The Monday Takeaway
Perhaps the most significant rule change adopted by Major League Baseball heading into the 2016 season dealt with takeout slides, aiming to prevent injuries like those suffered by Ruben Tejada and Jung-ho Kang last year. The edict, Rule 6.01(j), lists several components of a so-called “bona fide slide” that runners must follow to avoid being called for interference:
- The runner must make contact with the ground before reaching the base.
- The runner must attempt and be able to reach the base with a hand or foot.
- The runner must attempt and be able to remain in contact with the base upon completion of the slide.
- The runner must not alter his path for the purpose of making contact with a fielder.
And it only took a day for a player to run afoul of the new law.
The Nationals and Braves were tied, 2-2, in the last of the seventh, when Max Scherzer issued a leadoff walk to Nick Markakis. New Nats manager Dusty Baker got the bullpen going in the event of further trouble, but two pitches later, Hector Olivera bounced to third base. Anthony Rendon threw to second for one, and the relay from pivot man Daniel Murphy to first was not in time.
But wait. There was still the matter of Markakis’ attempt to break up the double play:
And in the eyes of second-base umpire Paul Nauert, Markakis had not performed a bona-fide slide.
Markakis hit the ground before reaching the base. He attempted and was able to reach the base with his hand. He did not veer out of his path to make contact with Murphy. But there’s no disputing that he did not remain in contact with the bag at the end of his slide. And thus, Nauert was right to call Markakis for interference and award the Nationals a double play.
Whether Markakis’ slide was malicious—whether it posed the sort of injury risk from which the league sought to shield pivot men when it enacted Rule 6.01(j)—is beside the point. The Nationals broadcast team went on to debate the spirit and merits of the rule, to question whether their club had unfairly benefited from a slide that hardly endangered Murphy and would’ve quickly been forgotten in past seasons, leaving Olivera on first and one away. But possible violations of Rule 6.01(j) are eligible for replay review, and that means that regardless of the injury-risk eye test, and irrespective of the runner’s apparent intentions, it must be enforced by the letter of the law.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez elected not to challenge the call, as his replay decision-maker was presented with the video evidence that Markakis came to a stop well beyond the base. Soon after, A.J. Pierzynski grounded out, and the inning was over.
Quick Hits from Monday
When you spend the previous season establishing yourself as one of the best of the best, there’s plenty to be said for just picking up where you left off on Opening Day. Defending National League MVP Bryce Harper did it at the plate in the aforementioned Nats-Braves game, bopping a homer in his first at-bat of the year:
Later, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta—who duked it out for NL Cy Young honors, with the latter coming out on top—followed suit. And that was no-good, very-bad news for the Padres and Angels, who waited all winter and spring for Opening Day, only to suffer what they’ll have to hope are their worst beatdowns of the year.
Kershaw and the Dodgers delivered the most-brutal spanking, not just on this Opening Day, but on any Opening Day in major-league history. Freshman skipper Dave Roberts’ bats were on Tyson Ross from the get-go, plating a pair in a 24-pitch first that set the stage for the right-hander’s 5 1/3-inning, eight-run dud. The Dodgers would score 13 more times before the night was over, six of them at the expense of Rule 5 reliever Luis Perdomo, but they would’ve done just as well to save some of those tallies for another day. L.A.’s ace left-hander cruised through seven, holding the Friars to a hit and a walk while fanning nine, a fine first step in his bid to reclaim the Cy Young hardware from Arrieta.
A 9-0 drubbing isn’t much better than a 15-0 calamity, and that’s what the Cubs laid on the Angels with Arrieta on the bump. Seven innings, two hits, a walk, and six strikeouts against Mike Trout and Co. puts the righty right on Kershaw's tail one start into the year, and Arrieta was in control all night long.
Few Halos found themselves in favorable counts, as Arrieta was around the zone from start to finish, pouring in 18 of 23 first pitches for strikes and 64 of 89 overall. Like Kershaw, he got a run in the first, and like Kershaw, he got plenty of superfluous support later on. The Cubs stranded a small army on base, going just 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position, but Arrieta left no room for doubt in the eventual shutout win.
There was, however, one 2015 standout who did not resume his dazzling ways at the outset of 2016. That would be Zack Greinke, who had 206.5 million reasons to make a strong first impression in the desert, but instead fell victim to a rookie with just 507,500 of his own.
Greinke was fine through two—better than fine, in fact, since it was his own RBI infield single that gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead. But things spiraled in a hurry, as the top of the third began single, single, double, homer, homer, with shortstop Trevor Story slugging the first of the back-to-back set and Carlos Gonzalez the second. An inning later, Story did it again,
smoking a 2-0 breaking ball some 430 feet to left-center.
In so doing, Story became the first player in major-league history to club a pair of dingers in an Opening Day debut. His power display helped the Rockies spoil Greinke’s first start for Arizona, where the fans in attendance watched their team’s marquee acquisition sputter to the tune of seven runs on nine hits (three homers) in four innings of a 10-5 defeat.
Finally, up in Milwaukee, with their starter, Madison Bumgarner, looking wobbly while shaking off the flu, the Giants broke out their power bats in a 12-3 romp over the Brewers:
Denard Span, Joe Panik, and Buster Posey turned in the first back-to-back-to-back jacks on Opening Day in nearly two decades, all of them off of Ariel Pena, who became the first reliever ever to serve up three taters in his club’s first game of the year.
Span went 2-for-4 with five RBI in his Giants debut, and Matt Duffy drilled his first homer of the year earlier in the rout. Bumgarner’s five walks were his most in a start since 2013.
The Defensive Play of the Day
WYNTK is back. The Defensive Play of the Day is back. And that means Kevin Pillar is back, too:
What to Watch on Tuesday
There’s been talk in recent days of the Royals seeking payback against the Mets, or, more specifically, at Noah Syndergaard for blaring some chin music at leadoff man Alcides Escobar at the outset of World Series Game Three. This afternoon, Thor and the Royals will reconvene in Kansas City in the finale of a quick two-game series, though the venue means Syndergaard won’t have to bat. Still, it might be worth tuning in to see if tempers flare again, as the 23-year-old #Texan brings his brand of country hardball to the Kauffman Stadium mound. Syndergaard will take on Chris Young, after Ian Kennedy's Royals debut was pushed back due to a minor hamstring issue (4:15 p.m. ET).
Twenty-four of the 30 major-league clubs have already played their first regular-season games of 2016, and four others would have but for rain on Monday. That leaves two, the Tigers and Marlins, partners in the Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez trades, who weren’t scheduled to begin their campaigns until this evening in Miami. Like Kennedy, Wei-Yin Chen, who gets the ball for the Fish, is the owner of a shiny new five-year deal, in his case an $80 million outlay. The 30-year-old might’ve hoped that coming to South Florida would get him away from the Tigers, considering that they’ve tagged him for a 7.53 ERA in three career starts, his highest against any multi-game opponent, but the schedule-makers granted Chen no such luck. He’ll square off with Justin Verlander in the opener (7:10 p.m. ET).
Finally, former Rays teammates Scott Kazmir and James Shields will tangle in the Dodgers-Padres middle match, where plenty of eyes will be fixated on the Petco Park radar gun. Kazmir’s velocity was a source of consternation for evaluators who watched him this spring, but he appeared to recover what he needed by the end of March, touching 92 mph in his final tune-up for the regular season. Shields, meanwhile, will concentrate on keeping the ball in the yard—something he failed to do last year, when he served up a league-high 33 home runs, five of them to the Dodgers in four starts spanning 25 innings. Our advanced metrics weren’t impressed with the 34-year-old last year, and dodging the long ball will be key if he’s to improve on his 4.72 DRA and 99 cFIP from a year ago (10:10 p.m. ET).