Overreacting to Opening Day: The Cubs won’t repeat and the Yankees won’t contend
Drawing conclusions from a small sample size at any time during the baseball season is a hazardous endeavor, and it's even more foolhardy to do so based on a single day of baseball. Nonetheless, the arrival of Opening Day after five months of buildup—hot stove chatter, big trades, key free agent signings, analysis and finally, predictions galore—can lead anyone to blow just about anything that happens out of proportion. After watching the first set of games on Sunday and Monday, I've done just that, overreacting to events with a careful blend of confirmation bias (of course my preconceptions are correct!) and fatalism (hey, I'm never going to be right!). Don't try this at home, kids!
The Cubs aren't going to repeat as champions!!!
It took 108 years for the Cubs to follow up their 1908 World Series win, but you may have heard somewhere that the roster that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have constructed—with years of club control over their young nucleus and only minor touch-ups needed to their lineup, rotation and bullpen—set them up well to become the first NL team since the 1975–76 Reds to repeat as champions. Might as well cancel that parade, and get the deposit back on those floats. On Sunday night against the Cardinals, former Cub Dexter Fowler—of course, the one that got away—scored the game's first run, then a shaky Pedro Strop (remember, no more Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen) served up a two-run homer to Randal Grichuk in the eighth. Despite a game-tying three-run homer by Wilson Contreras in the ninth, World Series Game 7 hero Mike Montgomery showed that his magic had run out by giving up two hits and two walks in the bottom of the ninth, capped by Grichuk's walkoff single. Wait until 2124, Cubs fans.
Madison Bumgarner is going to win the Cy Young Award!!! And set a home run record for pitchers!!!
Bumgarner has already built his legend in the postseason, and while he's delivered a 2.99 regular season ERA while topping 190 strikeouts six times and making four All-Star teams, the 27-year-old lefty has never put together a season that gripped Cy Young voters. In fact, he's never finished higher than fourth place in the voting (2014 and ‘16). Coming off a season in which he set career bests in ERA (2.74) and strikeouts (251), he showed that he was ready to win some hardware (as I’ve predicted) by delivering 5 1/3 perfect innings before the Diamondbacks got their first hit. That quickly unraveled into a three-run inning that tied the score, but Bumgarner, who had already hit his 15th career home run in the fifth inning—off Zack Greinke no less—broke the tie with another homer in the seventh, making him the first pitcher ever to go deep twice on Opening Day and giving him a jump on Wes Ferrell's single-season home run record for a pitcher (nine in 1931).
The Yankees don't have the pitching to contend!!!
While the arrivals of youngsters Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge have created plenty of excitement about the Yankees' future, this team doesn’t look like one that will exceed .500 by a significant margin because their rotation is a collection of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia the only starters who prevented runs at a better-than-average clip last year, and Tanaka couldn't locate his fastball on Sunday. He fell behind 10 of the 18 batters he faced, and yielded seven runs to Tampa Bay before departing with two outs in the third inning of what became a 7–3 loss. In the afterlife, the Boss is no doubt muttering about spitting the bit.
Bryce Harper, MVP!!!
As he did in 2015, when he launched a career-high 42 homers en route to the NL MVP award, the Nationals' young slugger got his season off on the right foot by taking the Marlins' Edinson Volquez over the wall in the sixth inning of Monday's opener. Wait, you're telling me that Harper also homered on Opening Day in 2013 (twice) and 2016? Never mind…