Baseball Begins In The Shadow Of March Madness
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, let's take a break from all the March Madness in college basketball for a few minutes and talk about the beginning of the long and winding Major League Baseball season. Yesterday was opening day for several teams. We thought we'd tick off a couple of notable games and see if the very early results match up to preseason predictions. Or maybe they won't. Here to give us some guidance NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David. And I will offer this caveat. Any comments I make, good or bad, are subject to change due to the remaining 161 games on the regular season schedule.
GREENE: That's a pretty serious caveat. I hear people turning off their radios already.
GREENE: Let's start here in the nation's capital where all the expectations for the Washington Nationals. Last year, a devastating exit in the playoffs. The expectations are back and they didn't disappoint in their opener.
GOLDMAN: No, they beat the Miami Marlins two to nothing. Of course, you and I can beat the Miami Marlins two to nothing.
GOLDMAN: But they did it yesterday the way they're supposed to with their two young stars leading the way. Last year's National League Rookie of the Year 20-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper hit two homeruns. Twenty-four-year-old pitching ace Stephen Strasberg retired 19 straight Miami batters and he got the win. Now, if you remember, Strasberg ended last year in frustration after the team limited his pitch count because he was coming off elbow surgery.
He's no longer limited. He leads a fantastic young pitching rotation. The Nats have it all and they're supposed to do great things this season, David, and certainly manager Davey Johnson isn't tamping down expectations. He has proclaimed this season's slogan as: World Series or Bust.
GREENE: Wow. Those are high expectations. Yeah. Well, a team that you and I probably shouldn't go in the field against - the New York Yankees. But there are some questions about whether this might be a down season for the ol' Bronx Bombers.
GOLDMAN: I think we could go against them too.
GOLDMAN: But I will tell you, I saw New York's great second baseman Robinson Cano at the recent World Baseball Classic. He had just led his native Dominican Republic to the title. He won the MVP award. He was so happy. And if yesterday is any indication, he's not going to be happy like that much this season.
The Yanks lost at home to bitter rival Boston. New York is a MASH Unit, David. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, they're all starting the season on the disabled list. Now, by contrast, the Red Sox looked fresh and youthful and ready to wipe away the memories of a horrid last season. Among the new faces, 22-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. who energized the team with his play in his Major League regular season debut. You will be hearing more about him.
I will tell you what, though, these two teams have ruled the American League East in recent years but the others in that division - Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Toronto - they could very well be the ones fighting it out this season for the division crown.
GREENE: Wow. And not Boston and New York.
GREENE: Let's go out west. The L.A. Dodgers new ownership in spending a lot of money. How did they look against the World Series Champions San Francisco Giants?
GOLDMAN: Really good. They won four to nothing. Clayton Kershaw considered the best left-handed starter in baseball. He dominated those World Series Champs striking out seven. Gave up only four hits. And he pitched a full nine innings and he hit his first Major League career homerun in the eighth inning and that proved to be the winning hit.
But the San Francisco Giants, David, I will invoke that 161 games still to play clause. The Giants are bringing back almost their entire World Series-winning lineup. They've got great pitching, the best catcher in the game in Buster Posey, winners of two of the last three World Series titles. I'm not going to count them out yet.
GREENE: And of course, another California team with, I mean, sizzling offense - the L.A. Angels.
GOLDMAN: Not sizzling yet. The big three bats - Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, the new addition, the $125 million man Josh Hamilton - went a combined one for 14. But the Angels still won three to one. They beat a Cincinnati Reds team that's projected to go far in the postseason. So more good things in southern California, possibly.
GREENE: All right. That big caveat to this conversation may mean nothing because it was just opening day but at least we had it. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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GREENE: This is NPR News.
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