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Opening Day overreactions? 8 to ponder

@castrovince
July 25, 2020

We are overreacting! Or are we? Ordinarily, any reaction emanating from Opening Day is, in all likelihood, an overreaction. After all, it’s only one game out of 162. But now every game is one out of 60 (or, if you prefer, 2.7 out of 162). So we are scrutinizing the

We are overreacting! Or are we?

Ordinarily, any reaction emanating from Opening Day is, in all likelihood, an overreaction. After all, it’s only one game out of 162.

But now every game is one out of 60 (or, if you prefer, 2.7 out of 162). So we are scrutinizing the early results even more closely than usual, either to our benefit or our peril.

Let’s take our annual, dangerous dive into some reactionary tweets from the openers to determine if they were spot-on or spotty. (Some tweets have been edited slightly for clarity.)

1) What a stud that Gerrit Cole is. Complete-game one-hitter in his Yankees debut? Worth every penny. -- @SanjGrazi

OR…

If Gerrit Cole is so great, why isn’t he out there trying to stop the rain? Sounds like the Yankees aren’t getting their money’s worth. -- @MeekPhill

Even Cole himself had fun with the notion that he had thrown a “complete-game one-hitter” in his five-inning rain-shortened victory over the Nats. As can be expected, given, well, everything, Cole wasn’t at his absolute sharpest Thursday night. But he was plenty effective against a Juan Soto-less Nationals lineup.

While the two above tweets were clearly both offered with tongue firmly in cheek, they do make us wonder: Has any free-agent acquisition in history ever faced as much scrutiny as what Gerrit Cole is going to face in 2020? To be a $324 million pitcher in the Bronx, of all places, is to have your every inning discussed, dissected and inspected. That would have been true in 162 games, and it’s (almost) triply true in 60, as Cole will only get about a dozen regular-season opportunities to guide the Yanks. Throw in a first-of-its kind postseason format in which Cole would, presumably, have the ball in his hand in Game 1 of a best-of-three opening round, and you’d struggle to invent a more pressure-packed position for a pro athlete to be in.

All of which is to say: There are going to be SO MANY Gerrit Cole takes this year.

Verdict: Obvious, intended overreactions … with plenty more to come!

2) The Toronto/Buffalo/Pittsburgh/Baltimore/Road Warrior Blue Jays are BACK, BAYBAY!!! -- @_NickHart

Having spent the week not knowing if they’d be playing their home games in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo or Charlie Montoyo’s backyard, the Blue Jays came out swinging against Charlie Morton and a good Rays team in a 6-4 win that was an impressive statement from a team in a state of flux. What a wonderfully weird thing it would be for this now-Buffalo-based ballclub to turn this unusual adversity into strength and to seize a spot in the expanded playoffs. And the thing is, they are (predominantly) young and flexible enough to do just that.

Actual contention this year would be a year ahead of schedule. But we said that about the 2018 Braves, as well. The truth is nobody knows when a young offense is going to gel, and we saw the seeds of what could be a really fun Blue Jays offense Friday in the first of 60 games that are, for all intents and purposes, road dates.

Verdict: Not an overreaction. The Blue Jays don’t have their usual home field, but they have a home in our hearts.

3) Clayton Kershaw having back stiffness worries me. -- @ChrisDemirdjian

As overpowering as the Dodgers appear, their starting staff is not without concern. Hyun Jin Ryu is gone. David Price, while not up to his old Cy standard, is still a noticeable absence after electing not to play this season. Walker Buehler might be the Dodgers starter most likely to vie for the Cy, but he’s a little bit behind after an abbreviated camp in which he only threw simulated sessions. Alex Wood battled injuries last year. And now Kershaw, who has dealt with chronic back issues in the past, had to pull out of the opener with back stiffness at a time when missing even a single start is a big deal.

Of course, this preposterously deep ballclub was able to summon prospect Dustin May in an emergency and watch him delight with his fiery arsenal and hair. The arrow’s pointed upward for Julio Urías, and prospects Josiah Gray, Tony Gonsolin and Brusdar Graterol are all intriguing options in their player pool (though Graterol might profile best in the bullpen).

For whatever it’s worth (and who knows), Kershaw says he’s “optimistic” he will return shortly after he is eligible to next Friday. In general, it's kind of hard to worry too much about the Dodgers.

Verdict: Overreaction.

4) YOENIS CÉSPEDES IS BACK AND I FEEL ALIVE! -- @cara_jeffrey

“Yoenis Céspedes is back!” is a notion that was espoused in roughly 12,483 tweets and a headline right here on MLB.com.

Is it true? Well, objectively and indisputably, yes. Céspedes didn’t play in a Major League game for 734 days and he is now physically back in Major League games. So, by the letter of the law, he is back.

But Céspedes also homered to drive in the only run of the Mets’ 1-0 victory over the Braves, further fueling the notion that his intense training regimen in the wake of the wild boar incident -- combined with the NL adoption of the DH rule -- has him poised to remind us, if I might borrow a phrase from Terrence Mann in “Field of Dreams,” of what once was good and could be again.

One game into a return from a two-year layoff, there is really no rational analysis to be applied here. If seats are still available on the Céspedes hype train (the Yocomotive?), then sign me up. Physically, he looks great, the solo shot off Chris Martin was no cheapie, and this is a guy who was born to bash baseballs. It’s a beautiful thing to watch him do it again. I’m with you, Cara. I feel alive.

Verdict: Not an overreaction, yo.

5) Shane Bieber. Cy Young. Book it. -- @camijustice

The Biebs struck out 14 of the 23 Royals batters he faced. No one’s going to mistake the 2020 Royals for the 1927 Yankees, but it’s not as if we haven’t seen this sort of thing from Bieber before. He had a resplendent 144 ERA+ in 214 1/3 innings last year. His breaking ball generated a 24% swinging strike rate last season (that’s good). He is also the reigning All-Star Game MVP (a title he will hold, unusually, for at least 24 months). He has poise, polish and a decent dose of the Tigers, Royals and Pirates in his future, so this Cy talk is not necessarily premature.

Just note that, against Bieber’s fastball last year, there was a 64-point gap between his opponents’ expected slugging percentage (.504) and their actual slugging percentage (.440). So he may have benefited from some batted-ball luck that could level off in time. Don’t etch his name on the Cy just yet, but don’t sleep on the Biebs.

Verdict: A mild overreaction, but we’ll allow it.

6) I’m not one to overreact 2/3 of the way through the first game of the season, but the Rangers are the best team in MLB history. -- @HouseMavericks

Fact: The Rangers have never lost a game at Globe Life Field. And if any of their opponents mistakenly show up to Globe Life Park, across the parking lot, the Rangers might prove be unbeatable at their new home.

Verdict: Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the overreactions.

7) This Reds offense is absolutely loaded [fire emoji, fire emoji]. -- @andrewsams3247

Scoring seven runs against the Tigers on Opening Day is both affirmation of the heavy lifting this organization has done to overhaul an anemic offense and … seven runs against the Tigers on Opening Day. It tells us nothing, even in a shortened season such as this.

But this is definitely a club I’m watching closely. I picked the Reds to win the NL Central … back in November. Before they even added Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama. That’s how much I believed in their pitching and their ability to improve what was a surprisingly disappointing offense a year ago.

I’d be lying, though, if I thought they’d go about improving that offense exactly the way they did. The Reds took on some defensive risk in adding Moustakas and Castellanos, and, for as much muscle as those two bring, Cincinnati did not necessarily take a great step forward in the important Department of OBP with their arrival. The Reds still desperately need more days like what we saw Friday from one-time Emperor of OBP Joey Votto, who went 2-for-4 with a homer, and Nick Senzel is a very important wild card here, as he represents so much of this club’s offensive upside (he went 0-for-4 on Friday, if you care).

I like this team a lot, but I’m still very curious to see if days like Friday are exception or rule.

Verdict: Overreaction … for now.

8) In my many years as a baseball writer, I have found that the pitchers are always ahead of the hitters when the season starts in late July. – @billjamesonline

Sarcasm from Mr. James. But with Spring Training shut down early and Summer Camp limited to, at most, three exhibitions against actual opponents, is it any wonder that the arms (with some notable exceptions … hello, Red Sox vs. Orioles) largely prevailed? Get used to it, folks.

Verdict: The overreactions are ahead of the level-headed reactions, but, nevertheless, this doesn’t feel like an overreaction.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.