The graph to the right shows the declining velocity of Mark Buehrle's fastball over the last eight years. The amazing thing is that it was already a well below average fastball eight years ago. Despite this, Mark Buehrle continues to be an effective major league pitcher. Mark Buehrle's average fastball was 83.9 mph last year. Among 88 pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched last year, the only pitcher with a slower average fastball was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Among those same 88 pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched last year, Mark Buerhle was 30th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If Mark Buehrle were a high school pitcher throwing 83.9 mph, scouts wouldn't look at him twice, yet here he is, still pitching in the big leagues, still thriving. He's won 199 games in his career, including 10 or more wins in each of the last 14 years. I'm rooting for him to get #200 in this game.
My pick: Blue Jays 6, Orioles 4
Actual score: Blue Jays 12, Orioles 5
Mark Buehrle was backed by 16 hits and 12 runs of offense, including a big day from Jose Bautista, who went 3 for 3 with 4 runs scored and 2 RBI. The top three players in the Blue Jays lineup--Jose Reyes, Dalton Pompey, and Bautista--combined for 8 hits in 14 at-bats, 7 runs scored, and 5 RBI. Buehrle coasted through 6 innings on 84 pitches and left with the Blue Jays ahead 11 to 2. The win gives Buehrle 200 for his career and ties him for 113th on the all-time wins leaderboard with Chuck Finley, George Uhle, and Tim Wakefield. Here are the active leaders in wins: Tim Hudson (214), CC Sabathia (208), Bartolo Colon (205), Mark Buehrle (200), and A.J. Burnett (155). Congratulations, Mark Buehrle. I lift a glass of champagne with my left hand in your honor.
(My record: 1-0)
Houston Astros (Collin McHugh) @Texas Rangers (Derek Holland)
In their first three games, the Houston Astros scored just three runs, and were two outs away from being no-hit yesterday, but I expect them to break out in this one by scoring at least three runs, maybe four. Astros pitcher Collin McHugh is coming off a breakout season in which he had a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and struck out more than a batter per inning. On the other side, Rangers starter Derek Holland missed most of last season with a knee injury but was very good in September when he returned. This should be a good one. I'm feeling the Rangers for a win in their home opener.
My pick: Ranger 7, Astros 3
Actual score: Astros 5, Rangers 1
Oft-injured Derek Holland lasted just one inning in this game before leaving with an injury. The report is that he felt tightness in the back of his left shoulder. Shoulder pain is never good and Holland had experienced minor shoulder soreness during spring training that the team said is unrelated to this shoulder soreness. Color me skeptical on that one. The report after the game is that Holland has a sub-scapular strain of his left shoulder and will be shut down for 4 to 6 weeks. After Holland left, the ensuing Rangers relievers pitched well until the 9th, but the offense couldn't get anything going against Houston pitcher Collin McHugh (6 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 K).
(My record: 1-1)
Minnesota Twins (Tommy Milone) @Chicago White Sox (Hector Noesi)
The Twins are 0-3 and gave up 22 runs in their first three games. The White Sox are also 0-3 and gave up 21 runs in their first three games. The Twins have Tommy Milone on the bump and Milone is projected to have a 4.72 ERA by the Fangraphs depth charts. The White Sox have Hector Noesi on the mound and he is projected for a 5.38 ERA. So we have two teams that have given up 7 or more runs per game so far and two pitchers that allow close to 5 runs per game. Logic would dictate that this will be a high-scoring game. Let's see how logic does.
My pick: White Sox 7, Twins 3
Actual score: Twins 6, White Sox 0
In a battle of winless teams, the Twins finally notch their first victory of the year while the White Sox fall to 0-4. White Sox pitcher Hector Noesi had trouble finding the strike zone in this one, as he walked 6 batters in 4 innings. He also allowed 4 hits so he was lucky to only give up 2 runs. Meanwhile, Twins pitcher Tommy Milone was very good, going 7 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 7. Brian Duensing got the save.
(My record: 1-2)
Detroit Tigers (Alfredo Simon) @Cleveland Indians (Zach McAllister)
This is the opposite of the Twins-White Sox game. The Tigers allowed just one run in their first three games. The Indians allowed three in their first three games. Based on just that information, logic would expect this to be a low-scoring game, but logic would also look at the pitchers involved and throw its hands in the air and change its logical mind. Alfredo Simon is projected for a 4.77 ERA this year, while Zach McAllister is projected for a much more reasonable 4.06 ERA. Neither projected ERA is stellar, but McAllister's is slightly closer to being stellar than Simon's is, so my occasionally logical mind will take the Indians to win this one.
My pick: Indians 5, Tigers 4
Actual score: Tigers 8, Indians 4
After finishing 29th out of 30 teams in attendance last season, the Cleveland Indians did some remodeling of their ballpark. They added a two-story corner bar and social terraces in right field where fans can mingle and, if desired, hook up on Tinder. Well, hopefully they won't hook up on the terraces, but they can meet and hook up later in the privacy of their own homes. The team also reconfigured their bullpens, which likely came in handy during today's game when the Indians needed six relievers to get through this one. Zach McAllister started for the Tribe but gave up 13 hits and a walk in 4 innings as the Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Cleveland battled back with three in the bottom of the sixth to pull to within two runs, but the Tigers came right back with 3 in the top of the 7th and won easily, 8-4. Seven different Tigers hitters had two or more hits, including three each by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The victory gives the Tigers a 4-0 record.
My record (1-3)
Chicago Cubs (Travis Wood) @Colorado Rockies (Tyler Matzek)
The Rockies are looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 1995. Here are some of the "Historical Events for the Year 1995" according to historyorb.com:
- 1995 was the International Year of Tolerance (I had no idea this was a thing)
- The last "Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larson (I miss those)
- South Carolina beats West Virginia, 24-21, in the Carquest Bowl (Why is this important?)
- Mike Schmidt is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- The O.J. Simpson murder trial begins
- Western Washington begins using new area code 360 (Very historical event, this)
- L.A. Rams announce they are moving to St. Louis
- Mississippi House of Representatives formally abolishes slavery & ratifies 13th Amendment (Really, Mississippi? It took this long?)
- Michael Jordan ends his short-lived baseball career and goes back to that other sport
- Julia Roberts & Lyle Lovette split up (Shattering the hopes and dreams of dorky-looking guys everywhere)
- Cal Ripken, Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games
- Toy Story is released as the first feature-length film created completely using computer-generated imagery.
- Cartoonist Bill Watterson ends his "Calvin & Hobbes" comic strip
- The Rockies play their first game at Coors Stadium
My pick: Rockies 9, Cubs 5
Actual score: Rockies 5, Cubs 1
This victory by the Rockies gives them a 4-0 record and ties their best start ever. One of the more unusual aspects of this game was that both teams had their pitchers batting 8th instead of the traditional 9th. It worked well for the Rockies as their #9 hitter, D.J. LeMahieu, was 3 for 4 with a run and an RBI. LeMahieu was able to get on base in front of the top of the Rockies' lineup which included Corey Dickerson, Troy Tulowtizki, and Nolan Arenado. Not only that, but the Rockies pitcher actually got a hit and scored a run in the #8 spot.
My record (2-3)
Boston Red Sox (Wade Miley) @New York Yankees (Nathan Eovaldi)
In Thursday's game, Alex Rodriguez hit his 655th career home run, leaving him just 5 short of Willie Mays for fourth place all-time. You have to wonder how baseball fans will feel when A-Rod catches the Say Hey Kid. Yankees fans will probably cheer the event. Opposing fans will likely boo it. What about Willie Mays, though? Will he be on hand as A-Rod looks to break the tie? Will he be gracious to A-Rod or knock A-Rod for "not doing it the right way" like so many older ballplayers do when talking about this generation of players?
My pick: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4
If this were a late-season game that had playoff implications, it would be an instant ESPN Classic. This game could have ended in the regulation nine innings but Boston fill-in closer Edward Mujica gave up a two-out home run to Chase Headley in the bottom of the ninth that tied the game. It remained scoreless until the top of the 16th, when David Ortiz hit a solo homer to put the Red Sox up, 4-3. The first batter of the bottom of the 16th, Mark Teixeira, then hit a solo homer to tie it. Neither team scored in the 17th. At this point, the Yankees had used eight pitchers and the Red Sox had used nine. The next pitcher in for either team would be a position player. Dustin Pedroia led off the top of the 18th by getting plunked in the back. David Ortiz flew out to left. Hanley Ramirez singled to right, sending Pedroia to third. Then the Panda, Pablo Sandoval singled up the middle to put the Sox on top once again. In the bottom of the 18th, against knuckleball pitcher Steve "I'm Not the Stand-up Comic" Wright, Brian McCann led off with a double and was pinch-run for by JR Murphy. Chase Headley grounded out to the pitcher, moving JR Murphy to third. Carlos Beltran than lofted one to left field that former shortstop Hanley Ramirez could not catch, and the score was tied again. In the 19th inning, you could see Yankees reliever Esmil Rogers was tiring, but there was no one left to pitch. Rogers got Shane Victorino to pop out to short but Xander Bogaerts singled to right and stole second. Ryan Hanigan then walked and both runners advanced on a passed ball by JR Murphy. Mookie Betts followed with a sacrifice fly to put the Red Sox ahead again. In the bottom of the 19th, Red Sox knuckleballing reliever Steven Wright got through the inning for the victory. Wright threw 78 pitches in this five inning relief appearance. This game lasted almost 7 hours and the Sox and Yankees next game is due to start in less than eleven hours.
(My record: 3-3)
Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) @Philadelphia Phillies (Jerome Williams)
Jerome Williams is playing for the seventh different team of his career, including three different teams just last season. His first year was his best year, back in 2003 with the San Francisco Giants when he was worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement. He hasn't been able to equal that season since and spent 2008 and 2009 in the minor leagues, then missed all of the 2010 season. All told, he's spent nine seasons in the major leagues and has had an ERA under 4.00 just two times. He's not very good, is what I'm saying. He's kind of the Jeff Francoeur of pitching, which is fitting since both Jerome Williams and Jeff Francoeur are on the Phillies, baseball's worst team.
My pick: Nationals 6, Phillies 2
Actual score: Phillies 4, Nationals 1
The "not very good" Jerome Williams pitched 6 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 5 hits because, well because that's baseball.
(My record: 3-4)
St. Louis Cardinals (John Lackey) @Cincinnati Reds (Jason Marquis)
Just when I thought I couldn't find a worse pitcher than Jerome Williams, along comes Jason Marquis. Marquis pitched in the major leagues from 2000 to 2013 and had two seasons with an ERA under 4.00. He spent last year in the minor league system of the Philadelphia Phillies at the age of 35 and had an ERA of 4.63. A lesser man might have taken the hint and hung up his spikes, but Jason Marquis kept on plugging away and made the Reds' starting rotation in spring training. He's projected to be worth negative Wins Above Replacement (-0.3 WAR), meaning the Reds could theoretically pull a pitcher up from the minor leagues who would be better than Marquis. They could probably pull a half dozen pitchers up from the minor leagues who would out-pitch Jason Marquis. Still, here he is, starting the Reds' fourth game of the season. The Reds are undefeated after their three-game sweep of the Pirates. They won't be after this game.
My pick: Cardinals 7, Reds 3
Actual score: Reds 5, Cardinals 4
The first three innings of this game had most of the action as the teams traded leads multiple times, with the Reds heading into the fourth inning up by one run, 4-3, thanks largely to the great Joey Votto and his pair of two-run homers. The starting pitchers settled down after that and the game remained scoreless until the Cardinals tied it in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the 8th, Brennan Boesch struck out but speedy Bill Hamilton walked and stole second, his seventh steal of the season (on pace for a bazillion steals now). Joey Votto was intentionally walked because he is Joey Votto, after all, and Hamilton moved to third on a wild pitch. Then Votto stole second, perhaps inspired by the greatness that is Billy Hamilton or, more likely, knowing the defense would never throw down to second with Hamilton at third. Todd Frazier followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Reds the lead and Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the top of the ninth and the Reds are now 4-0.
(My record: 3-5)
Tampa Bay Rays (Steven Geltz) @Miami Marlins (Dan Haren)
I've been a baseball fan for many years and I feel like I follow the game closely, but I had no idea that the annual games between the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins was called the Citrus Series. I wonder if anyone outside Florida knows this. In the long, storied history of the Citrus Series, the Marlins have won 47 games and the Rays have won 46. The Rays swept the Marlins in 2013 and the Marlins swept the Rays last year. The most interesting thing about this game is Rays' starting pitcher Steven Geltz. Geltz signed with the Los Angeles Angels as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of the University of Buffalo. The odds against an undrafted free agent ever making the major leagues are astronomical. In addition, Geltz is listed as 5'10", 170 pounds and he's a right-handed pitcher. Short, right-handed pitchers are a rare breed in major league baseball. Scouts are generally looking for size and projectability when scouting pitchers and this is even more true for right-handed pitchers. It's easier to be short and slight if you're a left-handed pitcher slinging breaking balls than if you're a righty. Geltz doesn't have a great fastball (averages around 92 mph) but he's been quite good in 7 seasons in the minor leagues, with a career 3.38 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 362 minor league innings, while striking out 12 batters per nine innings. He got a cup of coffee with the Angels in 2012 and a Mocha Grande with the Rays last year and has pitched in 15 major league games with a 2.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 13.5 K/9. All of his previous professional appearances have been as a reliever and he has never faced more than 10 batters in an outing before. He gets the start today. I can almost guarantee he didn't get much sleep last night.
My pick: Marlins 5, Rays 4
Actual score: Marlins 10, Rays 9
Steven Geltz got the first start of his professional career and went 2 innings, allowing 1 run and throwing 35 pitches, 25 for strikes. Not bad. Then the Rays brought in Erasmo Ramirez and he was buh-lasted for 7 runs in 2 innings. It was not a pretty sight. Meanwhile, Dan Haren cruised through six innings and allowed just one run but the Marlins bullpen blew an 8-1 lead by giving up 7 runs in the top of the 7th. Three pitchers contributed to the meltdown--David Phelps, Sam Dyson, and A.J. Ramos. The Marlins regained their lead in the bottom of the 8th but closer Steve Cishek blew the save in the top of the 9th. Tampa Bay closer Brad Boxberger came on in the bottom of the 10th and struck out the first batter, but then gave up a double to Dee Gordon. Christian Yelich followed with the game-winning single to score a victory for the Miami Marlins. They now lead the Citrus Series 48 to 46, for the six people in the world who care.
New York Mets (Jonathon Niese) @Atlanta Braves (Eric Stults)
This game is the Atlanta Braves' home opener and features an hour-long concert by Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project. Ed Roland is best known as being the lead singer for the band Collective Soul. Collective Soul's peak in popularity was 20 years ago, so having Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project play before this game is likely targeted at those 40 year old fans who will, hopefully, bring their kids along, even if those kids will have their faces glued to their smartphones all game. It's an indirect attempt at getting a young crowd out to the ballpark. Maybe it will work, although having Ariana Grande play before the game would have worked much better, in my opinion.
My pick: Mets 6, Braves 4
Actual score: Braves 5, Mets 3
The Atlanta Braves spent the offseason trading away a number of their better players as they started the process of rebuilding their team into a future contender. With today's victory, they are now 4-0. The last time they started the year 4-0 was in 1994. The Braves started the 1994 season by winning their first 7 games but couldn't keep up with the Montreal Expos in the NL East. That season ended in August because of a labor dispute which also cancelled the World Series. Let's hope Atlanta's 4-0 start doesn't cause the cancellation of the World Series this year.
(My record: 4-6)
Pittsburgh Pirates (Jeff Locke) @Milwaukee Brewers (Mike Fiers)
Both of these teams are 0-3 and both struggled to score runs in their first three games. Mike Fiers is starting for the Brewers. He has a (small sample size warning) Brett Saberhagen thing going on. Bret Saberhagen was known in the 80s and 90s for having an every-other-year stretch during which he seemed to pitch well in odd-numbered years and not-so-well in even number years. Looking back, this belief was mostly based on his wins total, which can be very misleading. His advanced metrics (FIP, for example) didn't show such an up-and-down pattern. As for Mike Fiers, his advanced metrics do support an up-and-down pattern, again with the small sample size caveat. Fiers had a 3.09 FIP in 2012. That metric ballooned to 7.17 in 2013, but in just 22 1/3 major league innings. Last year, Fiers' FIP was back down to 2.99. So which Fiers will we see in 2015? Most likely, a pretty good Fiers.
My pick: Brewers 5, Pirates 3
In a battle of winless teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates used a three-run second inning to get out to an early lead and got six good innings from Jeff Locke to help the team to victory. Neil Walker had three knocks and Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte each hit homers. Brewers' starter Mike Fiers did well to strike out eight against just one walk but gave up five runs and seven hits in just five innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Brett Anderson) @Arizona Diamondbacks (Chase Anderson)
Dodgers' starting pitcher Brett Anderson has been in the major leagues since 2009 and started 20 games in a season just once and that was in his first year. He's been on the 60-day Disabled List five times and has had injuries to almost every body part that has anything to do with pitching. He's pitched an average of just 41 innings over the last three years. When he's been on the mound he's been a good pitcher, with a career ERA of 3.73. On the other side of the field, the Diamondbacks are starting Chase Anderson, a 27-year-old pitcher who started 21 games last year with a 4.01 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He had a late arrival to the big leagues after being a ninth-round draft pick in 2009. Chase Anderson will have to contend with the hot-hitting Adrian Gonzalez. A-Gonz hit 5 home runs in the first three games of the season and is batting .769 with a 2.077 slugging percentage.
My pick: Dodgers 5, Diamondbacks 3
Actual score: Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 3 (10 innings)
Breaking news! Adrian Gonzalez did NOT hit a home run today. He was a piddling 1 for 3 with 2 walks, which dropped his batting average on the season to .688 and his slugging percentage plummeted to 1.750. The Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt did hit a home run and it was a 3-run jack in the third off of the Dodgers' Brett Anderson. Despite giving up that 3-run homer, Brett Anderson was slightly better than the Diamondbacks' Anderson. Both gave up three runs, but Brett got through six innings while Chase only pitched five. After falling behind 3-0, the Dodgers rallied for one in the fourth and two in the fifth to tie the game. It stayed tied until the bottom of the 10th. The Dodgers brought in J.P. Howell to start the inning. He got Nick Ahmed to ground out but walked Cliff Pennington. Pennington then moved to second on a wild pitch. A.J. Pollock walked. Pennington stole third. And Ender Inciarte singled to right to give the Diamondbacks the victory.
(My record: 4-8)
Kansas City Royals (Jason Vargas) @Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago)
This is the home opener for the Los Angeles Angels and marks their 50th season in Angel Stadium. The Angels won 98 games last year but were swept out of the playoffs by today's opponent, the Kansas City Royals. In that series, the Royals won consecutive games on back-to-back 11th-inning homers. The media might like to think the Angels are out for revenge, but it's a whole new season and beating the Royals today won't make the Angels feel any better about last year's disappointment.
My pick: Angels 7, Royals 5
Actual score: Royals 4, Angels 2
In a matchup of sub-par left-handed pitchers, the Royals Jason Vargas was closest to par, allowing two run in six innings. Much like last year, the Royals bullpen did the rest with three shutout innings. The hitting star for the Royals was Lorenzo Cain, who went 2 for 4 with a run and 2 RBI.
(My record: 4-9)
Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker) @Oakland Athletics (Drew Pomeranz)
The Mariners are hoping to get their offense untracked against left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz. Last year, the Mariners were awful against lefties, with a batting line of .240/.294/.342. Based on wRC+ (weighted runs created, adjusted for ballpark and league), the Mariners were the second-worst team in baseball against left-handed pitchers. The big move they made to improve against lefties was the free agent signing of Nelson Cruz, who has hit .289/.364/.521 against lefties in his career. The Mariners were shut out in their first game against a left-handed pitcher when they lost 2-0 to C.J. Wilson on Tuesday. We'll see how they do today in their second attempt against left-handed pitching.
My pick: Athletics 4, Mariners 3
Actual score: Athletics 12, Mariners 0
The Mariners' Taijuan Walker had a terrific spring and looked prime for a good season. In 27 spring training innings, he allowed just two earned runs. Today he got destroyed. He was pulled with one out in the fourth inning after giving up nine runs on nine hits and two walks. The Athletics scored three in the first inning, two in the second, and six in the fourth. The A's have scored 32 runs in their first five games.
(My record: 5-9)
San Francisco Giants (Tim Lincecum) @San Diego Padres (Brandon Morrow)
Tim Lincecum played his college ball for the University of Washington, right in the backyard of the Seattle Mariners. Brandon Morrow played for UC Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco. They were both drafted within the first 10 picks in the first round of the 2006 draft. Did the Mariners take the hometown boy, Lincecum? Did the Giants draft the Californian, Brandon Morrow? Nope. In fact, the Mariners took Morrow with the fifth pick of the 2006 draft and the Giants took Lincecum with the tenth. Morrow made it up to the big leagues in 2007, pitching 60 games in relief with a 4.12 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He struck out 22.8% of the batters he faced but walked 17.3%, which is just brutal. He spent the first three years of his career with the Mariners but never lived up to the hype and was traded to the Blue Jays. In five years with the Blue Jays, mostly as a starting pitcher, Morrow had a 4.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, while routinely battling injuries. The last two years have been particularly difficult for Morrow, as he's started just 16 games in that time and has an ERA of 5.65. Tim Lincecum, on the other hand, had tremendous success early in his career. He also reached the big leagues in 2007, then won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He followed that up by finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in 2010 and 2011. Then it all fell apart. In the first five years of his career, Lincecum was 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Over the last three years, he's gone 32-38 with a 4.76 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 3.8 BB/9. Something broke with Tim Lincecum and he hasn't been able to figure out what it is. Both of these pitchers are looking to turn their careers around with good starts to the 2015 season.
My pick: Padres 5, Giants 4
Actual score: Padres 1, Giants 0
The two former first round picks turned back the clock tonight. Both Tim Lincecum and Brandon Morrow pitched seven scoreless innings and gave up four hits and three walks. They were on their games. Either that or the Padres and Giants just aren't very good at hitting, which is a distinct possibility. Still, give credit to Lincecum and Morrow for a job well done. The Padre got the sole run of the game off of Giants' reliever Jeremy Affeldt on a Wil Myers double that scored Clint Barmes.
(My record: 6-9)