WASHINGTON, April 2, 2013 — With Opening Night finished and Opening Day winding down, some musings from the first 0.006% of the 2013 MLB season:
Astros 8, Rangers 2 — Welcome to the American League, Houston
As hard as it is not to laugh at Astros’ manager Bo Porter’s constant admonishments not to write off his team from the get-go, Houston will spend at least one day in first place this year.
They earned that spot with a clinical takedown of their cross state, intra-division rivals on Opening Night. A warning, though: It will only get harder from here on out. It remains to be seen just how good the Rangers will be with Josh Hamilton playing in Anaheim, and any team relying on Chris Carter, Carlos Peña, and Justin Maxwell for a 3-4-5 punch will be sorely disappointed sooner rather than later.
Right now, the only team that looks worse than Houston in terms of personnel is Minnesota, and they at least have a ticket-selling attraction with Joe Mauer.
Cubs 3, Pirates 1 — Are Marmol’s days numbered?; Samardzija picks up where he left off
Carlos Marmol could be on his way to setting the record for quickest loss of a closing job. He was already on tenuous ground to start the season after being anointed Cubs closer again despite a 7.3 BB/9 rate in 2012, a disastrous spring and a multiyear deal for Japanese star Kyuji Fujikawa.
He did nothing to bolster manager Dale Sveum’s confidence in the opener, taking a 3-0 lead and getting a lucky strikeout on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate, hitting a batter, and allowing a run-scoring single.
That was all the damage that he was able to due to his team this time out, as Sveum turned to lefty James Russell for the second out, and to Fujikawa for the final one and the save.
Marmol most likely will be kept on this very short leash for the first ten games or so, and if he doesn’t put it together once and for all, don’t be shocked if the Cubs eat $9.8 million just to get him out of the organization by May.
Meanwhile, Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija turned in an outstanding performance: 8 IP, 9 K, 2 H, 1 BB. The numbers don’t do him justice in the least, especially after getting into jams in the first two innings and bringing his pitch count to 57 after four. Then he settled down and was simply unhittable to the point that if not for the fact that he hit the 110-pitch mark on his last offering in the eighth, he probably could have polished an Opening Day shutout.
Even when the Pirates put the ball in play, no one, except maybe Andrew McCutchen on a late double, was making solid contact. Samardzija showed just how much of a dominating starter he had become down the stretch in 2012, and if he keeps it up, the North Siders should be in for a treat every five days.
Dodgers 4, Giants 0 — The race for the West is officially on; race for the pennant, also?
Matt Cain of San Francisco and Clayton Kershaw of Los Angeles matched scoreless inning for scoreless inning and strikeout for strikeout. That is, until Cain departed after six strong and Kershaw gave himself all the offense necessary with his first career homer.
Other matchups that will be crucial to watch: First basemen Brandon Belt (SFG) and Adrian Gonzalez (LAD), Right fielders Hunter Pence and Andre Ethier, and veteran second basemen Marco Scutaro and Mark Ellis.
The best part? These two preseason pennant favorites – if not always their respective aces – will meet 18 more times this year, and the three-game set spanning September 24-26 at AT&T Park could determine the NL West crown.
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