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Opening Week Impressions

   by ASA - 04/04/2008

The 2008 baseball campaign officially kicked off for every major league team this week and the opening series are now in the books. There were some surprising developments both from teams and individuals throughout the big leagues. Here’s some opening-week impressions and what they may mean down the road.

Royals sweep Tigers in Detroit

The offseason acquisition of All-Star third-baseman Miguel Cabrera was supposed to put an already potent lineup into another hemisphere rarely visited. That certainly wasn’t the case in Detroit’s season-opening series against Kansas City, which was widely expected to finish in the AL Central basement. The trio of Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zach Greinke looked like the second coming of the Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in limiting the Tigers to just five runs in the 3-game set.

The Tigers were predicted by many to be a legitimate contender for the World Series crown. They’ll still probably be in the running for a postseason berth come September but Detroit’s pitching staff can’t handle continued poor run support. Cabrera, Gary Sheffield and Curtis Granderson have already suffered injuries so the rest of the lineup will have to pick up the slack.

As for the Royals, it seems like every year one low-payroll team surprises the league with a strong first half only to fade down the stretch. Kansas City, along with the NL’s Nationals, looks like a viable option to take on that role. If KC can continue to get solid pitching from the front end of its rotation and youngsters Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Mark Teahen progress as hoped, the Royals could keep this surprisingly strong start going.

San Francisco lineup lacking pop

The Giants, if the opening series is any indication, look like a solid under play for the remainder of the season. A look at their lineup will bring chills to no starting pitcher as it is filled with past-their-prime vets. San Francisco has only one legit threat to hit 20 home runs (Aaron Rowand) and its top six batters average 33.8 years of age. After that comes the middle infield duo of Jose Castillo and Brian Bocock (33 career combined homers) and the pitching spot.

The strength of the San Francisco team is in the pitching staff. The Giants limited the Dodgers to just 3.3 runs per game in the opening series and could continue that trend. The foursome of Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Noah Lowry has the potential to at the very least keep the Giants competitive. The NL West is hardly known for its overall offensive prowess so look for many low-scoring affairs when the Giants take on division rivals.

Blown saves dominate opening week

Reliable bullpens seem to be harder and harder to come by in recent years and are often overlooked when placing bets. Never was that more evident than on opening day when there were a record eight blown saves. Oakland’s Huston Street, Boston’s Kyle Snyder, Washington’s Jon Rauch, Cleveland’s Rafael Perez, Detroit’s Jason Grilli, Kansas City’s Brett Tomko, Milwaukee’s Eric Gagne and Pittsburgh’s Peter Moylan all cost or potentially cost their teams wins. Throw in blown saves from usually reliable closers Trevor Hoffman and J.J. Putz, along with back-to-back shaky outings from Chicago’s Kerry Wood, and it looks like bullpen performance will be a determining factor this year.

Reliance on young pitchers

Whether it is by injury or by choice, numerous preseason contenders are placing a lot of pressure on young pitchers. The Yankees are the most obvious example as they need young starters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy along with reliever Joba Chamberlain to pitch to their potential in their first full seasons.

Injuries to Boston’s Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett have put additional pressure on youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Both Lester and Buchholz have shown flashes of being great hurlers but have just 14 combined career starts between them.

Finally, the Angels have been hit the hardest by injuries as No. 1 and No. 2 starters Jon Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, respectively, are both out for the foreseeable future. That leaves Jon Garland as the lone veteran in the starting staff with Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana needed to step up.

Each of these three teams has the offensive firepower to keep them in the game and they’ll more than likely need those extra runs. These young starters may pitch well in the first couple of months and possible through the summer but once those innings start piling up the runs may start piling up as well.

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