Paul Goldschmidt responded in the best possible way after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his Cardinals debut—the new St. Louis first baseman went 4-for-5 with three home runs and five RBI in a 9-5 win over the Brewers Friday night.
With Goldschmidt in the lineup, the Cardinals’ offense looks lethal. After Matt Carpenter walked to leadoff the game, Goldschmidt dropped the barrel, squared up the 10th pitch of the at-bat, a low-and-inside fastball (probably a ball), and golfed it into the leftfield seats. The 31-year-old crushed a hanging slider in the sixth inning for a solo homer to give St. Louis a 5-4 lead. Then in the seventh, Goldschmidt launched a two-run blast to extend the lead to 8-4.
The scary part is how well the rest of the Cardinals hit on Friday. Harrison Bader was the only one in the starting lineup (including pitcher Jack Flaherty) without a hit in the game, and both Carpenter and shortstop Paul DeJong had two hits. It was 9-5 in the ninth when Goldschmidt came up for his final plate appearance. The only thing better than responding to a three-strikeout game with three home runs is following up that three-strikeout game with four home runs. But the Brewers were having none of Goldschmidt down four in the last inning. They intentionally walked him with a runner on second and first base open.
Earlier in the day, it was announced that Brewers' closer Corey Knebel will have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2019 season. Already without reliever Jeremy Jeffress for an extended period of time due to shoulder soreness, the Brewers' bullpen is no longer the strength it was last season, and that could expose their lack of depth in the starting rotation. Josh Hader still looked as dominant Thursday as he was a year ago, but if Milwaukee continues to use him as a multi-inning fireman, there will be plenty of games when he's unavailable. If a Brewers starter gets into trouble early during one of Hader's rest days, they're going to have a tough time containing some of the league's best offenses. That's what happened Friday night, and unless they decide to sign one of the best closers in baseball history who somehow is still a free agent, there could be a lot more games like the one we saw Friday night throughout the season.
Rays 4, Astros 2
There’s no better cure for the annual Opening Day hangover than the anticipation of a dynamic pitchers duel between two former teammates. Gerrit Cole and the Astros matched up against the Rays and new starter Charlie Morton, who pitched the final four innings in Houston’s win over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series.
Morton signed with the Rays this winter after having a career year with the Astros last season (15-3, 3.13 ERA, 201 strikeouts and 129 ERA+). Of course, Morton’s first start with Tampa Bay came not only against his old team, but also with Cole pitching opposite him. The two also were teammates with the Pirates, wherein 2013 Morton took Cole, then a 22-year-old rookie, under his wing.
So it wasn’t quite the Obi Wan–Darth Vader duel bringing the one-time master against his former apprentice. Cole has always been the better pitcher with almost unrivaled potential, and there is no animosity between the two dominant right-handers. In fact, their friendship is what made Friday night’s matchup even more fun.
The two traded punches (errr punchouts) through the first two innings before the Astros got to Morton in the third on a Michael Brantley two-run double. The Rays scored three unearned runs off Cole in the home-half of third, and added a fourth run when third baseman Yandy Diaz took Cole deep to lead off the sixth. By that point, though, Morton’s night was done (5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 8 Ks). Cole lasted longer, but Morton left with the lead and won the game.
Angels 6, Athletics 2
The Angels’ offense came alive late against two veteran relievers, Joakin Soria and Fernando Rodney. It was the type of complete offensive effort that Los Angeles lacked last season.
With the Angels down 2-0, Jonathan Lucroy and Brian Goodwin both singled to lead off the eighth inning, and Kole Calhoun followed with an RBI double. Naturally, the Athletics intentionlly walked Mike Trout to load the bases with nobody out and brought in lefty specialist Ryan Buchter to face Justin Bour, who walked to bring in the tying run. A two-run single for Andrelton Simmons gave the Angels their first lead of the season.
Four Angels runs on four hits in the eighth inning, none of which came off Trout’s bat. One of the main issues for the Halos in 2018 was their lack of offense outside of what Trout provided himself. The centerfielder had 79 RBI last season, and as Tom Verducci pointed out last month, if you take his 39 home runs, he drove in a player not named Mike Trout just 40 times. It didn’t matter how great his season was (.312/.460/.628 with a 199 OPS+), the Angels wasted so many potential runs because hardly anyone else was getting on base.
Whether the Angels can have games like Friday’s on a regular basis remains to be seen, but it was nevertheless an encouraging sign for an organization that does not want to waste having an all-time great player.
Oh, and in the ninth inning when Trout came up with runners on and the A’s actually pitched to him, he ripped a two-run double to center.
Red Sox 7, Mariners 6
For the second straight game, the Mariners hit three home runs off a Red Sox starting pitcher. Mallex Smith took Nathan Eovaldi deep to lead off Friday’s game. After an out, Domingo Santana smacked a solo shot, and an inning later, catcher Omar Narváez lined a homer over the rightfield wall. Three more runs off Eovaldi in the fourth put Seattle ahead 6-1.
But unlike what happened in Thursday’s blowout loss, the Red Sox’ bullpen held the Mariners scoreless the rest of the way. This time, it was the Seattle’s relievers that struggled. Leading 6-4 in the eighth, Hunter Strickland allowed the first two runners to reach. With one out, pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland crushed a go-ahead three-run off a fastball that Strickland left over the heart of the plate.
The main question for the Red Sox coming into the season was how their bullpen would fare late in games without former closer Craig Kimbrel. Manager Alex Cora turned to Matt Barnes, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to close Friday’s game.