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Pitcher perfect


One full day of games down and Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark are on pace to shatter the single-season home run mark by hitting 324 apiece, Adam Lind will just miss 1,000 RBI with a projected 972 RBI, and Derek Lowe will win the Cy Young with 34 wins and an ERA of 0.00. Sure, none of those things are probable, but as I write this, they are still possible, which is all the fans in Phoenix, Toronto and Atlanta can ask for right now.

Not to be a buzzkill, but let's take a look at each team's first game and see what they really tell us about their pitching.

Lowe Down Dirty Shame: New Atlanta Ace Stymies World Series Champs

Derek Lowe (W, 8.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 0 BB) is a very good SP2 rather than an SP1, but he deserves more love than he gets. He is a big game pitcher that's prone to 13-hit, 8-ER, 3.1-IP August starts that kill your ratios, so beware. And he probably won't be staked to 4-0 leads by this power-challenged Braves team every night. Also, beware Atlanta's shaky closer situation. As for Brett Myers (L, 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 6 K, 1 BB) the team got inside his head by putting him in the bullpen last year, but he's now damaged goods. Yes, his numbers weren't bad, but he will be prone to the long ball, especially at home.

Santana Not "Smooth," but Adequate: Free-Swinging Reds Help Mets Ace

Johan Santana (W, 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 7 K, 4 BB) didn't lose a single game in the second half of '08. However, he was killed by his bullpen with an awful 1-4 June despite a 2.27 ERA (likely costing him the Cy Young). This year, he has Francisco Rodriguez who won't blow many saves. However, Santana was inefficient and looked like he was nibbling, but the Reds were not disciplined enough to take the pitches. Let's see what happens when he pitches against a better team. Aaron Harang (L, 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 K, 3 BB) pitched better than the results, but the lefty-heavy Mets were tough for him. Expect Harang to pitch better this season, but beware teams laden with lefty swingers and switch hitters.

Sigh Young: Lee Pounded by Rangers

It should not be a surprise that Cliff Lee (L, 5.0 IP, 7 ER, 5 K, 1 BB) likely won't see another 20 wins (you read my column, right?), but his bombing in Arlington was distressing. First he gave up 7 ER, which is more than he coughed up in any game last year, and a total amount he didn't reach until his eighth game in '08. Second, he's more successful when he keeps the ball down, but in Texas on Monday he had only three ground ball outs against seven fly ball outs. Third, he got out-pitched by Kevin Millwood (W, 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 5 K, 1 BB). Expect a rebound for Lee, but also expect more bad games this year than last. As for Millwood, perhaps he can put it together this season like Lee did in '08, but there is always a DL stint looming in the dark.

Yankees Economic Stimulus Package Fails: Sabathia is Deuce, Not Ace

CC Sabathia (L, 4.1 IP, 6 ER, 0 K, 5 BB) didn't serve up the long ball, but he didn't need to. He gave up only two extra-base hits and six singles, but it's the five BB against zero K that hurts. And speaking of hurting, the cameras caught Sabathia with a heating pad on his stomach, perhaps indicating an injury. That may be a convenient answer -- it was just as likely to be nerves -- but keep an eye out for reports of a muscle strain. Jeremy Guthrie (W, 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 K, 3 BB) technically had a quality start, but he didn't pitch that well, giving up seven singles and three walks and hitting a batter. Expect about the same level of output, but without the win.

Aces Wild: Two Starters Give Up a Combined 12 ER

Tony Clark and Felipe Lopez will not be homering a lot this year, but when they do, it will likely be at home (with the team likely playing abysmally on the road this year). Yes, the Diamondbacks won, but they needed nine runs even with their ace on the mound. Brandon Webb (ND, 4.0 IP, 6 ER, 2 K, 2 BB) will pitch better than this, but I reiterate those 22 wins likely evaporate to 14 or 15 this season. The same goes for Aaron Cook (ND, 2.1 IP, 6 ER, 2 K, 1 BB), who will have even more trouble at Coors Field. Both bullpens (ARI: 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 K, 1 BB; COL: 5.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 K, 2 BB) pitched relatively well considering the circumstances, but obviously, both teams need their starters to pitch longer into games.

Verlander Might Spend Halladay in Toledo: Detroit Never Threatens

I picked Justin Verlander (L, 3.2 IP, 8 ER, 4 K, 2 BB) to be a prime rebound candidate because he only needed slightly better control. However, against the Blue Jays he kept his control but gave up eight hits, six of them being for extra bases. He just didn't fool anyone. Verlander will have to miss more bats or '07 will be the aberrant year, not '08. Roy Halladay (W, 7.0 IP, 5 ER, 2 K, 1 BB) was sharp up until he ran out of gas near 100 pitches.

Cantu Pitch? Lannan Doesn't Answer the Bell in Fourth

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Florida has offense without defense, so playing the likes of Washington isn't a fair fight. However, if John Lannan (L, 3.0 IP, 6 ER, 1 K, 0 BB) is to be the Nationals' ace, he'll have to keep the ball in the park. He didn't walk anyone, but he gave up 14 total bases. It's going to be a long season for the Nationals. While Ricky Nolasco (W, 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 6 K, 0 BB) gave you a win and helped your strikeouts, he won't see many wins pitching like that.

Motte's Applesauce: Rookie Closer Sunk by Pirates (Arg!)

Somewhere out there, Jason Isringhausen is laughing. The Cardinals' spring sensation Jason Motte was given the closer role and quickly gave up a bases-clearing two-out double to Jack Wilson, which was wrong on many levels. It was cold, so Motte will get another try, but expect a short leash as Tony LaRussa knows what it's like to put a rookie in a pressure situation he can't handle (just ask his former fireball-throwing centerfielder). However, they're not even in a save situation if Josh Kinney doesn't walk the pitcher with two outs in the sixth. So there are a lot of questions in that bullpen. Adam Wainwright (ND, 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 K, 5 BB) was inefficient and gave up too many walks, but almost escaped trouble. Paul Maholm (ND, 6.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 K, 1 BB) pitched only slightly better than Wainwright and also managed to stay out of trouble.

The King is not Dead: Felix Out-Duels Liriano

The good news is Francisco Liriano (L, 7.0 IP, 4 ER, 3 K, 0 BB) only gave up four hits while walking no one. The bad news is half of those hits left the park. If he had spread out those hits a little better and kept the ball down, this is easily a no decision. Why not a win? Because Felix Hernandez (W, 8.0 IP, 5 H, 6 K, 3 BB) did space his hits out and only gave up one extra base hit, a double to Mike Redmond. Expect Liriano to see 15 wins while King Felix likely sees 12 with a team that won't have a good a slugging percentage as it did on Monday.

Cubbos Over Astros: Zambrano, Soriano, Fontenot All Go, Go, Go

The Cubs never trailed in this one. Carlos Zambrano (W, 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 3 BB) looked better than normal for an April start, and out-pitched Roy Oswalt (L, 7.0 IP, 3 ER, 2 K, 1 BB). The problem for the Astros was a lack of offense, with no one hitting more than a single. While Zambrano really can be this good, odds are he isn't (think 16 wins, not 20). The real fun came in the eighth and ninth innings, when Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg pitched in relief. Gregg got the closer's gig because Marmol was just too good at the setup role last year, but if Gregg keeps giving up runs, Marmol may sneak into the job. Oswalt signed an extension with the Astros, which means he may not see another 20-win season before he retires.

No Offense, San Diego: Peavy's Strong Showing Wasted for Anemic Team

For the Dodgers, Hiroki Kuroda (W, 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 K, 1 BB) only threw one true mistake, a leadoff double to Jody Gerut. After that, he cruised by inducing ground balls until he tired in the sixth inning. If he keeps pitching like that, this team will reward him with 20 wins. But since he was pitching against the lowly Padres, it's more likely he sees about 15 wins. Jake Peavy (L, 7.0 IP, 3 ER, 8 K, 2 BB) was a strikeout machine, but as will likely happen all season long, his offense couldn't stake him to a lead. Peavy could win the NL strikeout crown while struggling to see 10 wins.

New Look A's, Same Results: Angels Quiet Athletics New Bats

Oakland's offense is potent with Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chavez and Jason Giambi, but since it's not 2001, it's not that potent. With Matt Holliday they will score runs, however, the starting pitching is young and shaky. While Dallas Braden's (L, 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 K, 1 BB) opening day performance was technically a quality start, it was mediocre. On most teams he'd be an SP3/4 rather than an SP1. Expect the A's to sputter through the beginning of the season. The Angels are fighting pitching injuries, but they somehow always seem to plug the holes. Joe Saunders (W, 6.2 IP, 0 ER, 2 K, 2 BB) got the call, and could be this good all season long (think 20 wins). And thankfully for the Angels, Brian Fuentes looked like the pitcher from Colorado, not the thrower from spring training. And yes, I'll back my prediction that the A's win the division (but not with money, of course).

It's Harder to Repeat: Rays Get Beat Up by Beckett and Sox

Josh Beckett (W, 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 10 K, 3 BB) going seven innings and striking out 10 on 93 pitches is impressive. While Tampa Bay won't revert to the cellar dweller it once was, Boston is just too stacked for the Rays (and the Yankees). In addition, a healthy Beckett could see 25 wins if the Red Sox avoid a summer swoon. As for Tampa Bay, their margin for error has decreased, putting more pressure on starters like James Shields (5.1 IP, 5 ER, 2 K, 3 BB). We likely see David Price very soon.

What's a Farnsworth? Bullpen does in Meche Performance

The Royals were pleased when they acquired Kyle Farnsworth, despite what all fantasy leaguers know: Farnsworth throws fast but straight, making it easier for the ball to fly over the outfield fences. After giving up a couple of good relievers, the Royals will have to figure out a way to bridge its good young starters to its fine young closer. Gil Meche (7.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 K, 0 BB) was masterful and deserved the win. Until the Royals get the eighth inning figured out, think 12 wins, rather than 18. We were told Mark Buehrle (5.0 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 3 BB) was out of shape, but every time I watched the game, he was pouncing off the mound, fielding grounders. But he needs to be more efficient if he wants to help his bullpen.

NL Cy Young Also Beat Up: Lincecum Can't Go Five Innings, but SF Wins

Tim Lincecum (ND, 3.0 IP, 3ER, 5 K, 3 BB) hit 78 pitches after three innings, and at that point his coaches had seen enough. Sure, he won't get 34 wins now, but this Giants team should be able to score runs in bunches and will reward him if he can get his five innings in. Expect more from him next time. As for Milwaukee, this is how I see them all year long. Starters like Jeff Suppan (4.0 IP, 6 ER, 1 K, 1 BB) will give up the lead early, making life easier for the opposing pitchers. Don't expect much from Milwaukee this year.