Opening Day Brings Equal Measures Hope, Moderation

Marlins Fall 2-1 To Braves in Flummoxing Loss

Opening Day- second only to our most hallowed and cherished SuperBowl Sunday in terms unofficial holidays in this great land.  A day when patriotism and optimism abounds, and sweet memories of past glories mix up with future dreams of even further heights of greatness.  Everyone could be a winner, nothing is written.  A few weeks from now, the country will settle into their standard routine, whether that includes just watching their own team occasionally checking box scores on their phone, or perhaps even ignoring baseball entirely.  But yesterday, and really even for the entire week, people will find any game, any at bat engaging captivating.  Baseball is truly back.

For the Marlins, sadly it could not be a win, as they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Braves in a manner that could only be described as flummoxing.  Well, I’m sure there are other words, but so seldom do you get to use flummox these days.  The Marlins outhit the Braves 8-6.  They had the same number of extra base hits, they left less men on base( 4 to 6), and they hit significantly better with runners in scoring position (.500 vs .166).  Both bullpens were flawless, and both starters turned in a quality start.  But the Marlins still lost, and as the game went on, the immediate reaction was essentially to ask how?

And the answer, for the most part, is that is just what happens sometimes in baseball.  The world champion San Francisco Giants did this 74 times last year.  Sticking with fun facts from last season, last year’s Marlins were 35-29 in one run games- a winning percentage of .546.  Want to know a team that was nearly 100 percentage points better then? They’re the only other team mentioned in this paragraph- the world champion Giants and their .450% in 40 such contests that came down to a single run.  Crazy things can happen everyday in baseball.  You needn’t look back any farther than a first inning that saw a rain delay in a retractable roof stadium built to eliminate rain delays to find evidence of that. So, no need to passionately pursue every fan’s inalienable right to overreact fantastically after one loss.  Allow me to issue that advice by admitting it took me an hour of steaming, and half of a movie, to calm down.

Now, that advice on overreaction cuts both ways by the way, for there were plenty of positives.  Half of last night’s hits were from the club’s new additions.  Henderson Alvarez was largely stellar, even delivering the sole extra base hit of the day.  The revamped defense committed not a single error, always nice to see.  But ultimately the Marlins did lose.  Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton went a pedestrian 1-4, with two strikeouts- one of them a rather humiliating one where ex-Marlin and new Braves closer Jason Grilli threw him seven consecutive fastballs, with only a couple of them actually being close to the strike zone.  Catcher Jared Saltalamacchia carried last year’s woes at the plate forward into this season for at least a day, going 0-4 with two strikeouts and FOUR runners left on.  But reasons for the loss went beyond the law of averages.  I mentioned earlier that not a single error was committed- but that’s only officially.  Dee Gordon was caught stealing by a very good defensive catcher.  Stanton was picked off trying to advance to third, forgetting the greatest shortstop in the game was on hand, one who routinely makes impossible plays look routine.  Salty hit into a spirit crushing double play with the bases loaded on a pitch he really had no business swinging at.

The final outcome of this game serves as a great example of everything that remains true about this young season.  The Marlins have plenty of promise.  But the Braves- widely picked to be all but irrelevant this season- still have plenty of teeth, teeth that these growing Marlins still need to grow themselves.  The Braves represent the remains of a team with a strong culture and tradition of winning and doing the little things with precision, of finding ways to win when not at their best.  People don’t expect the Braves of the world to make the little miscues Miami did yesterday, regardless of their projections.  People expect Miami to make them, regardless of the developing talent that supports their own loftier projections this year.  And for one game, Miami met those more negative expectations.  Here’s to hoping that next time out, they meet the happier ones.  After all, there’s still plenty of reason to expect that they’ll do so.

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