They say that the Major League Baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. They play 162 games, and even the best team in the league can lose to the worst team on any given day. That said, the Orioles are on pace to go undefeated right now. So, it's time to overreact and discuss a few things we "learned" in yesterday's 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tillman is the ace the O's need
It has been discussed ad nauseam; is Chris Tillman a true ace? Will the Orioles be able to get to that next level without a real number one? It's official, Tillman is an ace. Not that his most recent outing really changed anything.
On the first day of the regular season Tilly pitched better than the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Jeff Samardzija, Jered Weaver and Cole Hamels; all guys who are regularly referred to as some of the best in the game. I know, Tampa may have one of the worst offenses in all of baseball, but the fact remains that he allowed only one run over 6.2 innings to an MLB lineup and that one run came against the best hitter in said lineup. Aces do that, no matter who they face.
That plate blocking rule is still confusing
Two times yesterday this rule came under some scrutiny, and both times the outcome favored the O's.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Travis Snider threw out James Loney trying to score on a single. Caleb Joseph caught the throw home, tagged Loney, he was called out, and on with the game we went. However, the call was reviewed to see if Joseph was blocking the plate illegally. It was ruled that everything was done within the rules, but I will be honest, I still have absolutely no idea what constitutes "legal" vs. "illegal" in that situation.
I understand that the rule basically says that there should not be any contact unless there absolutely has to be. The catcher cannot block the plate without the ball. And the runner cannot go out of his way to hit the catcher. But to avoid that situation what is a catcher to do in the scenario that presented itself later in the game?
In the top of the eighth inning, Steve Pearce attempted to score on a single by Snider. The ball was thrown in and beat Pearce to the plate by about 30 feet. Pearce slowed his sprint to a jog and then, at the last moment, slid between catcher Rene Rivera's legs. He was called out in the moment, but upon review was determined to be safe. With these rules in place to avoid contact, should the player be out as long as the catcher has complete control of the ball? Should there be an unspoken agreement amongst players? If not, then why even have the rule at all? All it seems to do is lead to unnecessary replays that lengthen the game, and that is the antithesis of what the MLB wants to do right now.
Joseph continues to be a worthy Wieters stand-in
Apart from a disappointing final month of 2014 with the bat, Caleb Joseph was quite the surprise behind the plate last year. He threw out 40 percent of base stealers and even had a streak of five consecutive games with a home run. But, with the return of Matt Wieters from Tommy John surgery it was known that he would be the backup in 2015, likely catching half the games he did a season ago.
However, Wieters' immediate future now seems to be in doubt and the O's will be relying on Joseph for at least the first month of the season. He showed yesterday that he can handle the role, provided that expectations are tempered to a more traditional catcher's offensive output.
Once again, he flashed his ability to throw out runners, catching John Jaso trying to take second on a curveball in the dirt. And he was also important in catching Steve Souza in a pickle just a few innings later. Add to it his double and run scored, and you have a pretty solid day from your backstop.
The bridge between the starter and Britton may be rockier than last year
Bullpens are the most volatile entities in professional baseball. There is a reason those guys don't start games. They aren't as good, don't have as many pitches and tend to be inconsistent. In both 2012 and 2014, the Orioles had one of the most reliable 'pens in the game. In 2013, they slumped to middle-of-the-road. If Monday is any indication, there may be another slump this year.
Manager Buck Showalter needed to use righties Brad Brach, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter to get four outs. As a trio they allowed a run on four hits and struck out two in that time, which would give them a group WHIP of 3.64 and an ERA of 8.18. Granted, it's a small sample size and will certainly flatten itself out, but it is worrisome
Hunter was pretty bad in the spring, pitching to a 6.52 ERA over 9.2 innings. O'Day struggled late last season with a 7.00 ERA in September and a 13.50 ERA in the postseason. Brach also had issues in September, but got it together for his 2.1 innings of work in October.
It's something that Showalter will have to tinker with. As long as Britton is solid in the ninth, they will find the pieces around him. There may just be some pains in the early going.
Birdland already loves Snider
Wow, we haven't seen a debut like that since Javy Lopez in 2004. On April 4 that year, Lopez went 3-for-4 with a double, home run, three RBI and a runner caught stealing.
On Monday, Snider also went 3-for-4. He had just two RBI, but also had a double and threw a guy out. And he made chunky guys proud with his diving catch in the sixth inning. Sabrematricians rate him as a pretty poor fielder, but you couldn't tell on this day.
With Chris Davis back in the fold, we may not see Snider in the field again for a little while as Pearce should take the bulk of the playing time there. They may take our fielding, but they will never take our Opening Day!
What did YOU learn on Opening Day 2015?