The Week that Was: Opening Week

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Janice Scurio
·10 min read
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The heralded first week of Major League Baseball came with the emergence of feel-good storylines such as the explosive starts of Yermin Mercedes and Akil Baddoo, and the expectedly hopeful bounce-backs of players such as Omar Narvaez and J.D. Martinez. Not to mention notable performances from Shohei Ohtani and Jacob deGrom. And what’s a first week of baseball without a little bit of historical fun thrown in the mix?

Notable performances this week

Before tonight, the Padres were the only team in Major League Baseball with no record of a no-hitter, but San Diego native Joe Musgrove heard the call to action. Musgrove threw the first no-hitter for the Padres on Friday night; it actually would have been a perfect game, but Musgrove hit Joey Gallo with a pitch. All of Musgrove’s pitches were firing on all cylinders: with a focus on his secondary pitches, his slider, cutter and curveball were able to generate a 35% CSW rate (called strikes plus whiffs). Musgrove, who wears number 44 as an internal fandom tribute to Jake Peavy, now has 31 straight scoreless innings! His final line from Friday night: nine innings pitched, no hits, no runs, no walks and 10 strikeouts. Absolutely mesmerizing.

Yermin Mercedes has won the hearts of baseball fans, not only due to his amiable personality (a prospect report I read at the beginning of the season, in fact, described him as being “fun”) but he carries a formidable bat. The 28-year-old has been in the minors and various independent leagues for over 10 years, but was picked up by the White Sox from the Orioles in 2017 via the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

A career .300 hitter in the minors, a frequently asked question is why Mercedes was not with the big-league club sooner. The brief answer is that he really isn’t a positional player, but has now been working with White Sox coach Jerry Narron on catching. In 28 plate appearances in 2021, Mercedes carries a .556/.571/.889 slash line - and an astounding wRC+ of 304. He’s also the first major leaguer in modern history to go 8-for-8 to begin a season. Mercedes is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon; he went 2-for-4 in Thursday’s White Sox home opener vs. the Royals including a 485-foot home run.

The other early season sensation who is captivating baseball fans everywhere is Akil Baddoo of the Tigers. The 22-year-old outfielder exploded onto the scene with a stellar performance in spring training, which helped him secure a spot on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster as a Rule 5 selection from the Twins.

Before this year, Baddoo had never played above High-A ball, but it appears he is acclimating nicely to the majors. With a powerful swing accompanied by one heck of a bat drop as demonstrated in his first major league home run, Baddoo is endearing himself to Tigers fans - and fantasy managers - rather quickly. Through 14 plate appearances, Baddoo is slashing .455/.455/1.182, and also has an appealing BABIP of .429. In the small amount of play we’ve seen from Baddoo so far, he’s got both power and speed, and has already stolen a base, hit two home runs and a triple.

Cedric Mullins of the Orioles is also having a hot start - the 26-year-old has played in exactly seven games, and through 31 plate appearances, is slashing .448/.484/.655, and making himself known as Baltimore’s leadoff man. Mullins hit his first home run of the season on Thursday, a thrilling extra-innings win over the Yankees. The Orioles began the season with a sweep of the Red Sox, and though they were not expected to do well by many projection systems, they will not go quietly into that good night, at least not in this first week.

Nick Castellanos is turning up the heat in many ways. After just the first week, in 29 plate appearances over six games, he carries a .435/.480/1.130 line including four home runs, which as of Friday night leads all of Major League Baseball. Castellanos scored on a wild pitch in a game on April 3 against the Cardinals, and followed suit with being hit by a Jake Woodford pitch to reach base. Castellanos let Woodford know his place, which started an altercation between the two clubs. Castellanos was the only player ejected, which later led to a two-game suspension, which he is currently appealing; he’s playing through the suspension and offering some powerful numbers.

Castellanos isn’t the only Red that should have your attention: rookie Jonathan India leads the National League in singles, and is second in RBI, to his teammate Tyler Naquin.

On the schedule for an ample bounce-back from a strange 2020 season is J.D. Martinez, and so far he’s delivering: Martinez currently leads all of Major League Baseball in total bases, at 26. Through 30 plate appearances over seven games, Martinez is carrying a .433/.469/.867 batting line and a 1.335 OPS. He currently leads the American League in doubles, and is second in hits, tied with Cedric Mullins.

Shohei Ohtani accomplished a feat on Monday - not only did he throw what was the fastest pitch thrown at that point at 100.6 MPH, he also hit the hardest-hit home run of the season by any player, at a 115.2 MPH exit velocity. This didn’t last long, however; Jacob deGrom threw a 102 MPH fastball shortly after. In 14 innings over two starts this year, Jacob deGrom has 21 punchouts, and has allowed just one run, allotting him a 0.64 ERA.

Like deGrom, Corbin Burnes has been lights-out for his past two starts, and is still looking for his first win of the season. In two starts this year, Corbin Burnes has 20 Ks and has allowed just one run. The Brewers and Mets are both 0-2 in starts by deGrom and Burnes.

Lance Lynn threw a complete game shutout on Thursday vs. the Royals; Lynn’s final line was nine innings pitched, no walks allowed, no runs scored. The 33-year-old righty only allowed five hits, and struck out 11 on 111 pitches. Lynn was the league leader for innings pitched last season; an innings eating starter may just be what the White Sox need, given some recent bullpen woes.

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Injuries

Fernando Tatis Jr. was diagnosed with a left shoulder subluxation, or a dislocation on Monday, when he took a hard cut on an Anthony DeSclafani slider and immediately fell to the ground, clutching his arm. A dislocation seemed equivocal to more time out, or season-ending surgery, but the early exams were apparently encouraging and the hope is that a treatment plan will get him back on the field later this month. Ha-seong Kim started at shortstop for the Padres on Tuesday, and will be the primary fill-in until Tatis is ready to return.

On Wednesday, the White Sox placed SS Tim Anderson on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to April 5, with a left hamstring strain. Anderson suffered the injury this past Sunday night against the Angels; he is expected to possibly return next Thursday, assuming all goes well. The White Sox have recalled Danny Mendick from their alternate training site to take his place in the interim.

James Paxton exited his start against the White Sox on Wednesday after he only pitched 1 ⅓ innings and though the early diagnosis was forearm soreness, it was later reported that Tommy John surgery was recommended for the 32-year-old hurler. If he does undergo the procedure, Paxton will miss the remainder of the year, and won't be ready to help anyone until 2022. It's also worth pointing out that Paxton was signed to a one-year deal, so he'll also be looking for a new contract.

Kolten Wong left Thursday’s game vs. the Cardinals with a re-aggravated oblique injury. Re-aggravations are rather worrisome; Wong was moved to the 10-day injured list on Saturday morning, with a left oblique strain. Daniel Robertson has taken over second base for the Brew Crew for the time being.

Max Kepler left Thursday’s game against the Mariners after reaching on an infield single. Kepler was checked by trainers, and shortly departed, Jake Cave taking his place. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli later told reporters that Kepler was “fine,” and should return to the lineup on Saturday. Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was on the 10-day injured list following a hamstring strain, participated in baserunning drills on Saturday. Baldelli mentioned that Donaldson could return to the lineup as soon as Monday.

Mariners center fielder and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is on schedule to recover from a deep bone bruise in his right knee; he may return to the lineup in a week or two.

Dexter Fowler was pulled from Friday’s game vs. the Blue Jays with what has been described as a left knee contusion. A contusion is relatively great news, considering how bad it looked; Fowler needed to be carted off the field. Angels manager Joe Maddon said that he may miss a game or two at worst, and will likely avoid a trip to the injured list.

Chris Archer made his 2021 pitching debut for the Rays on Saturday, only to be removed in the third inning due to right lateral forearm tightness. Archer threw 42 pitches, and experienced a dip in his fastball velocity, clocking in at an average of 91 MPH when that pitch typically registers at 94 MPH. Archer said the issue “popped up out of nowhere,” and he will be further evaluated by the Rays on Sunday. He was placed on the 10-day injured list. The Rays have recalled top prospect Brent Honeywell, Jr. from their alternate site; he will make his debut on Sunday.

Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger have both been absent from the Dodgers lineup; Betts sat Saturday out, for the third consecutive game, and he has been dealing with back soreness. Bellinger took a spike to the left calf in a collision in Monday’s game vs. the A’s, and he was placed on the 10-day injured list.

Miscellanea from around the league

Since we can’t go a week without talking about him in some capacity, some baseballs used by Trevor Bauer in Wednesday’s game against the Athletics were sent to MLB for further inspection. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the balls had "visible markings and were sticky, and were sent to the league offices for further inspection." The league would need to prove that Bauer applied the substance to the balls, which would be difficult, making it unlikely any discipline will be administered. This is part of a reported crackdown by MLB to eliminate the use of foreign substances on baseballs in part because of the increased spin rate over the past few years.

The Dodgers received their 2020 World Series rings on Friday, ending a 32-year championship drought. Each of the players were introduced by their favorite players growing up; Bronson Arroyo really did announce Walker Buehler via a rousing rendition of Wonderwall. Nostalgia aside, the coolest story to emerge is that David Price is auctioning off his World Series ring, to benefit the Players Alliance, an organization of current and former Black players that are focused on providing more resources to communities of color in order to “change the trajectory of diversity throughout baseball.”

What an Opening Week it was around the league! What stories will next week hold for us? Thanks for reflecting back on the Week that Was, and have a great Week to Be.