It’s no time to raise the flag nor wave a white one.
Nevertheless, the four glorious days that marked the return of Major League Baseball still offered its viewers myriad chances to freak out over suboptimal performance or conflate a nice couple of games with greatness.
And we’re here for you.
With just three or four games down and six months remaining, it’s premature but also harmless to kick around what mattered most as the curtain was slowly raised on the 2022 season. With that, here’s five overreactions from MLB’s return after a 99-day lockout and abbreviated spring training finally gave way to an opening weekend:
The Astros may never slow down
You can distribute the protagonists of their dynasty around the league – George Springer to Toronto, Carlos Correa to Minnesota – and still, nothing changes in Houston. The Astros’ dismantling of the Angels over three of four games was an early sign that the machine will just keep rolling, even if All-Stars and nefarious means of achievement are taken away.
Behold Jeremy Peña, who was rarely spoken of as Correa’s replacement because it was presumed the Astros would go big to replace Correa or even bring him back. Instead, the job went to Peña, seemingly by default, but the rookie was smooth in his first weekend on the job.
Peña homered Friday and had three hits Sunday, all while playing a steady and plenty competent shortstop. Meanwhile, old pal Justin Verlander looked a lot like his old self in losing a Saturday duel to Noah Syndergaard, two days after Framber Valdez proved more than worthy of an opening-day assignment. Deep lineup? On a day Yuli Gurriel was out on paternity leave, their best hitter, Kyle Tucker, batted sixth. Yeah, they can still bang with the best of them.
Check back Friday, when their first meeting with the upstart Mariners takes place in Seattle.
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The Dodgers’ biggest enemy? paper
There’s no conceivable way adding Freddie Freeman to your lineup is a curse. Yet if you’re the Dodgers, it will certainly serve to set expectations in a most unattainable way.
LA’s latest rendition of a super team lost two of three games at Colorado, this with a lineup featuring seven former All-Stars and three former MVPs in Freeman, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger.
Yet it was a weird weekend in the Mile High City – the Dodgers were shut out for 23 of 27 innings, with five- and four-run innings and nothing else in a win Friday and a loss Sunday. There will be times like these where the Dodgers’ offense is skittish, even streaky, and the immediate comparison won’t be the scoreboard but rather their own, eye-opening credentials. Best team on paper, easily.
It’s not an easy way to live, even if – theoretically – there’s still nobody in the NL West that can match up with them over the next 159 games.
Go crazy for Mets-Philly, Jays-Yankees
Narratives are whatever you want them to be, so why bother checking back in October to see how crucial this week’s Beasts of the Easts showdowns were? Let’s bang the drum right now.
Apologies to Atlanta, which has a championship ring to admire, and Tampa Bay, which remains MLB’s lone unbeaten team and can still rest comfortably on 100-win laurels from a year ago. No, the expectations are through the roof in Flushing and Philly and Toronto and the Bronx, so why not freak out a bit over the two biggest series this week?
Minus Jacob deGrom, and facing an emaciated, retooling team in Washington, the Mets nevertheless looked fantastic in taking three of four from the Nationals. They’ll stuff their roster – total payroll, nearing $300 million – into an Acela car and steam into Philadelphia, where the lone team in their division similarly unafraid of the luxury tax awaits.
The beauty of the Mets and Phillies is that both teams are undeniably flawed, with New York in need of some tightening up on defense and a healthy deGrom return. Philadelphia is relying on a handful of what-ifs in its rotation and bullpen, even if adding Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to the Bryce Harper-led core is daunting. Their first series of the year wraps up with a Max Scherzer-Aaron Nola duel on Wednesday afternoon.
It’s just one game but close your eyes a minute and imagine a similar matchup with even greater stakes – say, in September.
Same deal in the Bronx, where the expectations are high yet the chances of finishing fourth are also way too real. That’s because the Blue Jays have massive aspirations of their own, which were hardly tempered during an offensive bacchanal against Texas to open the season at a bonkers Rogers Centre.
Now, it’s time for La Gente del Barrio to get down to business. The Jays fell just one game shy of the Yankees’ and Red Sox’s 92-win wild card total last year, but come better armed for the haul. And they’ll trot ’em all out for this four-game set: Gargantuan second-year righty Alek Manoah, $36 million fifth starter Yusei Kikuchi, Jose Berrios drawing Gerrit Cole and finally, Kevin Gausman taking on Luis Severino in Thursday’s finale.
Can Gausman’s two-pitch repertoire hold up in the AL East? The Blue Jays bet $110 million that it will, and now he can test that against Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the beguiling dimensions of Yankee Stadium.
The Padres, strangely, are slept on
It’s almost impossible to imagine, but hardly a soul is talking about the San Diego Padres.
Arguably the most hyped third-place team in history a year ago, the Padres did away with first-time manager Jayce Tingler and replaced him with one of the steadiest hands in the business, Bob Melvin. They promptly steamrolled the woeful Diamondbacks in three of four games (blowing a ninth-inning lead in the other), yet there was just one thing missing: The home-run chain.
A handful of players told the San Diego Union-Tribune that something is in the works, or that perhaps the old chain is in the shop. Either way, there was plenty of substance in their first three victories as they chart a first-half path without star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., still out with a wrist injury suffered in a motorcycle mishap.
Tatis is the MVP-caliber eye candy that gets fans and media alike almost irrationally fired up about this team. Yet they made some nice tweaks – most notably adding potential ace Sean Manaea, shedding the erratic Chris Paddack and fortifying the bullpen with Taylor Rogers.
On Monday, Taylor will encounter his identical twin Tyler, a key member of the Giants’ bullpen, as the clubs begin a three-game series in San Francisco. The twins will now be ninth-inning nemeses, but the greater battle will be San Diego keeping pace with San Francisco and LA out west.
Perhaps it will be easier with lower expectations, and the spotlight dimmer.
A mic can’t solve replay’s problems
Lots of rave reviews for the new on-field umpire announcements and it’s probably to be expected, this in a time where the populace turned Gene Steratore into an NFL celebrity and added “football move” neatly to its vernacular.
Sure, it’s nice that umpires will now explain if a play was overturned or not. At the same time, if a replay review is butchered in New York, the poor crew chief on the field can do nothing more but regurgitate the error. “Sorry folks,” he might say, “New York screwed this one up, too.”
Such candor, of course, is but a dream. And while the added transparency is nice, it still can’t cut down on annoyingly long replay reviews that, at times, are erroneous, anyway.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB overreactions: Five takeaways from opening weekend