- Bryce Harper (LF)
- Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
- Adam LaRoche (1B)
- Ian Desmond (SS)
- Danny Espinosa (2B)
- Wilson Ramos (C)
- Stephen Strasburg (P)
It's a bit of a surprise that Wilson Ramos is playing rather than Kurt Suzuki, who did quite well as a replacement catcher late last summer. Ramos spent almost the entire season on the DL, and is no doubt very eager to get back into the swing of things.
Recently I was enjoying watching Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series game, when the Cardinals were visiting the Nationals. (The first eight innings were enjoyable, at least.) The ninth inning was a bitter pill to swallow, but the first several innings were quite a thrill. Close but no cigar. After watching today's 2-0 victory over the Marlins, I'm glad to see that Bryce Harper hasn't lost any of his "Natitude" from last year.
The (cracked) crystal ball
Personally, I think all those prognostications about who is going to win in the postseason series are ridiculous. It's one thing to make an educated prediction about how varous teams will do over the course of the 162-game regular season, but once October rolls around, all bets are off. So, for what's it worth, here are my regular season divisional predictions:
|National League Eastern Division||American League Eastern Division|
|Washington Nationals||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Atlanta Braves (WC)||Tampa Bay Rays (WC)|
|Philadelphia Phillies||New York Yankees|
|New York Mets||Baltimore Orioles|
|Florida Marlins||Boston Red Sox|
|National League Central Division||American League Central Division|
|Cincinnati Reds||Detroit Tigers|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Chicago White Sox|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Kansas City Royals|
|Chicago Cubs||Minnesota Twins|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Cleveland Indians|
|National League Western Division||American League Western Division|
|San Francisco Giants||Los Angeles Angels|
|Los Angeles Dodgers (WC)||Texas Rangers (WC)|
|Colorado Rockies||Oakland Athletics|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||Seattle Mariners|
|San Diego Padres||Houston Astros|
More extended contracts
The San Francisco Giants signed their young catcher Buster Posey to a nine-year contract, but club policy is not to disclose dollar amounts. Wow! See MLB.com. Also, the Detroit Tigers signed Justin Verlander to five more years (with a vesting option for 2020), at a salary of $28 million a year, and the Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to a five-year extension that will reportedly be worth a total of $97.5 million. The Giants and Tigers are both well positioned to make another postseason bid this year; the Cardinals are much less certain of that.
Veterans Stadium update
The Veterans Stadium page has been updated with the entry portals displayed for the first time. Also, there is a new upper-deck diagram version that shows what is under the roof: a skybox level at the top of the upper deck, and two big video screens that were added in the 1980s more or less. Note that the roof was rather small and ordinarily there would have been no need for an upper-deck diagram version. Another new detail is the "seam" in the grandstand, similar to those found in Shea Stadium.
More baseball movies
Turner Classic Movies observed Opening Day appropriately, with a whole slew of baseball movies. One of them I had not seen before: The Kid From Left Field (1953). It was the first time I had a good look at the interior and ramps of L.A.'s Wrigley Field. See TCM.com.
The mail bag
Speaking of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are planning another major series of renovations to the "Friendly Confines," but it's almost entirely in the stadium "innards," with improved concourse facilities, a possible new video scoreboard (ugh), etc. Since it is being proposed as an economic development project, there are negotiations to see whether the city of Chicago will pay for some of that. See MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
I learned from Jonathan Karberg that Busch Stadium (the new one, of course) will host an exhibition soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea on May 23. The "pitch" (playing field) is expected to be slightly askew, not quite parallel to the first base line. See stltoday.com
A fan named Trepye questioned what I wrote about the shorter dimensions in Citi Field helping the Mets last year, calling my attention to an AP story. "Of the 46 home runs this year that would not have cleared the old wall, 21 were hit by New York, according to figures compiled by the team." There were 155 home runs, compared to an average of 116 during the first three seasons of Citi Field's existence. So, I changed the text on the Citi Field page accordingly.