For at least one day through the brutality of a 162-game baseball, everyone in Chicago gets to consider themselves a genius. Look no farther than the 2011 White Sox for examples of how a flaming trash barge can look impressive on first impression, but no analysis of White Sox offseason moves can honestly include the phrase “t’was a disaster from Day 1.”
With $32 million worth of “we believe in this arm” at his back, Chris Sale maxed out at 95 mph and slid back from there, but it was hardly calamitous considering that it didn’t keep him from spinning 7 2/3 shutout innings (~92 was the average fastball velocity). Sale even dialed back to 93 when needed, and certainly didn’t witness any diminishing returns on his changeup as a result.
Jeff Francouer certainly has the timing on Sale’s offerings, singling twice, but every Francouer conquest of Sale serves to make Robin Ventura‘s intentional walk binge from last August seem just a bit more grounded. Everyone wins. Except the Royals, who keep playing Francouer.
Of course, Sale started out last season throw high-90′s from the first day, so who’s to say whether he’s pacing himself or already working through some fatigue. As time stretches on and his elite track record piles up, my interest in the variance in his method will wane.
Though Twitter anecdotes about his frosty nature in spring training have fan attitudes toward Tyler Flowers as sour as ever, Opening Day fans got a healthy dose of the good things the 27 year-old does at the plate. His day started ignominiously when he struck out in the second inning with runners on 1st and 2nd, but there were some moments of light even in that.
Flowers was understandably overeager and hacked his way into an 0-2 hole, but followed it up by playing some pretty decent protect for someone with one of the worst swinging strike rates in baseball. He was rung up looking on a close take on 0-2, which can at least be said to be a different method of K’ing than the rest of this swing-happy lineup. Flowers’ next at-bat showed off his other tool–raw power–as he golfed out a high James Shields changeup 417 feet to left without even looking like he got all of it. He even kept his backside upright through the swing, to string along hope that he’ll be able to stave off slumps a bit more in the future.
Small delights continued from there.
Jeff Keppinger–signed to hit singles–hit a single and started a crucial seventh inning double play to usher Chris Sale into the eighth inning. Addison Reed didn’t do something absurd like get a 1-2-3 inning, but looked more or less like an entrenched closer, even if a slider to make us forget what Sergio Santos used to snap off has yet to arrive. U.S. Cellular Field even waived in over 39,000 through their gates for the first time since 2010.
Even the Royals looked smart for a day by putting James Shields at the top of the rotation, since he was able to get someone to chase at a diving changeup whenever he needed and only lost because Tyler Flowers didn’t ignore it when he floated one in belt-high. Last year Bruce Chen was their Opening Day starter. It’s easy to see how they might have been talked into overpaying for an upgrade
But the Mariners can look like a powerhouse on Opening Day, and the White Sox have put on a good show for their home opener six years running now. Opening Day’s spectacle provides easy satisfaction, which is why it draws so much attention and is appropriately placed as far away from meaningful baseball games as possible.
Still, so far, so good. And this team has no business getting ahead of itself.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan