MLB opening weekend observations: 10 things we learned

Baseball is back, and the Yankees, Tigers, Pirates and Brewers all have a perfect season in their sights, while the sky appears to be falling for the winless Astros, Mets, Marlins and White Sox.

Surely, after only a few games, we’re prone to some overreactions. But the first series of the year did provide some insight into players and teams around the league.

Here are 10 things we learned after the first weekend of games.

1. Exhale, Los Angeles: Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be fine 

Dodgers coaches felt confident that Yamamoto’s dreadful debut was nothing more than a blip. After cleaning up his delivery over the past week, the $325 million man toed the rubber at Dodger Stadium for the first time and quelled any concerns about his ability to pitch in the majors. 

In Korea, Yamamoto lacked the pinpoint command that had made him the most desired free-agent pitcher on the market. Back in L.A, he delivered the type of performance the Dodgers envisioned when they made him the highest-paid pitcher in the sport. After generating five whiffs on 43 pitches in the first inning in his first start in Korea, he needed only 15 pitches to get five swings and misses in the first inning Saturday in his stateside debut, striking out the side in the process. 

Yamamoto bounced back from a five-run, one-inning outing by allowing just two baserunners and striking out five over five scoreless innings against the Cardinals. He said he felt calm. He was able to command his fastball, which got eight called strikes, and miss bats with his splitter and curveball, which got four whiffs apiece. If not for a 35-minute rain delay, he could have gone longer. After a concerning start, it was a necessary step in the right direction. 

[RELATED: MLB Power Rankings: Yankees or Orioles best team in American League?]

2. The Pirates‘ rookie starters could change things in Pittsburgh 

Mitch Keller was a bright spot last season among a group of otherwise ordinary Pittsburgh starting pitchers, making his first All-Star team while pitching for a Pirates rotation that ranked in the bottom 10 in baseball in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. This year could be different. 

We know top prospect Paul Skenes is coming soon, but he’s not the only potential season-altering young arm to watch. Jared Jones, the Pirates’ No. 2 pitching prospect, cracked the rotation out of spring and struck out 10 batters in his big-league debut on Saturday. That same day, Skenes struck out five in three scoreless innings at Triple-A.  

Highlights from Pirates’ win Saturday vs. Marlins

We saw last year that the Pirates’ blistering start — they won 20 of their first 28 games — wasn’t sustainable. But with Jones and (eventually) Skenes, it’s much easier to envision some staying power after their four-game sweep of the Marlins to start the year. 

3. The post-Kim Ng era in Miami is off to a rocky start 

Last year, the Marlins reached the postseason for the first time in a full season since 2003. Luis Arráez was on .400 watch for much of the year. Top prospect Eury Pérez looked the part for a flourishing young rotation. Skip Schumaker, in his first season at the helm, was named Manager of the Year. The Marlins went a ridiculous 33-14 in one-run games, getting by on pitching and vibes. 

Then things took an abrupt turn. 

They got swept out of the playoffs, and two weeks later, the person responsible for putting the team together announced her stunning departure. Ng, the first woman to serve as a Major League Baseball general manager, declined her mutual option and said she wasn’t aligned with the Marlins’ vision of a reshaped baseball operations department. Reports emerged that the Marlins wanted to hire a president of baseball operations above her. 

Her stunning exit was followed by a dormant offseason and an inauspicious start to 2024. The Marlins dropped two extra-inning games and its only one-run game this weekend in a four-game sweep by the Pirates. With a number of their top arms on the shelf, a Marlins team that went 84-78 last year despite getting outscored by 57 runs on the season might have some trouble sustaining that success. 

4. Meanwhile, the vibes are back in San Francisco 

The Giants split their season-opening series with San Diego, but there is once again life in the Bay. After a stunning 107-win season in 2021, the last two years in San Francisco have been painfully nondescript. There was no identity or enjoyment to Giants baseball. 

That seems destined to change now, thanks to some new additions. We’ve already gotten a beer shower for Jung Hoo Lee, two homers from Matt Chapman (and Michael Conforto, for what it’s worth), five scoreless innings from Jordan Hicks in his move to the rotation, and a sharp 2024 debut for top pitching prospect Kyle Harrison. This is all before reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell has made his first start. 

This is a team worth watching again. 

Michael Conforto cranks grand slam, extending Giants’ lead vs. Padres

5. Juan Soto’s already doing it all in New York 

Speaking of vibe changes, could you have drawn up a more perfect start for Soto in New York? 

On Thursday, he introduced himself to his new team on Opening Day by saving a win with his defense, firing a missile to home plate from right field. On Friday, he put the Yankees ahead in the seventh inning with a bases-loaded walk. On Saturday, he did so again, this time on a solo shot. And on Sunday, he finished off a four-game sweep of the Astros with a go-ahead ninth-inning single off Josh Hader

He knocked in runs in every game and finished his first series with nine hits, completely altering the look of a New York offense that consistently struggled to produce last season. Pitching injuries or not, with Soto in the lineup, the Yankees look like contenders again. 

[RELATED: Juan Soto, Astros slayer: Three takeaways from Yankees’ season-opening sweep]

6. Houston bullpen, do we have a problem?

The Astros signed the best closer on the market, creating arguably the most feared late-inning trio in the game … only to watch a different reliever — including all three of those high-leverage arms — get saddled with a loss in each of their first four games of the 2024 season. 

On Thursday, former closer Ryan Pressly served up two hits, a walk and a go-ahead sac fly to suffer defeat. On Friday, Cristian Javier’s six scoreless innings were for naught as a collection of bullpen arms surrendered seven runs in the final three innings. On Saturday, the Astros handed a two-run lead to Bryan Abreu, who served up the game-tying and go-ahead home runs — his first time ever allowing multiple home runs in a game. It was Hader’s turn on Sunday, as the Astros’ new shutdown closer surrendered the game-winning hit to Soto. 

It’s too early to panic. Pressly, Abreu and Hader should make most seventh-inning leads secure. But the issues with the innings prior might not be so easy to solve. The Astros let a number of their most essential relievers go from last year’s group, including Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek and Hector Neris. They’re also without Kendall Graveman. If they want to repeat as division champs, they’ll have to find a way to patch those holes.  

Juan Soto crushes first home run for Yankees as Astros fall behind

7. Everyone’s favorite dark-horse Cy Young contender looks the part  

Yes, it’s just one game. And, yes, it was against the White Sox. But Tarik Skubal looked like one of the best pitchers in the sport while striking out six in six scoreless innings to begin the year, starting the season off right for the upstart 3-0 Tigers.

Let’s remember that this past September, Skubal posted a 0.90 ERA with 43 strikeouts and four walks in 30 innings. He has the stuff to end up in the Cy Young conversation. Just look at this Statcast page. 

8. It took three innings to get the full (wonderful, agonizing) Royce Lewis experience 

Since debuting in 2022, Lewis is averaging one home run roughly every four games. He has a career .933 OPS, hitting 54% better than league average. When he’s on the field, he produces at a superstar level. 

But, gosh, the dude can’t catch a break. 

He missed the start of the 2022 season rehabbing from a torn ACL, then homered twice in 12 games in his debut season before tearing his ACL again. He returned last year and hit 15 homers — including four grand slams — in 58 games, then added four more dingers in six postseason games. Finally, it seemed he had some momentum. 

This year, he picked up where he left off, homering in his first at-bat of the year off fellow young standout Cole Ragans … only to leave the game two innings later with a severe quad strain that could keep him out for months. It doesn’t seem fair, but the good-natured 24-year-old infielder has somehow managed to maintain a positive attitude, as evidenced by an incredible line he delivered after the latest injury: “Maybe I’m too electric for my own good.” 

Verlander breaks down his Power Rankings, 1-10

9. After Boston’s lackluster offseason, its maligned rotation is striking optimism

It was a bummer of a winter for Red Sox fans, who were expecting their team to go “full throttle” toward contention and instead did basically nothing to better their chances in one of the toughest divisions in the sport. A rotation that ranked 22nd in the majors in ERA last year added only Lucas Giolito, who needed season-ending elbow surgery before ever throwing his first pitch in Boston. 

And yet, after one weekend, that rotation has a 1.64 ERA. Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford and Garrett Whitlock all went at least five innings while allowing two or fewer runs. It may not be sustainable — all of the aforementioned starters had ERAs that hovered over 4.00 last year — but it’s an encouraging start from an oft-criticized group. 

10. It’s not all smiles on opening weekend 

You can take Rhys Hoskins out of the NL East, but you can’t … well, you know. The former Phillie, now on the Brewers, was in the middle of a brouhaha against a Mets foe he knows well. Words were exchanged and benches cleared Friday after Jeff McNeil took exception to a hard slide from Hoskins at second base. 

It did not end there. 

A day later, Mets reliever Yohan Ramírez threw behind Hoskins and received a three-game suspension for his actions, which he appealed. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza also received a one-game suspension as a result. The Brewers swept the series, leaving Mendoza with more suspensions than wins through one weekend in his new role. 

That was not Saturday’s only chippy contest. 

Blue Jays pitcher Génesis Cabrera also sparked a benches-clearing incident after shoving Rays infielder José Caballero on a bizarre play at third base. Caballero was tagged out but didn’t slide, continuing past the bag where he bumped lightly into Cabrera. The two shared some words before the shove. Cabrera received a three-game suspension, which he appealed.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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