Each Week I recap the top story-lines in pro baseball, whether they are about a team, player, owner, fan, equipment, or whatever else is impacting the game. We’re only one series into the season, but there’s still plenty to talk about.
So let’s get into it. From the fall of Goliath to the suspended fall of a cocktail waitress, here is your Week 1 in Review:
5. The Tigers and Rays swept the Red Sox and Yankees.
Four AL contenders faced off this weekend, as the Tigers hosted the Red Sox, and the Rays opened at home against the Yankees. Both the Tigers and the Rays swept their series, making it the first time in nearly 50 years that both the Red Sox and Yankees began the season by being swept.
In Detroit, Prince Fielder immediately met expectations in his Tigers debut, batting .500 and belting 2 HR on Saturday. Miguel Cabrera saw Prince’s Saturday performance with 2 HR of his own, and raised Prince 1 more on Sunday. And just to make sure that all three of the Tigers’ superstars had big weekends, Justin Verlander allowed just 2 hits and a walk in 8 shutout innings on Friday.
In Tampa Bay, or at least near Tampa Bay, the Rays welcomed Carlos Pena back to town. He responded with a grand slam and a walk-off sacrifice fly on Friday. Pena hit .500 over the weekend, and hit a second HR on Sunday. After two slugfests on Friday and Saturday, Jeremy Hellickson took matters into his own hands, shutting out the Yankees for 8 ⅔ Innings, before allowing Fernando Rodney to record the final out
Not that it means anything at all, but the last time the Yankees were swept to begin the season, they won the 1998 World Series.
4. Yoenis Cespedes is more Russell Branyan than Russell Branyan, himself.
Cespedes defected from Cuba, but he hasn’t defected from swinging hard at everything. After just 4 games and 13 AB, he has 7 Ks, 6 non-K outs, 3 HR, and 1 2B. Small sample size alert, but despite striking out in more than half of his AB, his SLG is over 1.000. Clearly, he practices the Branyanian approach of, “Hit a homer, or strike out trying.” Cespedes should be a fun one to watch this season.
Though the strikeouts may be comical, his stats become a bit more impressive when you realize that 6 of his 13 AB have come against Felix Hernandez, resulting in a 2B, a HR, 3 K, and 2 HBP.
3. April is no-hitter’s month
On Wednesday, Kyle Lohse carried a no-hitter deep into the opener. He couldn’t finish it, though, so Bob Feller remains as the only pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter on Opening Day. Lohse wasn’t the only one to flirt with a no-hitter in their first start of 2012. As a matter of fact, he had quite a bit of company this weekend. Ubaldo Jimenez had one going into the 7th, Jonathan Niese worked one through 6 innings, and Jason Hammel no-hit the Twins for 7 innings.
Hitters typically underperform pitchers this time of year, and the weather certainly doesn’t help a hitter’s cause. But to see 4 no-hit bids in the same weekend is incredibly rare.
2. Chad Billingsley? Chad Billingsley.
Chad Billingsley is looking to bounce back from a rocky 2011, and he got out to a great start in 2012. Billingsley, whose Dodgers were just sold for $2 Billion, held the Padres, whose $55 Million payroll is the lowest in the league, to just 3 hits and a walk over 8 ⅓ innings. Billingsley struck out 11 in the stellar performance.
1. The Marlins new ballpark is just as weird as everyone thought it would be.
Unless you count the tape delay games from Japan between two AL West bottom-feeders, the season got started on Wednesday in Miami, with the Marlins hosting the Cardinals. St. Louis won the game easily, but the real story was the pageantry of Marlins Park.
There are some cool aspects, like the aquarium walls behind the on deck circle, and, Mike Stanton’s new name. Beyond that, though, things just got strange. The players were introduced by the Carnival festival, Muhammad Ali’s fame and reputation were taken advantage of, a lady hanged upside down, pouring champagne, and there was a mascot race between what appeared to be various forms of sea anemones and coral. I don’t need to mention the home run contraption because, well, you already know about it.
That being said, the new park actually looks like a gorgeous, fun place to take in some baseball. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to visit Miami and catch a game.