It wasn’t exactly what we expected during Opening Night of the MLB season. Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer struggled in a rain-shortened 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees.
In Southern California, an under-the-radar infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers made the biggest impact in a win over the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, the Giants’ new manager made one pretty big mistake in an 8-1 defeat.
These are among the biggest winners and losers from the two Opening Night games around the Major League Baseball world.
Coming off a 2019 season in which he played only 18 games due to a multitude of injuries, Stanton knows full well there’s a lot of pressure on him. New York is seen as a top-end World Series contender. The former NL MVP needs to remain healthy throughout the 60-game slate and play up to par. If what we saw Thursday night is any indication, he will be more than up to the task.
Stanton started the game off by blasting a loud 459-foot two-run homer off Max Scherzer in the top of the first. He would later plate Gio Urshela with a bases-loaded single in the fifth inning. Hitting fourth in the lineup, Stanton is going to have a ton of opportunities in scoring situations. He came through twice in said situations early Thursday evening. That might be a harbinger of things to come.
Loser: Max Scherzer doesn’t have it for Nationals
Max Scherzer Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
A World Series hero this past fall, Scherzer continues to be among the best pitchers in the game. Washington will need that early on this season. At the very least, until stud outfielder Juan Soto returns. During a 60-game race to the finish, each start takes on more importance.
While Scherzer did strike out 11 in 5.1 innings, he simply did not have his best stuff. All said, New York tagged the three-time Cy Young winner for four runs (all earned) and six hits. He also walked an uncharacteristic four batters. That’s not what Washington envisioned heading into a game that had all the hallmarks of being a pitchers’ duel.
Winner: Gerrit Cole dazzles in Yankees debut
We saw this reigning Cy Young runner-up with New York during spring training. He seemed to have decent stuff, striking out 13 batters in nine innings. But given the delay between March and now, there was no telling how Cole might look. After giving up a homer to Adam Eaton in the first inning, Cole was his usually dominating self.
The 29-year-old righty gave up just that one hit in five innings before the game ended in the sixth. He struck out five betters and threw 46 of his 75 pitches for strikes. Shutting down a potent Nationals lineup, albeit without Juan Soto, is no small thing. After initial struggles, Cole certainly looked like the ace New York signed him to be.
Loser: Bottom of Nationals’ lineup struggles
Without Soto in the lineup, it was obvious that Washington’s depth took a hit. Enter into the equation the bottom of their lineup Thursday evening. Andrew Stevenson and Victor Robles went a combined 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the rain-shortened loss.
This simply can’t be the case moving forward. That’s especially true now that the National League has adopted the designated hitter. Regardless of who is hitting at the bottom of Washington’s lineup, they must get on base to set up RBI opportunities for the likes of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton at the top of the lineup.
Winner: Giants’ Johnny Cueto with tremendous return to the hill
This former All-Star earned the Giants’ Opening Day start after appearing in just four games a season ago and 13 games since the end of the 2017 campaign. Cueto underwent Tommy John Surgery during the summer of 2018. He’s now 34 years old. There’s no telling how he would respond after yet another long hiatus once the season was suspended back in March.
At least for one night, Cueto looked like his old self. The two-time All-Star and World Series champion gave up just five hits and one earned run while striking out three in four innings of work. At the very least, it was a step in the right direction for someone who had pitched in 13 regular-season games since Oct. 1 of 2017.
Loser: Gabe Kapler has rough managerial debut
Giants manager Gabe Kapler (right) on the dugout steps Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Some questioned the Giants’ decision to hire Kapler as Bruce Bochy’s replacement following some struggles with Philadelphia last season. For at least one night, those skeptics were right.
How else would you explain pinch-hitting for a three-time Gold Glove winner in the sixth inning of a tie game? That’s exactly what Kapler did in pulling shortstop Brandon Crawford. Like clockwork, it came back to bite the Giants in the bottom of the sixth with Los Angeles scoring five runs. That included multiple misplays from the middle of an inexperienced Giants middle infield.
An otherwise well-played game turned into a lopsided loss for one of MLB’s worst teams. Kapler deserves a lot of the blame.
Winner: Enrique Hernandez does damage for Dodgers
Dodgers left fielder Enrique Hernandez (14) celebrates hitting a two run homer in the eighth inning with teammate Justin Turner (10) Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles’ lineup is just so darn deep. It’s one of the reasons Dave Roberts squad is among the favorites to win the World Series. Coming off a 2019 season that saw him hit .237, Hernandez isn’t necessarily a player other teams worry too much about. That might change after what we saw Thursday evening at Dodger Stadium.
Hernandez drove in the Dodgers’ first run of the game with a single off Cueto in the fourth inning. With Los Angeles up 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, the second baseman plated two with another hit off Tyler Rogers. This gave the Dodgers the insurance they needed to come out on top with a hard-fought season-opening win. For good measure, he added two more RBI in the bottom of the eighth. If Hernandez hits at anywhere near this level throughout the season, the rest of the National League is going to be in trouble.
Loser: MLB fans waiting months for this
It seems to be par for the course in 2020. Whatever can go wrong, has gone wrong. Starting up the season amid a pandemic. The possibility that the season could be stopped in its tracks. Thursday started out with news that Nationals star Juan Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 . He was not in the lineup. Later in the day, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was scratched from his start and placed on the injured list with a back problem.
In no way was this the extent of it. Just as the Nationals raised their World Series flag in D.C., the doom and gloom seemed to take a back seat. Less than two hours later, players were forced from the field due to a storm. Those around MLB were not having it. And in typical fashion, the game was called after fewer than six full innings. Let’s just hope the remainder of the season goes off without a hitch. We need this.
Bonus winner: Major League Baseball gets it right
We knew that the backdrop to the season starting would include support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Major League Baseball has made that clear. Players have, too. We just had no idea how it would look.
Starting with the game in D.C. and concluding in Southern California, every player and coach took a knee ahead of the national anthem. Black Lives Matter was heavily featured on the field. And while some players did take a knee during the anthem itself, this seemed to represent a happy medium. At a time of divisiveness around the United States, unity seemed to take hold for one evening. Whether that continues moving forward this season remains to be seen.