No Giancarlo Stanton. No Dee Gordon. No Marcell Ozuna. No Christian Yelich. What do the Marlins even have left besides that ridiculous statue in center field? They even lost their biggest fan, the artist formerly known as Marlins Man.
Things are so dire in Miami right now that it’s actually become news. The Marlins have not been kind to their fan base over the years, orchestrating elaborate teardowns after each of their two championships in 1997 and 2003. But this betrayal might be their worst yet. Less than six years after putting the finishing touches on a $600 million stadium, most of which was publicly funded, owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team to a group led by Derek Jeter, who has done nothing but shed payroll since taking the reigns as CEO. Rebuilding by trading stars for prospects is one thing but unloading assets to cover the debt of a team you couldn’t afford in the first place (he’s Derek Jeter, not Warren Buffett)? Well that’s quite another. No wonder Dan Le Batard ripped the commissioner to shreds after the Stanton trade.
In a stadium mostly inhabited by Cubs fans on spring break, the Marlins predictably dropped their season opener Thursday afternoon at Marlins Park, falling 8-4 to the defending NL Central champs. Our own RotoPat described the Marlins as the “worst team of the decade” and on paper, that looks like it could be the case. Jose Urena, a Dominican Republic native who didn’t become a big league regular until last season, would probably be a fourth or fifth starter on most teams. But on the depleted Marlins, he’s No. 1.
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Urena actually didn’t pitch much worse than his Cubs counterpart Jon Lester, who is firmly in the decline phase of his career, but it was still a deeply mediocre performance. For a moment, it looked like Urena might not even survive the first inning. The right-hander served up a solo home run to Ian Happ on the game’s first pitch, then proceeded to hit three of the next seven batters he faced. Just so we’re clear that’s not “hits allowed.” Urena plunked three batters in a span of one inning. Even for a team perpetually in self-destruct mode, that’s brutal.
One of those hit batsmen was Anthony Rizzo, which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly a shocker. Rizzo was drilled a league-high 24 times last season. That’s the price you pay for crowding the plate as Rizzo often does, but in the end, the Cubs first baseman would have the last laugh. The 28-year-old exacted his revenge by smoking a 393-foot homer to right field in his next at-bat. That staked Chicago to a 4-1 lead in the second inning.
Rizzo has mashed a few homers in his day—the blast off Urena was No. 167 of his career—but Thursday’s round-tripper meant more than most. The 28-year-old is an alum of nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a tragic school shooting occurred last month. Seen wearing an #MSDStrong shirt after the game, Rizzo called his emotional home run an “out of body experience.”
The Cubs also got a lift from Kyle Schwarber, who teed off on Tayron Guerrero by slugging a solo shot in the seventh inning. The long ball is Schwarber’s trademark and it’s good to see that his offseason weight loss hasn’t affected that part of his game. Of course, when Schwarbs debuted his new frame this offseason, the hope was that it would help his defense, which has never been the 25-year-old’s strength. Unfortunately, Schwarber looked lost as ever in left field, wanting no part of Derek Dietrich’s warning track triple in the third before committing a costly error later in the same frame. Schwarber isn’t the smoothest customer in the outfield and probably never will be. But fortunately for fantasy owners, his mighty power stroke will be enough to keep him in the lineup most days.
Urena was vastly unimpressive (6 H, 5 ER, 4 BB) in his season debut but at least he made it through four innings. That’s more than Lester could say. Making his seventh career Opening Day start, Lester crumpled like a house of cards in what should have been his easiest assignment of the year, allowing seven hits, four runs (three earned) and three walks in just 3 1/3 innings. We could chalk it up to rust but the truth is, Lester has been a below-average pitcher for the better part of a year now. The left-hander has stumbled to a 4.62 ERA since last year’s All-Star break while looking like a shell of the pitcher who finished second to Max Scherzer in the 2016 NL Cy Young race. Even after losing Jake Arrieta in free agency, the Cubs still have strong depth with Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood filling out the rest of the starting rotation. But if Joe Maddon was banking on Lester to be the alpha of that group, he may want to come up with a Plan B.
All things considered, Miami’s offense fared better than expected in the opener. Starlin Castro and Brian Anderson both reached base three times while Dietrich chipped in with a pair of hits. But if Urena, Caleb Smith, Odrisamer Despaigne and Dillon Peters are all the Marlins can scrape together for a starting rotation, it’s going to be a long year in Jeter Town.
Are You New Here?
We know how steep the learning curve is for rookie players, but what about rookie managers? Gabe Kapler made his debut as Phillies manager on Thursday and it was … interesting. Right out of the gate Kapler made a bold call by benching All-Star outfielder Odubel Herrera. When asked if he was upset about not playing, Herrera responded, “Of course I am.” It’s true that Herrera hasn’t had much success against Braves starter Julio Teheran (.185 AVG in 27 at-bats), but is it really worth it to alienate one of your best players, especially one as temperamental as Herrera, on Day 1 of the new regime?
Turns out, that wasn’t even the oddest move Kapler made on Thursday. Aaron Nola was cruising right along against Atlanta, so naturally Kapler removed him after 68 pitches. Nola exited the game with a 5-0 lead but the Phillies wound up losing on a walk-off homer by Nick Markakis in the ninth. Kapler has tried to shake things up in Philadelphia with his laidback approach—he let players sleep in during spring training and plans to use matchups in the ninth inning rather than a set closer. But pulling the plug on your ace after just 68 pitches? That one’s a head-scratcher.
Kapler isn’t the only rookie manager going through growing pains. Alex Cora’s first day as Red Sox skipper was quite the learning experience. Just as Kapler did in Philadelphia, Cora decided to cut his ace some slack by limiting Chris Sale to six innings against Tampa Bay. Sale’s workload (92 pitches) was heavier than Nola’s but still much lighter than the 107.1 pitches he averaged last season.
When Joe Kelly couldn’t throw a strike in the eighth inning, Cora opted for Carson Smith, who has appeared in just 12 games since the start of 2016. Smith promptly allowed a bases-clearing triple to Denard Span, leading many to wonder why Cora left his best reliever, Craig Kimbrel, in the bullpen with the game on the line. Turning to your closer before the ninth inning is never ideal and Kimbrel didn’t get his usual reps this spring while tending to his daughter, who recently underwent heart surgery. But with Kelly falling apart, who would you rather steer the ship: an injury-prone mystery man in Smith or Kimbrel, who struck out 49.6 percent of the batters he faced last season? That’s not much of a debate. Cora also made a puzzling choice not to challenge a play in the eighth inning when Mookie Betts was picked off first base. It was a close play and there may not have been enough evidence to overturn it, but it was strange that Cora didn’t even consider using his challenge.
The Red Sox dropped their opener but Eduardo Nunez still made his mark by legging out an inside-the-park homer in the second inning. The last Boston player to do that on Opening Day was Carl Yastrzemski in 1968.
AL Quick Hits: Matt Davidson had himself a day in Thursday’s opener. The White Sox DH slugged three homers in a win over Kansas City. He’s the first player to homer three times on Opening Day since Dmitri Young (he also did it against the Royals) in 2005 … Chris Davis as a leadoff hitter? Believe it. In his first career game as a leadoff hitter, the first baseman went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a walk as Baltimore escaped with a 3-2 win over Minnesota … Troy Tulowitzki has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with bone spurs in his right heel. Aledmys Diaz drew the start at shortstop on Thursday, finishing 0-for-3 in a 6-1 loss to the Yankees … Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Josh Donaldson is dealing with a dead arm. That might explain why Donaldson made some awkward throws from third base in Thursday’s opener … Pinstripes sure look good on Giancarlo Stanton. The reigning NL MVP went 3-for-5 with a pair of long balls in his Yankees debut … Zach Duke accomplished a rare feat by striking out four batters in a single inning Thursday against Baltimore. Unfortunately, he also let up two runs while throwing a pair of wild pitches … Last year’s World Series MVP George Springer homered in his first at-bat Thursday as Houston rolled to a 4-1 win over Texas. He’s the first player in MLB history to hit a leadoff homer on Opening Day in back-to-back seasons … Most teams play the shift against lefty slugger Joey Gallo, but the Astros took it a step further on Thursday by using four outfielders against him in the first inning. It worked as third baseman Alex Bregman retired Gallo on a fly ball to left field … Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani singled in his first big league at-bat on Thursday, though he went hitless with a strikeout in his other four plate appearances. Teammate Mike Trout went 0-for-6 as Los Angeles fell to Oakland in extra innings … Albert Pujols went deep for the Angels in Thursday’s defeat. Pujols is now 30 hits away from 3,000 for his career … Ian Kinsler sat out Thursday’s opener with a groin injury but manager Mike Scioscia expects him back in the lineup on Friday. Zack Cozart filled in for Kinsler at second base against the Athletics … Mike Zunino was scratched from Thursday’s game due to stiffness in his right side. He suffered the injury during Wednesday’s batting practice but shouldn’t miss much time … Rangers manager Jeff Banister announced that Keone Kela will serve as the team’s primary closer, at least to begin the year. The right-hander impressed with a 2.57 ERA over eight Cactus League appearances this spring.
NL Quick Hits: Giants All-Star Mark Melancon will begin the year on the 10-day disabled list as he works back from inflammation in his right flexor tendon. Hunter Strickland will handle the closer role in his absence … It took a bit longer than expected, but Greg Holland has finally found a home. He’ll serve as the Cardinals’ closer after agreeing to a one-year, $14 million contract on Thursday. The right-hander tied for the NL lead with 41 saves last season … Coming off a dismal season with the Dodgers in 2017, Adrian Gonzalez flourished in his Mets debut Thursday against St. Louis. He went 2-for-3 in the victory with a single, a double and two walks … Mets GM Sandy Alderson believes Michael Conforto could be activated from the DL when first eligible on April 5. Conforto has made a faster than expected recovery from shoulder surgery … Braves catcher Tyler Flowers exited Thursday’s game with left oblique discomfort. Kurt Suzuki will fill in behind the plate if Flowers lands on the disabled list, which seems likely.