Let's overreact! Opening Weekend first impressions

April 11th, 2022

The World Series champion Atlanta Braves went 12-14 last April. The 88-loss Kansas City Royals went 15-9. Actually, one of the few players holding back the Royals this time last year was Jorge Soler, who went 16-for-78 with 29 strikeouts in April, only to eventually end up hitting huge home runs for … the world champion Atlanta Braves!

You see where we’re going with this. The start of the MLB season is a mesmerizing mirage. We get fooled by it every year, because we are nothing if not emotional creatures who routinely get swept up in the moment. And nowhere is that truer than on Twitter, where our insta-analysis is, um, not exactly ironclad.

So every year, at the very start of the season, we like to scour that social media site for some early reactions to determine whether they are valid or vapid. These were just a few of the opening weekend reactions … and overreactions.

No. 1: “Watch the Dodgers pull a Lakers.” -- @epicgiraffe170

If L.A. fans have been traumatized enough by the Lakers to believe stuff like this, it’s understandable. But we’re not here to judge a team based off three games at Coors Field (even if it was pretty hilarious that this loaded lineup produced only one homer at Coors, and it was by Austin Barnes).

We will, however, be keeping an especially close eye on Julio Urías’ velocity, given that he’s taken on an even more prominent role in this rotation.

Verdict: Overreaction for now. It says here Freddie Freeman will fit the Dodgers better than Russell Westbrook fit the Lakers.

No. 2: “FREDDIE WHO??!! MATT OLSON!!!!” – @SteveP103

Ah, yes, how quickly the Braves fans who bemoaned Freeman’s departure have cast those fond memories into the recycle bin now that Olson is 8-for-14 with a dinger, two doubles and three walks. Can’t really blame them.

Put yourself in Olson’s shoes. He was traded just three weeks prior to Opening Day and placed in the dual pressure cooker of both playing for his hometown team and replacing one of the game’s most beloved players. In his first weekend on the job, his new team unveiled a banner honoring the World Series he didn’t win and handed (almost) everybody else an extremely gaudy ring he can’t wear (and honestly, nobody should wear it for any real length of time, because that can’t be good for the finger ligaments). Yet all he did was show up and rake. And given Olson’s pedigree as a bona fide slugger who has made the adjustment to reduce his K rate and has moved from the cavernous Oakland Coliseum to a more palatable power platform in the Battery, get used to it.

Verdict: Acceptable, defensible reaction, but let’s not forget Freddie.

No.3: “The Blue Jays are a social experiment to see just how far a bad rotation and an amazing offense can carry a team.” -- @DuffleBag31

Actually, that experiment was conducted in Arlington, Texas, in 1998-99, when the Rangers (the team against whom the 2022 Blue Jays just had a wild weekend) made the playoffs in back-to-back years with a combined 5.48 rotation ERA (and were swept by the Yankees in the Division Series each time).

The Blue Jays likely won’t maintain their current pace and hit a record-breaking 378 home runs this season, and they won’t maintain their current pace and allow a record-breaking 324 home runs this year, either. We had the Blue Jays ranked not just in our top 10 lineups but also rotations and bullpens (despite last year’s marked troubles in the relief area) prior to the season, so you won’t see us quit them quickly. It was jarring to see José Berríos throw only 18 of his 34 pitches for strikes on Opening Day (with only one swinging strike), but, well (and here’s some astute analysis that applies to EVERYTHING you read and watch right now), it was a short Spring Training and things are going to be a bit weird this month.

If anything, those of us without any real sentimental attachment to the Blue Jays should celebrate what we saw this weekend. Because if they’re going to regularly win three-game series while scoring 20 runs and giving up 23, this will be one of the most entertaining teams we’ve ever seen.

Verdict: Overreaction, but we are all for experimentation.

No. 4: “I hope you are ready for Bobby Witt Jr. Because he’s the next great thing in baseball.” -- @LanceTHESPOKEN

First off, how great is it that the Royals already had a Whit (as in Merrifield) and now have a Witt? And both Whit and Witt can really hit.

Young Witt’s first hit was an RBI double that gave the Royals the go-ahead run in what turned out to be a 3-1 victory over the Guardians on Thursday. With that, he became the only player in the modern era to have his first career hit be a go-ahead extra-base hit in the eighth inning or later on Opening Day.

Witt is the top-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline in an absurdly talented crop of prospects currently or soon to be flooding the big leagues -- and, in particular, the American League. He’s got the bloodline (his dad was a Major League pitcher for 16 years), the bat (he had a .290/.361/.575 slash and 33 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last year) and the briskness (he also swiped 29 bags) to impact this league for a long time. He’s also a heck of a defender, as evidenced by the jaw-dropping, run-saving play he made in the 10th inning of Saturday’s win.

So, no, Kansas Citians should not be shy about celebrating their new third baseman.

Verdict: This team can match Witts with anyone. Not an overreaction.

No. 5: “Noah Syndergaard is an ace.” -- @f_tsyou

Syndergaard’s successful first start for the Angels -- in a pitchers' duel with fellow Tommy John returnee Justin Verlander -- was a clear highlight of the weekend. Thor was a risky and interesting offseason target for an Angels team with a longstanding rotation need and, yes, a need for someone other than their DH to pitch like an ace. The Angels signed Syndergaard to a one-year, $21 million guarantee despite his two innings for the Mets at the tail end of 2021 serving as his only big-league appearances over the last two seasons, so his 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his Halos debut were very encouraging.

A cautious observer would note, though, that 15 of Syndergaard’s 16 outs (including a third-inning double play) were recorded on balls in play. He notched just one strikeout, and his 94.7-mph four-seam average was three ticks below his 2019 norm. We’ll have to see a much bigger sample from Syndergaard’s breaking ball and changeup before we can safely declare that he is back among the pitching elite.

Verdict: Overreaction, but you really can’t blame Angels fans if they’re excited about Thor.

No. 6: “The Red Sox absolutely own Gerrit Cole.” -- @JamesBaerga

Cole was peeved that his Opening Day start was delayed by four minutes because of the pregame festivities, which included Billy Crystal’s ceremonial first pitch. You would think Cole had just been forced to watch “City Slickers II.”

Complaining about a four-minute delay was not a great look, but should Yankees fans be concerned that Cole now has a 5.79 ERA in his last six starts against the Red Sox, including last year’s Wild Card Game? In a word … maybe? Fair or not, performance in a rivalry this steep often cements how players are remembered in the Bronx, and Cole has thus far been underwhelming against this particular opponent. The good news is that Cole will have plenty more opportunities from July to September (interestingly, the Yankees and Red Sox don’t face each other again until then), and most of those games should start on time.

Verdict: A timely reaction.

No: 7: “Too early to call Seiya Suzuki the best Cub of all time?” -- @adamcarrico

Cubs All-Time WAR Leaders:

  1. Cap Anson, 84.7
  2. Ron Santo, 72.1
  3. Ryne Sandberg, 68.1
  4. Ernie Banks, 67.7

Yada yada yada … Seiya Suzuki, 0.1.

OK, so he’s not at the top of the list quite yet, but Suzuki is on the board after a big Opening Weekend at Wrigley. The Cubs took two of three from the reigning NL Central champion Brewers in part because Suzuki went 3-for-8 with a homer and four walks. He swung at only 21% of the pitches he saw, and had just an 8% whiff rate. And he did this against the best pitchers on one of baseball’s best staffs, as Milwaukee started Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta in the opening series.

Scouts raved about the 27-year-old Suzuki from his time in Nippon Professional Baseball, but we’ve seen that those skills don’t always translate as well as we’d like against MLB pitching. And Cubs fans should remember too well how Kosuke Fukudome arrived from Japan in 2008, had a huge April and quickly fizzled. But Suzuki’s power and controlled approach were his strengths overseas, and it was nice to see him display those strengths immediately.

Verdict: Obvious overreaction. Suzuki is not the greatest Cub ever. But he could be their first Rookie of the Year since Kris Bryant.

No. 8: “Will the Steven Kwan statue be completed by the [Guardians] home opener?” -- @graceqkauffman

Well, we can say this much after three games: Kwan is (so far) the best player ever to wear the Guardians uniform. He went 8-for-10 with two doubles and three walks during Opening Weekend. And while fun exaggerations like the one above proliferated on Twitter, it was interesting to see how the Guardians themselves reacted to Kwan. First, they rostered him after a strong spring in which he came to camp with seemingly little chance of winning a job. Then, just one game into the season, they traded their former first-round pick, Bradley Zimmer, to ensure Kwan would retain his roster spot when Josh Naylor returns from the injured list. Then, starting in the second game of the season, they put Kwan in the No. 2 spot in the batting order.

So while a statue is not in the works, Kwan’s early stat line is a work of art. Rated 15th in the Guardians’ system by MLB Pipeline, he was not among the more anticipated callups for 2022, but he is the product of a recent emphasis on contact skills by an organization that has struggled to develop big-league hitters. Kwan is definitely one to watch.

Verdict: A statue is an overreaction, but a plaque might be necessary.