Home > Kansas City Royals, MLB > Baseball’s Opening Weekend in the books, and the prediction LiveBall wants back

Baseball’s Opening Weekend in the books, and the prediction LiveBall wants back

Jul 4, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler (16) during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. The Angels defeated the Royals 11-0. Photo via Newscom

Four days of baseball tells you…not much about teams. What it might tell us is that we just didn’t know what we were talking about in the preseason. After the seasons’ first series, I really want to take back all those picks I made without conviction.

Specifically speaking, I feel like I just overlooked the NL Central defending champion Cincinnati Reds.  And this is an incredibly pre-mature mea culpa.  In LiveBall’s NL Central preview, I hesitantly picked the Brewers to win after expressing concern that I was picking a sucker’s bet in a weak division.  Well, the Brewers have begun 0-4, but you know, the Cardinals haven’t won either, and the Cubs didn’t get started on the right foot at Pittsburgh, while neither the Pirates or Astros can yet be taken seriously.  The team I so obviously overlooked was last years winner, the Reds, who emphatically crushed the Brewers at home in a three game set.  None of the games were close after Opening Day, when the Reds won in comeback, walk-off fashion.  The Brewers have now fallen to 0-4, and while I think they will rebound to win 80-some games easily, the assertion that there is no clear favorite in the NL Central appears wrong.  The Reds are a clear favorite.  The Brewers may be the best of the rest, but after being swept in Cincinnati, it’s the Reds that are the team to beat.

What the Brewers have shown early on is a complete lack of depth.  Corey Hart has a strained rib cage muscle, and is on the DL.  The assumption with those picking the Brewers is that the always potent Brewers lineup would “score runs.”  Of course, they traded their starting SS and potentially starting CF to the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal, and even though the now incumbent CF Carlos Gomez is showing some production with the bat, the Brewers simply don’t have the depth in RF with Hart out.  Even with the top four in the lineup off to a good start, the bottom of this order after Casey McGahee is dreadful.  Yuni Betancourt, an Erick Almonte/Nyjer Morgan platoon replacing Hart, and then George Kotteras and Wil Nieves at catcher.  As a 6-8 in the NL, that’s a horrendous lineup.  The Brewers will make a run when Hart and Zack Greinke come off the DL, but if the Reds play like they did last year, it’s not going to matter.  The Reds will win the division with one of the NL’s best records, and the Brewers will have to scrap for a wild card berth.  If they get that Wild Card, I still like them to go deep in the playoffs, even at 0-4 to start the season.

The weirdest series of the weekend was played in Kansas City, where the Royals won the series 3-1 winning TWO games on walkoff homers.  In the entire 2010 season, the Royals won just once on a walkoff homer, by Alex Gordon, over the Orioles the week before Buck Showalter took over.  They’ve doubled that total, and there are still 158 games to play.

One of the reason for increased walkoff homers is that the Royals never hit so many homers in a series in general.  The Royals hit six homers in the series (all but one a solo shot), and they were hit by six different players.  The Angels spent the entire series playing longball as well, going yard 9 times.  15 homers in a single series at Kauffman Stadium is a lot, even considering 4 games, and typically only happens when Royals pitching is feeling up to the task.  For the Angels to hit 7 homers of 9 homers in a three game span, losing all three games in the process says a lot about the Angels.  The weather was whacky as well, as both the Angels and Royals’ television production crews were forced to move out of “high home” position, thanks to gusting wins that blew water out of the signature fountains at Kauffman Stadium and would have potentially destroyed the cameras if left in normal position.  Water wasn’t the only thing blown around by the wind, as Bruce Chen “fastballs” also ended up traveling further than they might have otherwise, if only for effect.

The Royals’ series win could spell trouble for the Angels — the Royals rarely outscore a team in a series.  The Angels can’t trust their bullpen, can’t trust Scott Kazmir, and bat Bobby Abreu and Alberto Callaspo in a lineup of otherwise overrated hitters as they wait to bring 1B Kendrys Morales back to the lineup when he’s fully recovered from a broken leg suffered at home plate after a walkoff homer in 2010.  But the Royals feature unbelievably impressive depth in their bullpen mostly from arms under the age of 25.  Their ability to hold late leads and play defense late in games is an ability they pretty much lacked last season, and could prove to pit their decision makers in an odd dilemma: whether to push starting pitching prospects up to make a previously unfathomable run in the AL Central if they leverage a weak April schedule into a lot of early wins and a hot start.

Angels fans aren’t panicking quite like Red Sox fans after an 0-3 start.  The Rangers played longball off Red Sox pitching, and though the Red Sox will score this year, pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buccholz simply weren’t up to the task on baseball’s first weekend.  The Rangers meanwhile, threw fine in their first series without Cliff Lee on the roster, and look to be every bit the favorites in the American League this year.  The Red Sox will be fine, but maybe were exposed a bit as overrated by the masses considering better than 70% of fans expected the Red Sox to beat the other four teams in the division.  That’s a sizable majority, but the standings say: two games behind the Yankees (and three and a half behind the Orioles)!

Wrapping up, the AL East is also the place of the most meaningful early series, where the Orioles swept — yes, swept — the Tampa Bay Rays.  This blog has the Rays returning to the playoffs behind only, ahem, the Red Sox, but those chances took a big hit as all-world 3B Evan Longoria will head to the disabled list, rendering the Rays offense largely punchless.  Time to see if Ben Zobrist, John Jaso, and BJ Upton are worth the big bucks in Tampa, and it’s time for that rotation to carry them.

But the Orioles are the story of baseball in the early going, if only because their late season production last year seemed unsustainable.  At this point though, last year’s season-best finish is a reason to buy the Orioles as a potential wild card contender.  I don’t think they’ll be able to do it, but it does look like the Orioles aren’t heading to last place anytime soon, and could have the talent (particularly in the pitching staff) to hang with the Big Boys in baseball’s best division.  After all, the standings are the only thing that matters this early in the season, and we’re still waiting on the first team to beat the Orioles in 2011.  The Detroit Tigers will take another crack at pulling off such a feat tomorrow as baseball’s regular season hits high gear.

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