10 Bold Predictions for MLB Opening Week
With a new baseball season quickly drawing near, prognosticators around the country have pulled out their crystal balls and have begun to make their predictions, both for individual players and the teams on which they play.
The problem is that predicting anything over the course of a 162-game season with any degree of accuracy, is nearly impossible, with injuries, trades and the wrath of the baseball gods often getting in the way of even the most informed and educated predictions.
Narrowing our scope down to MLB's opening week of action makes the task a bit less daunting.
From seasoned veterans to youngsters that are just getting their careers underway, the first week of the regular season will be filled with several prominent storylines that will continue throughout the regular season.
That said, here are 10 bold predictions for baseball's opening week.
Philadelphia's Spring Struggles Will Continue
Nothing has gone right for the Phillies this spring.
Cole Hamels is expected to miss at least his first start of the season as he works his way back from shoulder tendinitis, while Jimmy Rollins has become somewhat of a distraction and, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, fallen out of favor with some of the team's decision makers.
You can pick whatever less-than-flattering adjective you like to describe the team's pitching staff and lineup, both of which have been hugely ineffective and disappointing this spring. The core of the team's lineup—Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley—have looked especially inept and are showing their age.
That doesn't bode well for a team that starts the season with six straight road games, first against the Rangers in Texas, where they'll be swept, followed by three games against the Cubs in Chicago, where they'll muster one win before heading home.
We've been saying for years that Philadelphia's window of opportunity, as presently constituted, was closing quickly. After the first week of the season, that window will have slammed shut—and it will take nothing short of a miracle to force it back open.
Mike Moustakas Will Get off to a Blazing Start
If you're looking for a spring training MVP, look no further than Kansas City, where third baseman Mike Moustakas has done nothing but produce.
He spent the winter working with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol, has widened his stance in the box and given up on the premise that he's purely a pull hitter—and the results have been impressive, as Moustakas is hitting .486 with eight extra-base hits (four home runs) and a 1.501 OPS.
Granted, you can't read too much into spring training statistics, but Moustakas looks like a completely different player at the plate, one that has the confidence and swagger needed to succeed.
Since making his MLB debut in 2011, Moustakas' Achilles' heel has been left-handed pitching. Luckily for him, the Royals face only one southpaw—Chicago's Chris Sale—over their first six games of the season.
That will result in some big numbers for the oft-maligned third baseman to start the season.
A No-Hitter Will Be Thrown
It's been 14 years since Hideo Nomo, making his first career start for the Boston Red Sox, no-hit the Baltimore Orioles on April 4, 2001 in the second game of the season for both teams.
Since then, 33 no-hitters (and six perfect games) have been thrown, but none have come within baseball's opening week. Ubaldo Jimenez has come the closest to ending the drought, tossing a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves while with the Colorado Rockies on April 17, 2010.
To say that we're due for an opening week no-no would be an understatement.
Houston Will Go Without a Win
The future is bright in Houston, where the farm system is stocked with high-upside talent thanks to years of ineptitude and shrewd acquisitions by GM Jeff Luhnow.
But that talent isn't ready for prime time yet, and the Astros' opening week roster is full of holes that their opening week opponents, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels, will be able to exploit.
Houston doesn't have the offense needed to hang with either of those high-powered offenses, and the Astros simply don't have a talented enough pitching staff to keep them in check. That's a recipe for an opening week disaster.
While teams don't necessarily have to be good—just lucky—to pick up a win or two against superior competition, there aren't enough four-leaf clovers and rabbit's feet in Houston for the Astros to walk into the season's second week with anything other than a zero in the win column.
Jose Fernandez Will Shut Out the Colorado Rockies on Opening Day
Things couldn't have gone much better for Jose Fernandez in 2013, with the 21-year-old taking home the NL Rookie of the Year Award, finishing third in the race for the NL Cy Young Award and establishing himself as one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
One thing the über-talented youngster wasn't able to do, however, was shut out the opposition.
That will change on Opening Day when he toes the rubber against the high-powered Colorado Rockies offense at Marlins Park, one of the more pitcher-friendly venues in the game.
Fernandez was Bob Gibson-esque at home last season, going undefeated in 13 starts (9-0) with a minuscule 1.18 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Even with the likes of Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Troy Tulowitzki powering the Colorado attack, the Rockies will be unable to put a run on the board.
Derek Jeter's Farewell Tour Will Begin with a Bang
Derek Jeter enters the final season of his career looking for redemption after an injury-plagued, ineffective 2013 that saw him hit .190 in only 17 games.
The Yankees open the season against Scott Feldman and the Houston Astros, a pitcher that Jeter has historically hit well over the course of his career (.300/.364/.600 with two home runs).
We'll be able to make that three home runs after Opening Day, as the Yankees captain will take Feldman deep, setting the tone for what will be a remarkable finish to a legendary career.
An Upton Brother Will Get Off to a Sizzling Start
A year ago, Justin Upton began his career as a member of the Atlanta Braves with a torrid opening week performance, hitting .318 with six extra-base hits (five home runs), seven RBI and a 1.405 OPS.
This time around it will be his older brother, B.J., that puts up big numbers for the Braves to begin the regular season.
The elder Upton spent the winter refining his swing and we've seen the results this spring, with the 29-year-old center fielder hitting .297 with a pair of doubles.
Is he ever going to live up to the expectations that were put upon him as a 19-year-old with the Tampa Bay Rays a decade ago? Probably not. But he still has a chance to live up to the expectations that came with the five-year, $75.25 million deal he signed with Atlanta before the 2013 season.
While he may not go deep quite as frequently as his brother did, B.J. will find the alleys and gaps in the outfields of the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals, using his speed to pick up multiple extra-base hits over the first week of the season.
Billy Hamilton Will Turn His Doubters into Believers
Blessed with the kind of world-class speed that makes Olympic sprinters envious, Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton heads into his first full major league season with huge expectations hanging over his head.
Not only is the converted shortstop expected to provide quality defense in center field, but he's expected to effectively replace one of baseball's best on-base machines, Shin-Soo Choo, as the table-setter for a potent Cincinnati lineup.
Experts around the game, like ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), have questioned whether Hamilton has the strength—and ability—to adjust to how major league pitchers will attack him this season:
His issue is that pitchers have begun crowding him on the inner half because his wrists aren't strong enough to handle hard stuff in on his hands; you need a certain degree of hand/wrist strength to hit what major league pitchers are throwing, especially to that area of the zone.
He's held his own this spring, hitting .303 and shown improved plate discipline, with more walks (six) than strikeouts (four), leading to a .410 on-base percentage.
Hamilton will continue to swing a hot bat over the season's first week against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets, getting on base with regularity and causing havoc with his legs, even with the best catcher in baseball, the Cardinals Yadier Molina, behind the dish trying to shut him down.
Ubaldo Jimenez Will Disappoint in His Baltimore Debut
Ubaldo Jimenez has been anything but consistent over his first two starts of the spring for Baltimore.
After shutting Philadelphia out over two innings in his spring debut on March 7, the Phillies knocked him around for four earned runs five days later—a game in which he issued three walks, an ode to his control problems of the past.
Jimenez's first regular-season start will come against the defending World Champions, the Boston Red Sox, a team that crushed him in his lone appearance against them a year ago while a member of the Cleveland Indians.
He was able to record only five outs in his lone outing against Boston last season before being pulled, walking five and surrendering seven earned runs over 1.2 innings of work.
Given his performance this spring, and with the regular season on the horizon, Jimenez and the Orioles are in trouble when Boston comes to town to get things going.
Seattle Will Get Out to an Early Lead in the AL West
For the second spring in a row, Seattle's offense has looked like one of baseball's best, with the Mariners leading all teams with 148 runs over 21 Cactus League games.
Unlike 2013, however, the Mariners will be able to maintain that level of play once the regular season begins, with games against division rivals Los Angeles and Oakland.
While they'll face a pair of quality veterans to start the season against the Angels in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Mariners will find smoother sailing against Hector Santiago to close out the series—and then head to Oakland for four games against a team that has seen it's rotation decimated by injuries.
Look for the Mariners to head into the season's second week with a 5-2 record—good enough for a small lead in the division.