MLB Highs and Lows from Opening Week

The 2024 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, less than one week old, has already witnessed a smattering of stellar performances and numerous Little League-like moments. Some teams like the New York Yankees (6-1), Detroit Tigers (4-0), and Pittsburgh Pirates (5-1) started strong. On the other hand, 2023 playoff squads Houston Astros (1-5), Miami Marlins (0-7), and Philadelphia Phillies (2-3) have struggled in the early going alongside the stuck-in-the-mud Oakland Athletics (1-6) and the Colorado Rockies (1-5). 

Five Highlights

Despite losing records, the Astros and Phillies have featured two of the most impressive single-player performances this season. 

Ronel Blanco Makes History 

Last year, the Astros constantly struggled to win home games, which has carried over into this season as they opened with four straight losses against the visiting Yankees. Through six games, Houston’s lone win came on a special night for 30-year-old Dominican pitcher Ronel Blanco, who threw his first no-hitter, the first of the season, and the tenth ever by a native of the Dominican Republic in his team’s 10-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1.

This performance was a surprise because Blanco only made first-year manager Joe Espada’s rotation to open the season once fellow starters Justin Verlander and José Urquidy sustained preseason injuries. In his 26th MLB game and eighth start, Blanco pitched brilliantly, striking out seven Toronto hitters and only issuing two walks over the nine innings.

Blanco, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s second kid a week before this outing, worked his way up through the Astros’ organization since the team signed him as an international free agent in 2016. He made his MLB debut in 2022 but spent most of that year and last year in Triple-A where he fared better than in the Majors. Time will tell if his no-hitter means Blanco has figured out how to sustain success at the highest level or if it will go down as just one special night in his professional career. 

Bryce Harper’s Bat Comes Alive

For the Phillies to return to the playoffs, they will need superstar Bryce Harper to lead the way once again. Harper got off to a slow start this year, tallying zero hits in 11 at-bats in the Phillies’ opening series loss against their rival Atlanta Braves. Unlike most other players, he can heat up quickly to create a unique show for the fans and inspire his team to victory.

That was the case in the Phillies’ 9-4 victory over the visiting Cincinnati Reds on April 2, when Harper snapped out of his mini-slump crushing three home runs, the last with the bases loaded for his seventh career grand slam. Although this club’s lineup features other stars such as Kyle Schawarber and Trea Turner, Harper remains its fulcrum, and the Phillies hope this performance is just the start of another monster season at the plate.

Three Other Early-Season Standouts 

  • Rookie manager Stephen Vogt has led the Cleveland Guardians to a promising 5-2 start on the road. A big reason behind the club’s strong start is its pitching staff, led by Shane Bieber, who has thrown back-to-back starts of six innings with no runs allowed and looks like the elite pitcher who won the 2020 American League Cy Young Award. 
  • Hard-throwing second-year Milwaukee Brewers’ reliever Abner Uribe has stepped in admirably for injured star closer Devin Williams with Uribe saving all three opportunities so far for his 4-1 team.
  • New pitching coach Andrew Bailey has the 5-2 Boston Red Sox pitchers clicking through the team’s first two series. Against the 3-4 Seattle Mariners and Athletics, the club’s starting rotation (Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, Kutter Crawford, and Tanner Houck) performed well with only Bello having a bad outing in his second start in Oakland on April 2. The club’s defense has also become more competent as that, along with bad pitching, doomed the Red Sox to a last-place divisional finish in 2023.

Three Lowlights

Currently, the Marlins, A’s, and Rockies are playing miles below the other 27 teams in the league, including the Astros who have the talent and history of success to right the ship sooner than later.

Miami Vice

Out of the three, the winless Marlins are the most surprising given that they snuck into the playoffs last season. However, this terrible start reflects the club’s failure to do anything in free agency or trades this offseason to add badly needed offensive and pitching reinforcements to the roster.

Already without ace Sandy Alcántara due to Tommy John surgery rehab, the club lost 20-year-old phenom Eury Pérez to the injured list with elbow inflammation before the season. As a result, the club has opened the season with longtime reliever A.J. Puk in their starting rotation, an experiment that has not gone well. In a division alongside National League titans Braves and Phillies, the Marlins must swim to shore before it’s too late.

West Coast Misery

Out West, the Rockies and A’s are experiencing similar levels of futility with both teams off to losing starts everyone expected. The Rockies have experienced success few and far between when it comes to constructing winning rosters that play half of their games at the high-altitude hitting haven that is Coors Field. It feels that wins will continue to be hard to come by this year unless infielder Kris Bryant manages to stay healthy and raise his game and the club can pull magic out of a hat regarding a pitching staff not starting off the season all that well.

Yet, the Rockies may at least stand a chance against the A’s, whose pitching staff is just as bad and whose offense may be even more woeful. And let’s not forget about the A’s defense as the team made 13 defensive errors in their first five games, the most by an MLB team in that timespan in almost 30 years.

Last year’s revelations Brent Rooker, Zack Gelof, and Ryan Noda are all off to slow starts. So the team is left with one must-see player, flamethrowing young pitcher Mason Miller, who is making waves for his ability to fire the baseball by opposing hitters. Additionally, this franchise continues to make outlandish off-the-field decisions, from turning off individuals’ ability to reply on its social media accounts to dragging its feet very slowly in its plan to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas.

Nevertheless, it is only the start of April,  so more than 150 baseball games remain. That means more highlights, lowlights, and everything else promised in an MLB season.

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