The stress of Chris Sale

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8780/" data-ylk="slk:Chris Sale">Chris Sale</a> (center) was not sharp on Opening Day at Seattle (AP/Ted S. Warren)
Chris Sale (center) was not sharp on Opening Day at Seattle (AP/Ted S. Warren)

On the Seattle schedule, it said Opening Day. On the field, it played out like the Fourth of July.

The Mariners romped in their home debut, cranking three homers off Chris Sale and knocking him out after three messy innings (3 IP, 7 R, 2 BB, 4 K). Tim Beckham homered twice, Edwin Encarnacion once — and none of those home runs were cheap. By the end of the night, the M’s had five home runs and a 12-4 victory.

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There’s a certain amount of assumed stress that comes with drafting a big-name pitcher. After all, it’s the position with the most injury risk, and often these physical issues come out of nowhere. Anytime our aces get lit, anytime the radar gun shows a dip (and Sale’s velocity was not up to snuff Thursday), it kicks in your stomach.

Sale owners know he’s survived despite awkward mechanics for years, and the Red Sox were especially careful handling Sale last season, en route to a modest 158 regular-season innings.

On the plus side, velocity dips are fairly common in the early part of the year, and you know the Red Sox did their medical diligence before signing Sale to last week’s $145 million extension. If there’s blood in the water, the team certainly didn’t detect anything. Maybe Sale will mow down the Athletics next week and allow us to exhale in full. Get some fresh batteries in the radar gun and get ready for Tuesday’s start.

[It’s still not too late to join or create a 2019 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league]

Back to the Mariners: Is there a whiff of post-hype juice to Beckham, entering his age-29 season? He was the first pick of the 2008 draft class, after all, and he gave us a useful breakthrough two years ago (.278 average, 22 homers, 111 OPS+). He’s off to a tidy 7-for-12 start, with three homers, and he’s yet to strike out. Beckham is quietly creeping up in the Seattle lineup, slotting 8th, 7th, and 6th, and he carries shortstop and third base eligibility in our standard game. He’s currently unowned in three-quarters of Yahoo leagues.

Kiké Hernandez highlights LA’s homer barrage

For all the star power on the Dodgers roster, this organization has also been skilled at finding surprising breakouts. Chris Taylor was the out-of-nowhere hit two years ago, and Max Muncy shocked the world last season. Maybe it’s Enrique Hernandez’s turn in 2019.

Hernandez homered twice in Thursday’s 12-5 laugher over Arizona, part of a Dodger offense that went deep eight times. Newcomer A.J. Pollock wasn’t invited to the party (3-0-0-0), but all the other regulars had a hand in the run production.

You could argue the Hernandez spike already happened — after all, he ripped 21 home runs and had a .470 slugging percentage in 402 at-bats last year. Hernandez finally got something going against right-handed pitching (.833 OPS), perhaps shedding his platoon label for good. His career numbers still show a jagged platoon slant; a hero against lefties, a zero against righties. But the most recent sample could be the key to unlocking his current value.

Kike Hernandez watches one of his homers sail out. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Kike Hernandez watches one of his homers sail out. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Dodgers have upgraded Hernandez’s role — earlier this week, manager Dave Roberts named Hernandez the second-base starter, with Taylor settling into a super-utility role. Taylor went about two rounds before Hernandez during draft season, but if you were drafting today, you’d have to flip those tickets. You might not even draft Taylor at all.

Ultimately, Hernandez becomes one of my favorite fantasy commodities — a position-tagged player who isn’t currently burdened by multiple roles. He’s grandfathered into those four positions (first, second, short, outfield), no matter if he does any actual roving in 2019. Hernandez was aggressively added over the past 24 hours, but he’s still free in about 56 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Is Cleveland’s offense in trouble?

You can’t blame Cleveland sports fans if they have a fear of abandonment. Cleveland’s hockey team merged with the Minnesota North Stars in the late 1970s — with all players reporting to the Twin Cities. The Browns had their shocking exodus after the 1995 season. LeBron James has left on two occasions.

Is 2019 the year the Indians offense goes missing?

I moved most of my personal items to the Minnesota Twins bandwagon over the last few weeks, and part of that optimism is actually collateral pessimism about the Cleveland lineup. Francisco Lindor, the key to the entire offense, is currently hurt. Michael Brantley left as a free agent and wasn’t adequately replaced. Thursday’s opening lineup was a factory of sadness — Tyler Naquin batting third, Hanley Ramirez slotted fifth. Eric Stamets is the fill-in for Lindor (if you want to be really depressed, check out Stamets’s minor-league profile).

To be fair, Minnesota ace Jose Berrios can make any lineup look punchless. Berrios was one of the big winners from Thursday, mowing down Cleveland over 7.2 brilliant, filthy innings (2 H, 1 BB, 10 K). Berrios only needed 96 pitches, and heck, he looked squeezed on the borderline walk to Carlos Santana. Berrios might be ready for Cy Young contention entering his age-25 season.

New Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli has been reluctant to anoint a dedicated closer, and the Twins have plenty of options who could theoretically hold that post. Lefty Taylor Rogers got the call Thursday and scored a working man’s handshake, recording four outs and striking out three. Rogers needed just 15 pitches in all. This doesn’t mean anyone should panic about Trevor May or Blake Parker ownership, but we also have to respect the momentum of the saves chase. Rogers is in the mix, and he’s the last guy to convert — that second thing will always have value to us.

The coexistence of Luke Voit and Greg Bird

Luke Voit had it pretty good for Thursday’s opener — slotted fourth in the loaded Yankees lineup, settling in behind Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Andrew Cashner — Opening Day starter Andrew Cashner — was pitching for the Orioles. Day baseball in a scoring environment. Good work if you can get it.

Voit was never a prospect and his 2018 splash (14 homers in 132 at-bats) came out of nowhere, but just because he surprised us doesn’t mean he can’t be good. Voit’s 211 ADP price might go down as one of the giveaways of the year. The New York DH conked a three-run homer off Cashner, a titanic shot to center field, and reached base three other times (two walks, one plunk). Nifty way to mark your territory.

I was prepared to write snarky things about Greg Bird, who struck out his first three times up. But Bird added a window-dressing home run in the eighth inning, killing my narrative. I still think Voit has a fair amount of leash entering the year — note that Bird slotted seventh, opposed to Voit’s cleanup post — but maybe there’s room for both of them.

[Busted bracket? No problem. Make more tourney picks for free to win cash]

Updated advice on stolen bases

Stolen bases were hard to find on Opening Day, especially if you didn’t own Trea Turner (three bags) or Whit Merrifield (two). Kid Mondesi will eventually join the fun, but his two hits Thursday were triples, erasing the stolen-base potential. A pair of Juniors (Acuna, Bradley Jr.) had debut steals, and Robbie Grossman and Eduardo Nunez also took things not belonging to them.

We appreciate those that tried, especially Amed Rosario (it’s a key part of his value) and buzzy user-rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. But the first full day of baseball was once again dominated by the Three True Outcomes. MLB slashed a piddly .207/.280/.405 on Thursday — part of that is the aces talking, sure — with 48 home runs. A whopping 247 strikeouts were recorded against 85 walks.

If you are hunting for steals, batting slot needs to be considered — especially for the National League rabbits. Rosario slotted seventh in the opener, not ideal for our purposes. Victor Robles hit ninth in Washington, good news and bad news — you hate to give up the daily at-bat, but at least he’s behind the pitcher, not in front of him. It’s tricky to find steals from a player burdened in front of the pitcher slot.

Speed Round

Eric Lauer was steady in his opening assignment (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K), taking advantage of the dead San Francisco lineup. We should be attacking the Giants anytime possible; I dare you to name the starting outfield . . .

. . . It’s the final season for outdoor baseball in Arlington — the Rangers get a new park next year — so let’s be sure to appreciate that keg-tapping home. The Cubs partied for 12 runs Thursday, sparked by Javy Baez (two homers) and Kris Bryant (homer, three RBIs). Leadoff man Albert Almora Jr. might be of greater interest now that Ian Happ isn’t on the roster . . .

. . . Ryan McMahon is the Colorado second baseman for now, with Garrett Hampson settling into the super-utility spot. McMahon had a 4-1-1-1 line out of the No. 7 slot Thursday . . .

. . . The Royals bullpen made a mess in the ninth inning, turning a five-run lead into a cheap Brad Boxberger save (one out, three pitches). Wily Peralta started the inning, retiring just one of the three batters he faced. Keep an eye on post-hyper Jorge Soler, who had two hits and two RBIs from the cleanup spot.

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