Welcome to the first installment of The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll receive a new news column to kick off the day from one of the MLB writers at SI.com.
At a time when fewer balls are being put into play than ever, Major League Baseball’s oldest franchise is conducting a thoroughly modern baseball experiment: How much does defense really matter?
Over the past two off-seasons, the Cincinnati Reds have beefed up their offense by worrying less and less about his fielding. They signed Nick Castellanos, one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, and third baseman Mike Moustakas to play second base because they are both productive hitters. They thought they could limit the exposure of Moustakas ‘lack of range due to all his defensive changes, and that Castellanos’ poor field play wouldn’t matter as much with the Reds playing their home games at the Great American Ballpark, which has some of the smallest dimensions. in the game. Since it opened in 2003, more home runs have been hit there than at any other major league ballpark.
Cincinnati made the postseason in 2020, the first year of its grand experiment, and in the offseason, the Reds let shortstop Freddy Galvis walk away in free agency and didn’t add one to replace him. Instead, they moved third baseman Eugenio Suárez to short, the top-infield defensive position who hasn’t played since 2015. Who cares if he makes the plays? Rake! Moustakas plays third again and rookie Jonathan India, a first-round draft pick from Cincinnati in 2018, starts second.
You can probably see where this is going. In Thursday’s first game against the Cardinals, which St. Louis won 11–7, Suarez missed his first two chances on the field and cost the Reds at least a few runs. The Cardinals were leading 1-0 in the first inning and the bases were loaded with one out when Yadier Molina bounced a routine double play ball to Suarez’s right. Looking for the backhand, the shortstop blew it out, allowing Molina to reach and two running backs to score. Then on the next pitch, Dylan Carlson started a three-run homer off the right field foul pole.
In the next inning, Paul Goldschmidt pitched an infield single to shortstop and went to second on a throwing error by Suarez. Nolan Arenado hit him with a single, but the run almost certainly wouldn’t have scored if it weren’t for the mistake, because Goldschmidt would have stayed at first base. The next batter, Paul DeJong, grounded in a late-inning double play.
At one point, the Cardinals led 11-3, but the Reds took the lead and turned it into a ball game because, well, they can hit. Both Castellanos and Suárez hit home runs. Castellanos was 3-for-5 and leadoff hitter Jesse Winker, another poor defensive outfielder, was 2-for-4. India, who was in the lineup at second base because the Reds were comfortable playing Suarez at shortstop. , had two hits in his major league debut.
Cincinnati’s glove-free experiment failed on Opening Day, but it’s too early to tell if giving up is worth it. If nothing else, it is definitely worth following throughout the season.
The Yankees’ offense faltered in their 3-2 Opening Day loss to the Blue Jays in extra innings, but Gary Sanchez’s first game went as well as they could have hoped for.
Toronto’s ace, and perhaps the only reliable starter, Hyun Jin Ryu made most of New York’s hitters look uncomfortable with his effective combination of fastball change, penetrating cutter, and flawless dominance. The best example of that came in the first inning, when Ryu hit Aaron Judge at a 91 mph internal heater because Judge, expecting slow speed, hit late on a pitch that he normally crushes.
Sánchez’s struggles last season were due in part to a lack of timing and recognition of the pitch. He couldn’t reach the straights, but he was too early on the off-speed pitches; He let go of hittable pitches to get strikes, but he dove to break balls that weren’t close to the zone. On Thursday against Ryu, a pitcher who thrives on deception, Sanchez jumped on a first pitch fastball and threw it 407 feet into the left field seats.
Later, Sanchez beat an infield single to shortstop in the seventh and led the bottom of the ninth with a walk. He also looked comfortable on defense, blocking balls to the ground with ease, taking pitches well and delivering a seed to second base to catch Randal Grichuk stealing. Gerrit Cole hit a poor pitch, a hanging slider that Teoscar Hernandez demolished for a game-tying home run in the sixth, but was otherwise on pace with Sanchez after their difficult first year as drum mates last season.
• Miguel Cabrera hit the first home run of 2021, because of course he did. It was the 488th home run of his career, and it came in a snowstorm in Detroit against reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. But the best part was that Miggy slipped to second base because he couldn’t see the ball go over the fence through the snowstorm. Cabrera, who will soon turn 38, did not want to participate in a triple. He was totally happy to be in second place with a double until he realized it was gone. The Tigers beat Cleveland, 3-2.
• Speaking of crazy home runs, Cody Bellinger hit a two-run home run that was actually a one-run single and one out. At the top of the third inning of the Dodgers’ 8–5 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field, Bellinger launched a fly ball to the left that bounced off Raimel Tapia’s glove and over the fence. Justin Turner, who started the play at first base, had rounded up second when he thought Tapia made the play and booked it back to first. In the confusion, he ran past Bellinger, who was called out because he crossed Turner on the base path.
• Pablo Sandoval broke a pinch two-run homer off Phillies ace Aaron Nola to tie the game 2-2 with two outs in the seventh inning. The Braves had a chance to get ahead in the top of the 10th, but Roman Quinn shot down Ozzie Albies tries to score with a sacrifice fly to end the frame. Jean Segura single house Bryce Harper to get away. The Philadelphia bullpen survived its first test.
• The move to get Mike Trout back to the playoffs started strong. With the Angels trailing the White Sox 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Trout started a single in left field to bring David Fletcher home and tie the game. Later in the inning, an Albert Pujols grounder that bounced off the third base line scored Shohei Ohtani to give Los Angeles the lead. Newly acquired closer Raisel Iglesias retired Chicago in order in the next frame and he looked dirty doing it. Is this the year we can finally believe in Los Angeles?
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.