Drawing conclusions from a small sample size at any time during the baseball season is a hazardous endeavor, and it's even more foolhardy to do so based on a single day of baseball. Nonetheless, the arrival of Opening Day after five months of buildup—hot stove chatter, big trades, key free agent signings, analysis and finally, predictions galore—can lead anyone to blow just about anything that happens out of proportion. After watching the first set of games on Sunday and Monday, I've done just that, overreacting to events with a careful blend of confirmation bias (of course my preconceptions are correct!) and fatalism (hey, I'm never going to be right!). Don't try this at home, kids!
The Cubs aren't going to repeat as champions!!!
It took 108 years for the Cubs to follow up their 1908 World Series win, but you may have heard somewhere that the roster that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have constructed—with years of club control over their young nucleus and only minor touch-ups needed to their lineup, rotation and bullpen—set them up well to become the first NL team since the 1975–76 Reds to repeat as champions. Might as well cancel that parade, and get the deposit back on those floats. On Sunday night against the Cardinals, former Cub Dexter Fowler—of course, the one that got away—scored the game's first run, then a shaky Pedro Strop (remember, no more Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen) served up a two-run homer to Randal Grichuk in the eighth. Despite a game-tying three-run homer by Wilson Contreras in the ninth, World Series Game 7 hero Mike Montgomery showed that his magic had run out by giving up two hits and two walks in the bottom of the ninth, capped by Grichuk's walkoff single. Wait until 2124, Cubs fans.
It’s the Indians’ year!!!
Three innings into the season, one could have been forgiven for wondering if Corey Kluber was still feeling a hangover after last year’s 249 1/3-inning workload, as he served up a trio of solo homers to the Rangers (two to Rougned Odor) while the Indians fell behind 5-1 through three innings. Kluber settled down as his teammates clawed their way back against Yu Darvish, punctuated by Jose Ramirez’s two-run homer, with newcomer Edwin Encarnacion adding a towering, game-tying shot (yes, he brought his parrot from Toronto) off Matt Bush. Cleveland added three more late runs, capped by an RBI single by Michael Brantley, who was limited to 12 games last year due to a right shoulder injury, and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combined for five strikeouts in their two shutout innings. If the Cubs can end their 108-year curse, all the pieces are in place for the Indians to shed their 68-year one.
Except, of course, we already declared it the Astros’ year!!!
Though they made the playoffs in 2015, the rebuilt Astros have simply been biding their time since we crowned them 2017 champions on the cover of our June 30, 2014 issue (leaving aside the matter of our more recent prediction that they would win in 2016). On Monday night they looked the part, as 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, who saw his ERA rise by more than two runs last year (from 2.48 to 4.55) delivered seven innings of two-hit shutout work against the Mariners, with George Springer and Carlos Correa each touching up Felix Hernandez for homers, the latter via a 449-foot bomb. So much for the infamous Sports Illustrated cover jinx, right?
Madison Bumgarner is going to win the Cy Young Award!!! And set a home run record for pitchers!!!
Bumgarner has already built his legend in the postseason, and while he's delivered a 2.99 regular season ERA while topping 190 strikeouts six times and making four All-Star teams, the 27-year-old lefty has never put together a season that gripped Cy Young voters. In fact, he's never finished higher than fourth place in the voting (2014 and ‘16). Coming off a season in which he set career bests in ERA (2.74) and strikeouts (251), he showed that he was ready to win some hardware (as I’ve predicted) by delivering 5 1/3 perfect innings before the Diamondbacks got their first hit. That quickly unraveled into a three-run inning that tied the score, but Bumgarner, who had already hit his 15th career home run in the fifth inning—off Zack Greinke no less—broke the tie with another homer in the seventh, making him the first pitcher ever to go deep twice on Opening Day and giving him a jump on Wes Ferrell's single-season home run record for a pitcher (nine in 1931).
The Yankees don't have the pitching to contend!!!
While the arrivals of youngsters Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge have created plenty of excitement about the Yankees' future, this team doesn’t look like one that will exceed .500 by a significant margin because their rotation is a collection of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia the only starters who prevented runs at a better-than-average clip last year, and Tanaka couldn't locate his fastball on Sunday. He fell behind 10 of the 18 batters he faced, and yielded seven runs to Tampa Bay before departing with two outs in the third inning of what became a 7–3 loss. In the afterlife, the Boss is no doubt muttering about spitting the bit.
Bryce Harper, MVP!!!
As he did in 2015, when he launched a career-high 42 homers en route to the NL MVP award, the Nationals' young slugger got his season off on the right foot by taking the Marlins' Edinson Volquez over the wall in the sixth inning of Monday's opener. Wait, you're telling me that Harper also homered on Opening Day in 2013 (twice) and 2016? Never mind…
Chris Archer and the Rays are back!!!
Last year, the Rays lost more games (94) than in any season since 2007, and Archer—a 2015 All-Star who set a franchise record with 252 strikeouts that year—bore the brunt of that, absorbing a league-high 19 losses against just nine wins. Much of that was bad luck; he received just 3.5 runs per game of offensive support (the league's second-worst mark) and endured a gaudy 16.2% rate of home runs per fly ball (the AL's sixth-worst mark), which swelled his ERA to 4.02. Archer looked great in his World Baseball Classic start for Team USA (12 up, 12 down), and he got the 2017 regular season off to a fine start with seven shutout innings; all seven fly balls he served up stayed in the park, and his teammates bashed out seven runs. Most tellingly, Evan Longoria's two-run home run into the notch in the leftfield corner—the same spot where his 12th-inning homer in the final game of the 2011 season landed, clinching a wild card berth for the Rays—showed why this team is my AL pick to surprise.
The Padres season has already seen its high point!!!
This season was never going to be pretty for the Padres, whom FanGraphs projected to lose 97 games. They’re carrying three Rule 5 picks and have stripped down to the point that their active 25-man roster is making less than their Opening Day draw, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw ($28 million versus $33 million). The Padres season reached its zenith when they scratched out a run in the top of the first inning against the three-time Cy Young winner, thanks to a two-base throwing error by Corey Seager and a single by Yangervis Solarte. That was the only hit Kershaw gave up over the first six innings; by the time San Diego collected its second hit, a solo homer by Ryan Schimpf in the seventh, the Dodgers had piled on 12 runs, highlighted by a Joc Pederson grand slam off starter Jhoulys Chacin, who stuck around long enough to become just the third Opening Day starter of the millennium to allow nine or more runs. The Padres’ 14-3 loss wound up more competitive than last year’s 15-0 shellacking, but the craft beer selection may be the best reason to come out to Petco Park this year.
Hand the AL Rookie of the Year award to Andrew Benintendi!!!
Not only was he the consensus number one prospect in baseball, topping the preseason prospect lists of Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline, but Benintendi was the overwhelming choice of the SI staff to win AL Rookie of the Year honors, tabbed by seven out of eight writers and editors. Benintendi, who hit hit .295/.359/.476 with two homers in a late-season look last year, got off to a strong start to the 2017 season via a towering three-run homer off the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole.