We've got some closing openers on tap in the next few days. The Indians (Friday), Rockies (Friday) and Cubs (Monday) will be the last three clubs to make their 2018 home debuts, and then we can all settle into the Major League season.But even though baseball still hasn't even opened
We've got some closing openers on tap in the next few days. The Indians (Friday), Rockies (Friday) and Cubs (Monday) will be the last three clubs to make their 2018 home debuts, and then we can all settle into the Major League season.
But even though baseball still hasn't even opened for business in some ballparks, we're already not short on intrigue. Here are five key storylines to track this weekend.
Arrieta's entrance:Jacob Arrieta made his intentions clear when he signed a three-year, $75 million deal with the Phillies deep into Spring Training.
"I intend to come in here and win right away, even though we are technically in a rebuild," Arrieta said. "And I think the other players agree with me. We intend to win -- rebuild or not.''
The Phillies have found the wins a bit harder to come by than expected in this very early going, with rookie skipper Gabe Kapler taking plenty of heat for his ultra-progressive bullpen usage. But Arrieta's arrival Sunday in the conclusion of a weekend set with the Marlins (1:35 p.m. ET) could make for a potentially big boost at Citizens Bank Park. Arrieta suffered statistical regression across the board with the Cubs in 2017, but he did post a 2.28 ERA after the All-Star break.
Beasts of the East: What if the National League East becomes not just a legit division battle, but an NL MVP Award battle? It's way too soon to know, but Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes have both played like MVPs so far, and they'll both be back in action when the rival Nationals and Mets resume their three-game series at Nationals Park on Saturday (1:05 p.m.).
Cespedes says his timing is off, but you wouldn't know it from the three home runs he's hit in his past six games, including the game-tying solo shot off Stephen Strasburg in the Mets' 8-2 win in the series opener Thursday. That homer had a 112.1-mph exit velocity, Cespedes' second-hardest-hit homer since Statcast™ began tracking data in 2015.
Harper struck out twice Thursday, but he's still wielding a 1.342 OPS with four homers.
Oh my: Simply as a product of trying to do what has not been done since Babe Ruth's Boston days, Shohei Ohtani was going to be must-see at the start of this season no matter the early results. But the early results -- a solid start against the A's and two home runs, including one off reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber -- have only added to the urgency of tuning in to see Ohtani's every appearance on the mound or at the plate.
Ohtani's second start Sunday at Angel Stadium (4:07 p.m.) will once again pit him against the A's club that he limited to three runs on three hits over six innings last week. Ohtani served up a three-run home run to Matt Chapman in the second inning of that start, then retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, showcasing the high-90s heat and sick splitter that make him such a prized pickup for the Halos even if the hitting thing doesn't work out (and by all early indications, the hitting is working out just fine).
Cole Train: This just in -- the Astros are good. The defending champs enter their three-game home set against the Padres this weekend with a 6-1 record in which just about everything has gone to plan -- most prominently, perhaps, the impact of offseason acquisition Gerrit Cole.
In his Astros debut in Texas last week, Cole threw seven magnificent innings in which he allowed just a run on two hits with three walks and induced a career-high 21 swings and misses. If Cole, who makes his Minute Maid Park debut Saturday (7:10 p.m.), can reclaim the dominance that made him a Cy Young Award candidate with the Pirates in 2015 -- and do so as the Astros' fourth starter -- that's a pretty scary thought. The thinking was that the Astros could help Cole untap his potential with proper sequencing, so it was interesting to note that he used his slider 26 percent of the time against the Rangers after using the pitch 25 percent of the time or more in just three total starts from '16-17.
An ace in the hole:Clayton Kershaw is 0-2. If that sentence sounds strange, that's because it is. Kershaw has not begun a season this way since 2009. And he hasn't begun a season 0-3 since '08 -- his rookie year.
Though Kershaw's velocity is a tick or two below his norm, he can't be blamed for the rare record he takes into Sunday's start in San Francisco (4:05 p.m.). He's given up just three runs in 12 innings of work so far this season, but he's gotten a grand total of one run of support. While the Astros are roaring out the gate, the Dodgers, at 2-5, have been proof that the "World Series hangover" notion can actually apply to the World Series loser. They go into this weekend's set against the rival Giants facing questions about their offense, which is averaging just 3.14 runs per game, and their closer Kenley Jansen, who surrendered a three-run lead earlier this week and hasn't had his usual sizzling stuff.
The Dodgers are a team in dire need of normalcy, and for them there is nothing more normal than winning with Kershaw on the hill.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.