There are few events in baseball more exciting than Opening Day. Or Opening Night. Er … let’s just go directly to some observations from the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory over the Marlins, ushering in Marlins Park in disappointing fashion for the home crowd onlookers.
Kyle Lohse was brilliant, of course, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and reminding everyone of Bob Feller's Opening Day no-hitter. Lohse said after the game that the no-hitter "probably did cross my mind after the fifth inning." He doesn’t throw hard, keeping hitters off-balance with a little slider and a changeup that he kept at the knees at night. Lohse had the best season of his career in 2011, although there was some luck built into it: He allowed a .269 average on balls in play, well below his career mark of .302. There’s nothing in the numbers that suggests he was doing something different -- his ground-ball rate matched his career and his line-drive rate was actually 1.1 percent higher than his career mark. Everyone expects some regression in 2012, but his first start was more 2011. No walks on the night and through six he threw a first-pitch strike to 13 of the 18 batters he faced. Hitters should know Lohse will come right after them when the bases are empty. He walked only 10 hitters last season in 469 plate appearances with nobody on; with runners, he walked 32 in 306 plate appearances.
Josh Johnson allowed 10 hits for only the second time in his career. While a few of the hits were bleeders and bloopers, he did leave some pitches over the middle of the plate. We can’t read too much into the start other than that he threw 91 pitches, avoided the blister issue that popped up in spring training and has his first start under his belt. Undoubtedly, he was pumped up pitching the first game in the club’s new park in his first start since last May. There's no reason not to expect better results moving forward.
There was miscommunication in the early innings between Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes as both pulled up on Carlos Beltran’s little trickler, allowing the ball to roll into left field. In the sixth inning with two runners on and Lohse up in a bunt situation, Johnson made sure to step off the mound and talk with Ramirez. That stuff will sort itself out, but the Marlins’ defense is an issue to keep an eye on. The Cardinals legged out two doubles to Logan Morrison in left field on balls that weren’t really even in the gaps. As Orel Hershiser said during the broadcast, "A lot of scouts are writing notes down about the arm of Logan Morrison." It doesn’t help that Morrison is still battling a sore knee that kept him out most of spring training, but he was a liability out there in 2011 even when healthy. According to the defensive runs saved metric, Morrison was 26 runs worse than the average left fielder -- the worst mark in the majors (only Raul Ibanez was in the same vicinity) and a whopping 46 runs worse than Brett Gardner’s majors-leading 23 DRS. There is a lot of ground to cover in deep left-center and center in the new park. In Emilio Bonifacio, the Marlins have an inexperienced center fielder (only 29 games started there in his career entering the season). Chris Coghlan, their other center fielder, rated minus-13 runs in 2011, the worst figure in the majors.
Giancarlo Stanton found out about those center-field dimensions, hitting two deep balls out there that were caught, a towering fly to the warning track in the fifth inning and a deep fly to right-center in the seventh that Jon Jay made a nice running catch on. It’s obviously too early to report on how the park will play, and it might play differently when the roof is open versus closed.
For a while, Lohse had us thinking about the best Opening Day starts. Via Baseball-Reference.com, here are the best Game 1 starts since 1918:
Walter Johnson, Senators, 1926: 111 (15 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K)
Lon Warneke, Cubs, 1934: 96 (9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K)
Bob Veale, Pirates, 1965: 95 (10 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K)
Mel Harder, Indians, 1935: 95 (14 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K)
Johnny Vander Meer, Reds, 1943: 91 (11 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 3 K)
Six pitchers scored a 90: Bob Feller twice (including his 1940 no-hitter in which he walked five and struck out eight), Tom Glavine, Bob Gibson, Clint Brown and Johnson again with a 13-inning effort in 1919. The best recent effort was Felix Hernandez striking out 12 in eight shutout innings in 2007. Camilo Pascual holds the Opening Day record with 15 strikeouts for the Twins in 1960. Randy Johnson twice fanned 14 for the Mariners.
Opening Night down. Opening Day up next. Good times have arrived.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.