WHGB: Notes from MLB Opening Week

WHGB11There were 15 MLB games yesterday, 15 today and then another 14 tomorrow. After so many months without it, you very quickly get back into the swing of having baseball to enjoy every day.

I’m planning to publish articles a bit more regularly this season rather than bringing everything together into a weekly column, but there will still be weeks when I have a range of things to comment on that don’t fit into their own article.

I’ll badge them up under my usual ‘Weekly Hit Ground Ball’ theme, so just bear in mind that they might not be quite so weekly as the name suggests.

Good starts for some

It happens every season: several teams get off to good or bad starts and there’s an overreaction as to how representative that early record is compared to the true talent of the team concerned.

It’s not just baseball this happens in either. Aston Villa took 10 points from their first four games of the 2014/15 Premier League season and ridiculously gave manager Paul Lambert a contract extension on the back of it. “We can look to the future with real optimism”, Lambert said at the time. When reality set in (and considering their early good form included an unconvincing 2-1 home win against Hull and a 0-0 home bore draw against Newcastle, it shouldn’t have needed much thinking time) he ended up being hounded out in mid February with the team fighting a relegation battle.

So, nobody should be too quick to put money on the 4-1 Colorado Rockies winning the NL West, nor to laugh at the Washington Nationals’ pre-season favourites tag due to their 1-4 start.

Having written that, the Atlanta Braves should be celebrating their 5-0 start considering their lowly expectations for the year ahead, just as Cincinnati Reds can delight in their 4-1 start at home, and the Kansas City Royals can see their 5-0 start as a thumb in the eye for all who considered their 2014 World Series appearance to be a fluke.

Those starts to the season may not be the least bit indicative of the year ahead, but that doesn’t mean fans of those teams can’t enjoy them all the same.

Breakfast baseball

One part of following MLB in the UK that I neglected to mention in my recent article was the wonderful bonus of breakfast time baseball that we occasionally get to enjoy. This is typically when a west coast game runs on for a while – perhaps going into extra innings or due to a rain delay – so that the game is still ongoing around 7 a.m. BST.

We got our first dose of Bonus Breakfast Baseball on Wednesday morning and it was a memorable way to start as it featured Craig Kimbrel making his San Diego Padres debut. Kimbrel didn’t disappoint, striking out all three LA Dodgers batters he faced and leaving his new teammates like James Shields laughing in the dugout at the ease in which he can make Major Leaguer hitters look so helpless.

Rodriguez record approaching

Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka captured most of the attention from the New York Yankees’ opening game as concerns about the state of his elbow continue to keep the Yankee beat writers occupied. However, the other main story coming out of the game was the largely positive reaction Alex Rodriguez received from the home crowd following his year-long drug-related suspension.

Rodriguez undoubtedly will be booed at every other stadium he plays in – although that’s nothing new – but it was less certain quite how the Bronx faithful would respond to him wearing pinstripes once again.

The majority appear to have taken the stance that he has served his time and so long as he is trying to help their team win games from here, they will support him like they do the rest of their players. That may well change if he starts slumping at the plate as the season progresses.

The interesting story will come if Rodriguez does have a decent season and continues to add more home runs to the one he hit against Toronto on Thursday. The Yankees spent much of the off-season seemingly trying to find ways to get out of their contract with him and particularly in respect of the marketing bonuses he will receive as he reaches new home run landmarks.

Heading into Sunday, Rodriguez is fifth on the all-time MLB home run list with 655 and just five homers behind Willie Mays. The Yankees will have to pay him $6m if he gets to 660 and the next man on the list to catch is Yankee legend Babe Ruth with 714. Ruth’s tally will likely prove to be out of reach as Rodriguez turns 40 in July, but 660 should be only a matter of time and as pessimism over the team’s 2015 prospects already starts to grow, we may find the Yankees make more of the event than you might have thought just a few months ago.

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