Welcome to the first edition of The Opener, where you get a fresh, up-to-date column every weekday morning to start your day with one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
At a time when fewer balls are being put into play than ever before, Major League Baseball’s oldest franchise is conducting a through and through modern baseball experiment: How important is defense, really?
For the past two offseasons, the Cincinnati Reds have stepped up their offensive by becoming less and less concerned about their field. They signed Nick Castellanos, one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, and third baseman Mike Moustakas to play second base because they are both productive players. They thought they could limit the risk of Moustaka’s lack of reach due to all of their defensive shifts, and that Castellanos’ poor field game wouldn’t matter if the Reds were playing their home games at the Great American Ballpark, which has some of the smallest dimensions in the game. Since it opened in 2003, it has scored more home runs than any other major ballpark.
Cincinnati made the postseason in 2020, the first year of its big experiment, and in the offseason the Reds left shortstop Freddy Galvis at the free agency and failed to add one to replace him. Instead, they moved third baseman Eugenio Suárez to short, the premium infield defensive position he hasn’t played since 2015. Who cares if they play the games? He rakes! Moustakas is back in third place and rookie Jonathan India, Cincinnati’s 2018 first-round draft pick, starts in second place.
You can probably see where this is going. In Thursday’s opener against the Cardinals, which St. Louis won 11: 7, Suárez missed his first two chances on the field and cost the Reds at least a few runs. The Cardinals were leading 1-0 in the first inning and the bases were loaded with an out when Yadier Molina ricocheted a routine double-play ball to Suarez’s right. The shortstop grabbed the backhand and sniffed it so Molina could reach and two runners could score a goal. Then, in the next seat, Dylan Carlson tore a homer off the foul bar on the right with three runs.
Albert Cesare / USA Today Network
In the next inning, Paul Goldschmidt put an infield single on shortstop and was second due to Suárez ‘throwing error. Nolan Arenado sent him home – but the run would almost certainly not have scored a goal without the mistake, as Goldschmidt would have stayed on first base. The next batsman, Paul DeJong, landed in a double game at the end of the inning.
At one point the Cardinals were leading 11-3 but the Reds broke off on top and made it a ball game because they can score. Both Castellanos and Suarez met. Castellanos went 3-5 and Jesse Winker, another poor defensive outfielder, went 2-4. India, who were on second base because the Reds were comfortable playing Suarez at shortstop, debuted in the big league two hits.
Cincinnati’s no-glove experiment failed on opening day, but it’s far too early to say if it’s worth ditching it. If nothing else, it is definitely worth following all season long.
The Yankees’ offensive stalled in their 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays in extra innings, but Gary Sánchez’s first game went as well as they’d hoped.
Toronto’s ace – and perhaps just the dependable starter – Hyun Jin Ryu made most New York hitters look uncomfortable with his effective fastball exchange combo, biting cutter, and impeccable command. The best example of this was in the first inning when Ryu Aaron Judge was sniffing a 91-mile indoor heater because Judge, expecting off-speed, was swinging late on a pitch he normally squashes.
Sánchez’s struggles last season were partly due to poor timing and poor pitch detection. He couldn’t catch fastballs, but was too early on off-speed fields; He let hitable spots go by for so-called strikes, but struck not to break balls near the zone. On Thursday, Sánchez jumped on a fastball in first place against Ryu, a pitcher who is thriving on cheating, and threw him 407 feet into the left field seats.
Later, Sánchez hit an infield single on the seventh to shortstop and led off with a walk from ninth place. He looked good on defense too, easily blocking balls in the dirt, getting good seats and delivering a seed to the second base to catch Randal Grichuk stealing. Gerrit Cole made a bad pitch – a hanging slider that Teoscar Hernández tore off in the sixth for a game-winning home run – but otherwise, after her rocky first year as a battery mate last season, he was at the rhythm of Sánchez.
• Miguel Cabrera hit the first home run of 2021 because of course he did. It was his 488th career homer, and it came in a Detroit blizzard against reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. But the best part was that Miggy slipped into the second base because he couldn’t see the ball go over the fence due to the blizzard. The almost 38-year-old Cabrera didn’t want him to get a triple. He was completely content with staying in second place with a double until he realized it was gone. The Tigers defeated Cleveland, 3-2.
• Talking about crazy homers, Cody Bellinger hit a homer with two runs who was actually a single with one run and one out. In the third inning of the Dodgers 8-5 defeat by the Rockies at Coors Field, Bellinger hit a fly ball to the left, which bounced out of Raimel Tapia’s glove and went over the fence. Justin Turner, who started the game on first base, had finished second thinking Tapia had made the game and posted it back to first place. In the confusion, he ran past Bellinger, who was being called because he was crossing Turner in the base path.
• Pablo Sandoval cracked a tight homer from Phillies ace Aaron Nola to end the game 2-2 with two outs in the seventh inning. The Braves had a chance to move up in tenth place but Roman Quinn shot Ozzie Albies down and tried to score with a sacrificial fly to end the frame. Jean Segura sent Bryce Harper home to leave him. Philadelphia’s bullpen survived its first test.
• The move to get Mike Trout back into the playoffs started with a bang. With the Angels behind the White Sox 3-2 at the end of eighth place, Trout tore a single into left field to drive David Fletcher home and tie the game. Later in the inning, Albert Pujols’ bouncing grounder on the third baseline scored Shohei Ohtani to give Los Angeles the lead. The newly acquired seamstress Raisel Iglesias pulled out of Chicago on the next frame looking dirty doing the same. Is this the year we can finally believe in the angels?