10 Degrees: Fortunes fluctuate wildly early

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
10 Degrees: Fortunes fluctuate wildly early

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Joel Hanrahan was a hero for the Pirates in their season-opening series in Chicago

Since it is prediction season and all, please allow us to take the goings on of opening weekend and apply them to a few new prognostications:

• The Baltimore Orioles will not go 162-0.

• The Boston Red Sox will not go 0-162.

• The Tampa Bay Rays will not average one run per game. (Unless Evan Longoria's(notes) disabled list stay lasts for a while, in which case we may scrap this one altogether.)

Starlin Castro(notes) will not break the single-season batting average record by approximately 200 points. (Though he may well win a batting title.)

Nelson Cruz(notes), Howie Kendrick(notes), Ian Kinsler(notes) and Mark Teixeira(notes) will not double Barry Bonds' record of 73 homers in a year.

Joel Hanrahan(notes) will not save 108 games. Or even 100.

Of course, just because the first handful of games every season provides silly extrapolation and even sillier hope and, silliest of all, sheer panic – remember, that's not legitimate until game No. 7 – doesn't preclude us from gleaning something. Real game action introduces a team's frayed ends and the muscles it can flex. As much as small sample size mitigates some findings, the ills and thrills of the first few games of the season can portend plenty.

We're here to separate wheat and chaff, contender and pretender, real heat and Duraflame. So in the season's inaugural 10 Degrees, we're going to skip the usual player-by-player rundown and hit the most intriguing teams of the first weekend, from ugly (Boston) to bad (Tampa Bay) to …

1. The Philadelphia Phillies, embodiment of good, after a succession of three games that went: epic comeback, blowout, beatdown. The poor Houston Astros were little more than the raccoon in the middle of the road.

For a team that had managed a lifelessness bordering on cadaverous over the first eight innings of their opener, the Phillies in the next 19 innings proved why they're not likely to roll over. Even with second baseman Chase Utley's(notes) return still unclear – and the cloudiness only complicates things for the Phillies, who don't know whether to acquire a player or wait until he heals, no matter how long – and their closer situation just as murky, the Phillies reminded us that The Greatest Rotation In The History Of Things That Rotate really can live up to its hyperbole.

Roy Halladay(notes) was solid in the opener. Cliff Lee(notes) dominated, two pitches to Carlos Lee(notes) excepted. Roy Oswalt(notes) followed with a beaut. And with the New York Mets coming to town Tuesday, Cole Hamels(notes) gets his first crack at a victory. A healthy R2C2 allows the Phillies to survive without the sort of lineup …

2. The Texas Rangers paraded out during their sweep of the Red Sox. Calling it just a sweep, too, does not lend it nearly enough credence. The Rangers hit 11 home runs, four more than the next-best team. They thumped 21 extra-base hits. Their 26 runs scored and plus-15 run differential are both the best in the major leagues.

And they did it to the team that's supposed to unseat them as American League champions. The Red Sox won't get their chance for vengeance until Aug. 22, after the trading deadline, after injuries have affected the race, after everything that nearly five months of baseball can serve. So the Rangers' warning shots were served in extended-release-capsule form, as it's a weekend Boston will take a long time to forget.

C.J. Wilson(notes) was good enough, Colby Lewis(notes) solid and Matt Harrison(notes) excellent, and perhaps that's what will change by then. The Rangers' rotation, thought not in flux, finishes out with converted reliever Alexi Ogando(notes) and the inconsistent Derek Holland(notes), and it's that fear of failed starting pitching …

3. That has ensnared Boston Red Sox fans, sent them into frothing desperation, thrown a propane tank into the fire and egged them on with two crates' worth. The Red Sox are the inverse to Texas: worst run differential, most runs and home runs allowed, ugliness abounding. Boston's fear never was its offense – it'll score fine – but the rotation, the back end especially, which the Red Sox have yet to reach.

Josh Beckett(notes) and his diminished stuff go Tuesday. Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) follows. At this juncture, both are trying not to be the baseball equivalent of Charlie Sheen's live show.

Or, even worse, John Lackey(notes).

Look, the Red Sox are going to be fine. Jon Lester(notes) starts slow. He'll figure it out. Clay Buchholz(notes) gave up four home runs Sunday. That won't happen again. And the Red Sox offense, aside from its impotence against Harrison, looked good enough to win plenty of games by itself. Hey, it could be worse. The Red Sox could be …

4. Hitting like the Tampa Bay Rays, who need Longoria to get healthy, Manny Ramirez(notes) to start taking women's fertility drugs again and the Orioles to get out of town.

During Baltimore's three-game sweep, the Rays totaled 12 hits. Castro, the Cubs' shortstop, has eight already. Bobby Abreu(notes) had five against Kansas City on Sunday. Brian Sanches(notes) has one more than the hitless Johnny Damon(notes), which wouldn't be so bad if Sanches weren't a relief pitcher.

Just like all the other teams with bad starts, if the Rays went three consecutive games midsummer with one run on four hits, the blame – exhaustion, heat, slump, etc. – would be nothing. Start the year off so incapable and it's suddenly a story and a question and a referendum. Unlike with Boston, though, the Rays' lineup isn't close to a sure thing; Longoria's oblique injury is the sort that takes a month or more to heal, and Ramirez and Damon really are graybeards now, and it's all quite harrowing, even talking about …

5. The possibility of the Baltimore Orioles being more of a threat in the East than the defending champions. They're almost certainly not. This is more pixie dust than Orioles Magic.

Still, it's a treat, and getting to see a dominant Chris Tillman(notes) and Zach Britton(notes) on back-to-back days, with the best of their young bunch, Brian Matusz(notes), out for a few weeks with a rib injury, at least gives the Orioles a glimmer of hope. The start is nice. Hopefully it sells a few tickets. But four walks drawn over three games, and a 35-year-old (Derrek Lee(notes)) and 36-year-old (Vladimir Guerrero(notes)) in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in your lineup, not to mention a closer with a WARNING label (Kevin Gregg(notes))? Baltimore is likelier to finish …

6. Near the Kansas City Royals in overall record than they are the Red Sox and Yankees. The Royals opening at 3-1 and owning a three-game winning streak was nonetheless among the most pleasant surprises of opening weekend considering their season doesn't really start until late May.

That's when Kansas City expects the first wave of top-end prospects to arrive from the minor leagues. Whether it's third baseman Mike Moustakas(notes), pitcher Mike Montgomery(notes) or someone else, the spigot will turn and the future will look … palatable, at least, if not bright, though Royals fans by now know better than that.

A series win against the Los Angeles Angels is enough for them to savor, particularly the bullpen. The Royals have position-playing prospects, and they've got starting prospects, and the possibility of having a bullpen in place for their arrival tantalizes. Sunday's hero was Tim Collins(notes), the 5-foot-7 lefty who threw three scoreless innings in extras, struck out five and received a beer shower afterward. Among Collins, former first-round pick Aaron Crow(notes) and the 100-mph-throwing Jeremy Jeffress(notes), Kansas City stacks three very able rookie relievers behind Joakim Soria(notes).

The weekend notwithstanding, the Royals aren't winning yet. They're stockpiling, Last year, the same plan for the …

7. Cincinnati Reds bore fruit. Homegrown stars like MVP Joey Votto(notes), outfielders Jay Bruce(notes) and Drew Stubbs(notes), starters Travis Wood(notes) and Johnny Cueto(notes), and last but certainly not least, Aroldis Chapman(notes), form the core to beat for the next few years in the National League Central. The thoroughness with which Cincinnati dispatched Milwaukee over the weekend was clinical. It wasn't terribly surprising.

Anyone who slept on them because Cueto and Homer Bailey(notes) are on the disabled list misread the Reds. They can match up in the bullpen, go strong on defense and feature Bronson Arroyo's(notes) arms and legs and funk one batter and Chapman's 105-mph vapor trail the next. The Brewers' bullpen features Kameron Loe(notes), Brandon Kintzler(notes), Sean Green(notes) and Mitch Stetter(notes). Closer John Axford(notes) should be fine after his opening-game meltdown, but those behind him haven't exactly distinguished themselves, and the worrisome pitching …

8. Is exactly the opposite of what the Chicago White Sox expected. Then Cleveland hung 20 runs on them over three games, and Chicago's role reversal went into full effect.

Remember, last time this year, and for the first month-plus, really, the White Sox couldn't hit anything. Manager Ozzie Guillen got mad. Hitting coach Greg Walker got defensive. They looked lost. These White Sox dropped 15 on the Indians in the first game and followed with a big second day before Justin Masterson(notes) slowed them down Sunday. Even after scoring just one, their 24 runs rank second behind Texas.

Yielding 20 was an even bigger shocker than scoring 24. The White Sox's rotation is considered among the best in the league because of its depth and potential for dominance, and its bullpen is full of power arms. The six earned runs allowed by their truest soft-tosser, Will Ohman(notes), makes the overall stats sound a lot worse. Runs are runs, and if Chicago can tighten up its pitching while riding the Carlos Quentin(notes) hitting like he's from 2008 and Adam Dunn(notes) hitting moonshots, it's going to be tough to beat. Watching Quentin in the outfield is comedic, though it may not ever be worse than …

9. The misadventures of Aubrey Huff(notes), who Sunday night could have single-handedly turned the San Francisco Giants into an organization full of second guessers. Surely after seeing Brandon Belt(notes) rip a home run to center field and exhibit beyond-his-years plate discipline, the Giants have no intention of sending him back to the minor leagues. After watching Huff's ill-advised dive and his twisting, turning and most of all embarrassing effort on a fly ball to right field at Dodger Stadium that led to the Giants' third loss in four games, it made you wonder: Is Huff so very bad in the outfield that moving him back to first base instead of Belt is worth it?

Not now. Not yet. A few more helicopters by Huff might at least get Bruce Bochy chewing on the idea. He's already brutal defensively on the left side of the infield with Miguel Tejada(notes) and Pablo Sandoval(notes). The prospect of multiple defensive black holes, especially when so much of your roster is built around pitching, in no way appeals to Bochy, and for now he's stuck with it.

Though the Giants are plenty good to overcome it, the Dodgers did to them what the Rangers did to the Red Sox: stared down the favorites, puffed their chests and sent them home with a message – the anointing is far from over …

10. A lesson the Philadelphia Phillies learned, oh, about the time Cliff Lee signed. The expectations started building up then, and they gained steam for a few days until tempering off, where they stayed until the Phillies' pitching staff got together during spring training and showed this rotation really was real, at which point the hype attached itself to a helium tank, and off it floated only to meet the pin prick of reality in Utley's knee.

Oh, there's so much more. Ryan Howard(notes) isn't going to hit .538, and Jimmy Rollins(notes) and Ben Francisco(notes) won't be close to that neighborhood, either. Carlos Ruiz(notes) and Raul Ibanez(notes), on the other hand, should improve. Whatever the Phillies get out of Wilson Valdez(notes), Utley's stand-in, is no longer gravy; they really do need him to produce at least at replacement level. The Braves are excellent. Others are on the prowl. The NL East is the Phillies' to lose. And after all the consternation of spring and the uncertainty to come, opening weekend gave them lots of nuggets of hope, and one that shone more than the others.

At least they've still got a chance at 162-0.