Across the AL: Opening Day Recap

justin-verlander

The date is April 2, 2013, which means Opening Day has come and gone.  The 2013 Major League Baseball season has finally begun and is already off to an exciting start.  To lessen the blow of the rival Red Sox defeating the Yankees, 8-2, this article will not even mention the soon-to-be-forgotten game any more than it already has.  Instead, this week’s “Across the AL” will provide a brief recap of all the American League games that took place yesterday.

Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins – Justin Verlander vs. Vance Worley
Tigers 4, Twins 2
Justin Verlander has many titles these days: 2006 AL Rookie of the Year; five-time All-Star; 2011 AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner; most recently, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.  At 30 years old, the Tigers ace is considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball for a reason (rather, several reasons).  With all of that being said, it was no secret that Vance Worley and the Twins were underdogs in Monday’s season-opening matchup; they were all but given a loss prior to even playing the game.  The Twins, however, gave the Tigers a run for their money.

While Verlander only threw five innings and was every bit as dominant as expected, the Twins almost made a comeback against the Detroit bullpen.  Striking out seven and only allowing five base runners, Verlander exited the game with a 3-0 lead.  23-year-old Drew Smyly, a starter last year, came on in relief and, after quickly retiring the first two batters he faced, ran into some trouble.  He gave up a two-out double to third baseman Trevor Plouffe before giving up back-to-back walks to load the bases.  Just when Tigers fans thought it could not get any worse, Smyly threw a wild pitch, allowing a run to score.

Now with a 3-1 lead, Smyly returned to the mound to pitch the seventh inning, but again had trouble getting outs.  He gave up two singles and a walk before being replaced by Al Alburquerque, who – as Mike Francesa astutely pointed out – is better known by his full name, Alberto José Alburquerque.  Inheriting the bases-loaded jam, Alburquerque gave up an RBI single to Ryan Doumit, cutting the lead to 3-2, before striking out the final two batters of the inning.

The Tigers scored an insurance run in the top of the eighth inning, giving ex-Yankee Phil Coke a 4-2 lead to work with for his first save of 2013.  After the Tigers optioned highly-touted prospect Bruce Rondon to Triple-A, Coke will be, at least for now, part of a closer-by-committee staff in Detroit.

Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals – Chris Sale vs. James Shields
White Sox 1, Royals 0
Just as it was advertised, this AL Central matchup indeed proved to be a pitchers’ duel.  Living up to his nickname of “Big Game James,” Shields gave up eight hits over six innings, allowing only a solo home run while striking out six.  Chris Sale does not have a catchy nickname, but the tall and lanky lefty picked up right where he left off in 2012 (29 starts: 17-8; 3.05 ERA; 19 QS), pitching an absolute gem against an impressive Royals lineup that may surprise people in 2013.  Over 7.2 innings, Sale allowed seven hits and a single walk while striking out seven.

Two of the seven Royals hits belonged to shortstop Alcides Escobar, who had a career year in 2012 and figures to be a huge part of Kansas City’s run production in 2013.  Escobar also stole his first base of 2013 on Monday.  No surprise there, as the speedy 26-year-old stole 61 bases over the last two seasons.

The sole run of the game came off the bat of Tyler Flowers, who in 2013 will replace longtime White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski – now with the Rangers – as the everyday catcher in Chicago.  Flowers played in 52 games for the White Sox last year, hitting .213 with seven homers and 13 RBI.

Earning the save in the 1-0 win over the Royals was closer Addison Reed.  Reed, 24, saved 29 games in 33 opportunities last year in his rookie season with the ChiSox.  In 2012, he gave up a lot of hits for a closer, which is reflected in his 4.75 ERA.  If he limits his hits/base runners, Reed has the potential to be a top-tier closer.  Through one game, he is doing just that; in his 2013 debut, Reed did not give up a hit and struck out one.

Los Angeles Angels at Cincinnati Reds – Jered Weaver vs. Johnny Cueto
Angels 3, Reds 1
In the past, a game between the Angels and Reds would only take place during the designated Interleague Play periods.  However, as part of a new-look schedule for MLB, AL teams will play their NL counterparts year-round, effectively destroying the novelty of Interleague Play that has been welcomed by most fans.  While AL fans can now see more of NL teams and vice-versa, the new system’s first season in effect results in some odd scheduling quirks, such as New York’s beloved Subway Series now being dwindled down to nothing more than two two-game series played back-to-back in May.  The problems I have with the diluting of Interleague Play are in such abundance that they warrant a separate article entirely devoted to the subject – so for now, let us focus strictly on the fact that the aforementioned decisions have provided us with an Angels-Reds matchup on Opening Day.

With two of the strongest offenses in the Majors meeting in a stadium notorious for fostering home runs, Monday’s game at Great American Ball Park was supposed to be a slugfest, a power-fueled battle dominated by the big bats of offseason acquisitions.  However, the game did not exactly live up to expectations.

Now donning halos, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols – who will make a combined $33 million in 2013 – could not muster a hit (let alone a home run) off of Reds ace Johnny Cueto in their Angels debut.  Hamilton and Pujols were not the only ones who had trouble hitting Cueto, though.  Over seven innings, Cueto struck out nine while only giving up three hits and two walks.  His only mistake was the third-inning home run he allowed to Angels catcher Chris Iannetta.  In a ballpark that on Monday housed players with serious power threats and, since its debut in 2003, has consistently been one of the most hitter-friendly parks in Major League Baseball, Chris Iannetta – who hit a total of nine home runs last year – crushed the only homer of the game.

In response to Iannetta’s home run, the Reds’ Shin-Soo Choo scored in the bottom of the third on a wild pitch.  After that, the game was tied at one until the 13th inning, when Iannetta again delivered by hitting a two-run single.

With masterful performances by both Weaver (6 IP; 2 hits; 1 ER; 4 K) and Cueto, this extra-inning game turned into a pitching-dominated test of the bullpens that, with a total of nine hits, was far from the offensive explosion that was expected by many.

Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics – Felix Hernandez vs. Brett Anderson
Mariners 2, Athletics 0
Another pitchers’ duel took place in Oakland at O.co Coliseum, where King Felix took on 25-year-old Brett Anderson.  As was the case in the Angels-Reds game, both starters pitched very well in their Opening Day debuts.

Felix Hernandez struck out eight Athletics and did not give up a run over his 7.2 innings pitched.  The right-hander was utterly dominant, allowing only four base runners.

Although not as dominant as Hernandez, Brett Anderson, who started only six games last year, also gave an impressive performance in his new role as ace of the A’s.  The oft-injured lefty showed what he is capable of if healthy, giving up four hits and two runs in seven innings while striking out six.

The Mariners scored both runs in the fifth inning on a two-run single by Franklin Gutierrez.  Closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who flew under the radar of many last year despite posting a 2.50 ERA and converting 29 of 34 save opportunities, entered in the ninth to earn his first save of 2013.  While this game failed to exhibit the increased power potential of the Mariners, in Hernandez and Wilhelmsen it featured one of the best starters in the Majors and showcased the strong back-end of the Mariners’ bullpen.

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2 Responses to Across the AL: Opening Day Recap

  1. Johnny Freshh says:

    Big Game James is such a stoopid nickname for someone who is 2-4 in the postseason. If this is how we give people nicknames, Mariano should be called: "Immensly Large and Important Game Mo". In the case of Chris Sale, he would be : "Never had an important game at the Major League Level Christopher Sale". Just my opinion…

  2. Eric Favaloro says:

    I don't give players their nicknames, Johnny, but I would have to agree with your "Big Game James" complaint. Can't really blame Sale for his team missing the playoffs the one and only year he began starting games – impressive numbers from him regardless. We'll see how the ChiSox do this year; perhaps he can become "Earned a Win in His Only Playoff Appearance Before His Team was Eliminated Chris" Sale