MLB opening weekend overreactions: Byron Buxton is having his MVP season, the Dodgers are in trouble and more

We have one weekend of baseball in the books. Yes, the “weekend” in baseball terms refers to weekend series, meaning it includes Thursday and Friday games. You already know this, so there’s no reason to even ask and make me explain it.

What a fun extended weekend it was. There were four walk-off wins in home openers. There were pitching duels. There were slugfests. There were players we already knew were great playing like great players. There were surprising performances. There were duds. It had it all and it was well worth the wait.

With every opening series in the baseball season comes so much other stuff, too. We know that every team has played either three or four games and it’s such a ridiculously minute percentage of the season that we should not overreact. And yet, the way the season unfolds, it lends itself to so much overreacting in the early going. So let’s do that.

Here are some possible overreactions to the first series of the season, along with a quick dose of likely reality.

1. The Dodgers are in trouble

As has become somewhat commonplace, the Dodgers entered the season generally regarded as the best team. Their season will not be a success unless they at least make the World Series and they probably need to win it to avoid the stench of failure. That’s the bar they’ve set for themselves.

They visited the Rockies for three games and those Rockies are not expected to contend. The Rockies won two of three. Naturally, the sky is falling in Chavez Ravine.

OK, Dodgers fans who got worried: Take a deep breath.

The Rockies went 48-33 in Coors Field last year. It’s long been a tough place to win. The second game of the series was a one-run win for the Rockies and German Márquez was the starting pitcher. The Rockies went 14-4 in his starts last season and he’s still in his prime at age 27.

And I should not have to remind Dodgers fans that the 2018 team was 16-26 through May 16 and ended up in the World Series.

They are fine.

2. Buxton is finally having his MVP season

Many of us have been dreaming on a full Byron Buxton season for years. If he could just stay healthy, he’s such an electric, all-around talent that he’d have a great shot to win the MVP.

On Saturday, he hit a go-ahead, two-run home run on a pitch that was letter high and 101 miles per hour. Outrageous. No one should be able to do that. He followed it up Sunday with two homers, so he has three bombs, three runs and four RBI through three games. That kind of power foundation is something upon which an MVP season can be built.

Of course, Buxton already teased us with this last season. Through 24 games, he was hitting .370 / .408 / .772 with 10 doubles, nine homers, 17 RBI, 19 runs and five steals. Then he got hurt. Again. He only managed 61 games (in those, he racked up 4.5 WAR, 23 doubles, 19 homers, 32 RBI, 50 runs, nine steals and a 172 OPS +).

Then again, it’s always possible this is the year he stays off the injured list. He played 140 games in 2017 and he’s still only 28 years old.

We’ll keep our eyes on this one. He probably only needs to play around 130 games to win MVP. We’ll always be worried that next injury is right around the corner, but he’s good enough that it’s not outlandish to believe this is finally the year.

3. Padres rotation can carry them without Tatis

The 2021 Padres appeared to be living up to the hype of legitimate World Series contender by mid-August last year, but they totally collapsed down the stretch. Knowing that made the spring training Fernando Tatis Jr. injury announcement seems especially cruel.

Through one series, the Padres are 3-1 and should actually be 4-0. A bullpen meltdown cost them the first game after Yu Darvish spun six no-hit, scoreless innings. Sean Manaea followed that up with seven no-hit innings of his own. Joe Musgrove in the third game allowed two runs on five hits in six innings, making him the worst member of the rotation through the first weekend. Blake Snell was a late scratch Sunday due to injury, but fill-in starter Nabil Crismatt allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings in his stead.

That’s four starts with just two runs allowed in 22 innings (0.82 ERA). They only gave up six hits!

Of course, the reality is the Diamondbacks are a terrible team and showed it, save for that late comeback in the first game.

I do think the Padres’ rotation is talented enough to serve as the backbone of a contender, though. There’s plenty of talent there at the top in Darvish, Manaea and Musgrove. We’ll see what happens to Snell, but we know he’s a former Cy Young winner. Mike Clevinger flashed All-Star upside for three years before needing Tommy John surgery. He’ll be returning to the mound soon after his sore knee is healed.

We’ve already named five.

There’s also Nick Martínez, who had a 1.62 ERA in 23 starts in Japan last season. Oh, and former top-10 prospect MacKenzie Gore might well be back on track. The 23-year-old lefty struck out 16 against three walks in 12 spring innings and just went five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks in his first Triple-A start of the season.

The succinct answer is cautious optimism. Yes, they faced the Diamondbacks, but I do think the Padres have one of the best rotations in baseball this season. There’s both top-shelf talent and depth.

4. Mets rotation is amazing even without deGrom

Speaking of great rotations, let’s hit two more, including the Mets.

The big news in the spring was Jacob deGrom going down again with an injury that could cause him to miss a significant portion of the season. He didn’t pitch after July 7 last season, so it’s certainly a concern.

The Mets have reinforcements, though.

The bullpen blew the lead and the offense was not of much help Sunday, but Carlos Carrasco only gave up a run on two hits with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Tylor Megill was thrown into the Opening Day fire and he worked five scoreless innings, striking out six. Max Scherzer mostly threw well and he’s, you know, Max Scherzer. And on Saturday, another big-ticket acquisition, Chris Bassitt, allowed just three hits in six scoreless innings while striking out eight.

That’s a dominant weekend of work.

Again, though, context is needed. The Nationals are terrible. They do have Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz along with talented youngster Keibert Ruiz, but that’s about it. Once the pitcher gets through the 2-5 spots, he can breathe easy.

They’ll be testing a bit more this upcoming series against the Phillies.

I do think overall the Mets will have one of the better rotations in baseball, but there are concerns here and looking great against the Nats does not wipe those out.

5. Brewers aces aren’t up for an encore

Heading into the year, if we were simply to discuss the top three starters in a rotation – especially with the deGrom injury – the Brewers were the obvious best. They started the season with three straight All-Stars on the hill in Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff (who finished fifth) and Freddy Peralta (who was a strong contender before an injury limited his workload late).

As opposed to the strong showings from the Padres and Mets starters we noted above, the Brewers talented trio gave up 13 earned runs on 13 hits with 10 walks in 12 2/3 innings. That’s a 9.23 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Last season, they combined for a 2.59 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

They were facing a Cubs team that most do not expect to contend, too.

I’d still go with this mostly being a small-sample fluke. None of them had very good command, at least not compared to the elite-level bar they’ve set for themselves. The defense did not help them much either (although there was only one error, there were several botched plays that were ruled hits during the series). I also think the Cubs showed a renewed approach at the plate and looked better than advertised.

Basically, it was just a lot of little things adding up. I wouldn’t be discouraged with the collectively poor effort from Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta. All three will have great seasons.

6. The Mariners ‘fun differential’ is at it again

The 2021 Mariners were one of the biggest anomalies in MLB history at overplaying their run differential into a 90-win season. Even with the recent outliers, they were something else. Remember that 2012 Orioles team? Everyone knew the 29-9 record in one-run games was unsustainable. It helped them win 93 games despite a plus-seven run differential.

Well, the 2021 Mariners gave up a whopping 51 more runs than they scored, yielding an expected win-loss record of 76-86. Yet they went 90-72. A good portion of that was going 33-19 in one-run games. There was so much talk of outplaying the run differential that manager Scott Servais coined the term “Fun Differential.”

And wouldn’t you know it. Through three games, the Mariners are 2-1 with a negative-four run differential.

  • They won on Opening Day, 2-1, and the final out was a Gary Sánchez flyout to the wall. Just a few extra feet and it was a Twins walk-off win.
  • The Mariners won game two after coughing up a lead in the eighth inning but then coming back to win in the ninth.
  • They were blown out, 10-4, in Game 3.

Are we really seeing this again? This sorcery is going to carry over?

Doubtful.

There’s a reason it was such a notable story. It basically never happens, so are we really going to see it two straight years from the same team?

I do believe in the Mariners are contenders this season. They are a more well-rounded and, frankly, a better team from the get-go this time around. The odds are we’re going to see the Mariners win a handful fewer games this season even if they are a better team. They’ll have less “luck” with their sequencing and play better, start to finish, as a team on a season-long basis. I’ll go with something around 84 wins with a positive run differential.

7. The Beltway Teams are atrocious

Some things aren’t overreactions.

The Nationals and Orioles are a combined 1-6 with a negative-22 run differential. They are both pathetic. They’ll have company at the bottom, likely with teams like the Diamondbacks and Pirates, but there’s a chance the two worst teams in baseball in 2022 are baseball neighbors.

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