Will the thrill of Opening Day last?
There’s something special about Opening Day. The Major League Baseball season begins around the same time every year, so it’s not a new concept. However, out of the four major professional sports leagues, it’s the only one that markets its season opener as a huge event.
It really is when you think about it. It’s one of the two occasions during the year where the majority of the eyes of American sports fans are actually focused on baseball, the other one being the All-Star Game in July.
Not only that, but it’s a sign that spring has truly arrived. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case at the end of March, but the Minnesota Twins played their opener outdoors without a speck of snow on their field.
When MLB announced the dates for the first games this season, I couldn’t believe the league’s stupidity. Most northern cities have a good foot or two of the white stuff on the ground and the temps are probably in the 30s.
Who’s going to want to go to a game like that? However, on Thursday, logic went out the window and the sun shone down on the freshly cut grass in cities where residents were having to dig their cars out of drifts a month earlier.
Even non-baseball fans will admit that Opening Day is an important occasion. I have friends who normally can’t stand the sport, but even they will watch a game to commemorate the day.
Then like most of the nation, they will veer their gaze back to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or the NBA or NHL as the playoffs approach.
I don’t blame them for doing that, though. After all, baseball has a long season and they can check in again with it in June when basketball and hockey seasons are over.
The question for casual baseball fans is if they should keep paying attention after that and my answer to that is it depends on the team you’re watching.
If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, get prepared for a rough year. The Tigers are in Year 3 of a what will be a long rebuild and some of your favorite players either aren’t playing right now, or if they are, won’t be for long.
Ace pitcher Michael Fulmer is done for the season as he’ll go through Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Jordan Zimmermann got the start on the mound Thursday and when that was announced, the fan response on social media wasn’t pleasant. That’s understandable since he’s underachieved since signing a massive contract three years ago.
At the same time, though, he looked sharp in his Opening Day outing, throwing a perfect game into the seventh inning. So maybe things are looking up for him?
Matthew Boyd looks to be the No. 1 guy in the pitching rotation and he might actually do a decent job there. He went 9-13 last year, but had a career-low 4.39 ERA and strikeout total (159). If he can continue to keep those hits down and improve on last year, the Tigers might have a new ace, at least until Fulmer gets back.
Once you get past Boyd and Zimmermann, the rest of the rotation takes a dive and the less said about the bullpen the better.
When it comes to offense, there’s Miguel Cabrera, who is still a solid hitter, but whose glory days are behind him. Two years ago, he had an awful season and last year, he only played 38 games.
Nick Castellanos is about the closest player the Tigers have that could be considered a legit star anymore. He had a great 2017 and although his stats dropped a bit last year, he still was Detroit’s biggest threat at the plate. Brace yourself, though. There’s a good chance he’ll be traded at the deadline, so if you want to watch him, you might want to get to Comerica Park fairly soon.
The rest of the lineup isn’t much to look at, but if you’re looking for potential, check out Niko Goodrum, who had a somewhat decent 2018, and especially Christin Stewart, who hit the winning two-run homer in the season opener Thursday. He has a lot of power.
There’s some pieces that could contribute to success, but the Tigers have a long way to go if they want to be a playoff team again. If they hit well in the next three or so drafts, and get some good guys in exchange for Castellanos, they could be at the top of the AL Central as early as 2022.
One team that is sitting pretty in the Central, the National League version, is the Milwaukee Brewers. After a division title last year and a trip to the NL Championship Series, the Brew Crew looks primed for an even longer playoff run.
The lineup looks great with NL MVP Christian Yelich back after a great season (.326 batting average, 36 homers and a .598 slugging percentage) and he’s got great backup offensively with Lorenzo Cain (.308 average), Jesus Aguilar (35 dingers, 108 RBI) and Travis Shaw (32 homers, 86 RBI).
Ryan Braun is still a very capable hitter, but he’s toward the latter half of his career and has been on the decline the last two years. Milwaukee has to be wondering how much he has left in the tank and he could drop in the batting order if he struggles early.
If there’s something that could hold the Brewers back, it’s pitching. The bullpen looks great with Josh Hader in the later innings and pretty good in the middle innings with Matt Albers, Jacob Barnes, Alex Claudio, Taylor Williams and Junior Guerra.
However, the rotation is shaky. Milwaukee doesn’t have a No. 1 starter like most World Series contenders do. Last year, it got away with that, but this year that could hurt them as this year’s group isn’t exactly intimidating.
Jhoulys Chacin is solid overall, but didn’t look sharp Thursday in the win. Jimmy Nelson has potential, but missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and is currently on the injured list. Zach Davies only started 13 games due to shoulder and back issues, mustering just a 2-7 record.
If there’s a bright spot, there’s some young talent in Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes, who will be counted on early as they’re pitching the opening series against St. Louis. Peralta got pulled after just three innings Friday, so maybe he’s more of a question mark.
Pitching issues aside, Milwaukee is too good overall to miss the playoffs. They’ll have to fight off the Chicago Cubs and the Cardinals in the Central, so a division title could be difficult, just like last season.
However, the Brewers should at least get in as a wild card and that’s all they’d need to make a run at the World Series.
All of that is a long way off, though. It’s still just the first part of spring and even though snow was in the forecast this weekend, we know that if it falls, it won’t last. Baseball season will last, though, well into the autumn months, and it’s just getting underway.
So let’s sit back and enjoy it. Even if you’re a Tigers fan, it should still be an interesting season.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.