Breaking down the best (and worst) of MLB’s Opening Day

MLB's Opening Day was Thursday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
9 min

Opening Day is now behind us. Hope bubbled up in Major League Baseball ballparks across the country and disappointment made an early arrival in a few of them. Much of what happened Thursday will not linger in baseball memories by May, let alone October.

But some of it will, including everything on the list of important takeaways below. These observations are based entirely on one (1) day of regular season baseball in 2023, and should therefore be treated as infallible.

Petco Park needs a roof

Excitement is high in San Diego after a run to the National League Championship Series and another offseason splurge. The Padres finally look ready to surpass the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. They sold out their entire first series against the less-heralded Colorado Rockies. They were to pack Petco Park for a beautiful Opening Day on Thursday afternoon.

Sketching out the 2023 MLB season

But as it so often is in San Diego, rain was in the forecast. The Padres moved the game back to the evening to avoid it. They played through rain anyway, starting their buzzy season with a 7-2 loss to the team expected to finish last in the National League West.

No one can dispute owner Peter Seidler’s commitment to his team. But if the Padres want long-term success, they will need to make their city a more appealing place to play.

The San Diego Padres are baseball’s most fascinating experiment

Weather has cost this city before: You may remember San Diego once had a football team. The Chargers moved to Los Angeles, where they now play in a stadium with a roof to protect them against the brutal Southern California sun.

Fundamentals are overrated

Major League coaching staffs spend all of spring training drilling players on fundamentals. Hit the cutoff man. Get behind the ball. Turn the right way on a flyball over your shoulder.

But Los Angeles Angels right fielder Hunter Renfroe demonstrated that fundamental baseball is far less fun than fun and mental baseball. With Shohei Ohtani on the mound leading 1-0 in the fifth, Athletics’ lefty Jace Peterson pulled a deep flyball toward the wall in right. Renfroe took a drop step to the wrong side, turned his back to the field while still sort of looking over his shoulder, spun and sputtered for a bit, then flung his glove out to the side where he snatched the ball out of the air without, it seemed, even looking at it much.

Ohtani threw his arms in the air with a look on his face that suggested he was more relieved than impressed, but also utterly confused. Renfroe just chuckled as he ran back in, the look of a man who knew he had it all along.

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Bigger bases increase theft

When MLB announced it would be increasing the size of bases, in part to entice runners into stealing more bases, more than a few managers and players laughed off the notion. The bases are bigger, yes, but not that much bigger.

But the results are in, and they are conclusive: The bigger bases changed everything. There were 21 stolen bases across 15 major league games played on Opening Day. According to MLB, that is the most since 1907. And as aptly named ESPN researcher Alex Fast tweeted, there were nine total stolen base attempts on Opening Day 2022 — five successful, four unsuccessful, a rate of 56 percent. Yesterday, there were 23 attempts — two unsuccessful, a rate of 91 percent.

Clock violations and harried hot dog runs: The new, faster MLB is here

Some might suggest the difference is due more to new rules against pitchers throwing over to first more than twice per at-bat, since that rule allows runners to know more definitively, more often, when a pitcher is likely to throw home. Or perhaps base runners were just six inches too slow for most of the last century. Probably the latter.

Adam Wainwright will be the next American Idol

Or maybe he won’t. Could go either way.

The Mets are cursed, and it is beyond dispute

The New York Mets are living through one of the more hopeful times in their sometimes demoralizing baseball history. They are led by the richest and most free-spending owner in MLB, Steve Cohen. They have a roster full of some of the sport’s most high-profile and highly paid superstars. And as of this offseason, they could boast two of the greatest starting pitchers of the 21st century in their rotation.

Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander: Aces in Queens

But after watching Edwin Díaz blow out his knee celebrating the World Baseball Classic, an otherwise thoroughly optimistic Mets Opening Day began with the unexpected news that ace Justin Verlander would be going on the injured list with a pulled teres muscle. He and the Mets suggested he will not be out for long, but then again, the Mets have heard that before.

See below:

The Rangers overpaid for Jacob deGrom

When the Rangers committed $185 million to oft-injured starter Jacob deGrom this winter, they took a risk. DeGrom has battled injury over and over again in recent years. When he is healthy, he can be untouchable. When he is not, he is expensive.

Jacob deGrom, Texas danger?

But deGrom was healthy enough to start for the Rangers on Opening Day against the loaded Philadelphia Phillies in what looked like it would be one of the day’s premiere pitching matchups. The Phillies were throwing right-hander Aaron Nola, an annual Cy Young candidate who dueled with deGrom year after year during his Mets days.

Naturally, the Rangers and Phillies each scored five runs in the first four innings and deGrom and Nola managed only 11 outs each. DeGrom’s ERA is currently 12.27. How will he ever recover?

Adley Rutschman will be a Hall of Famer unless gravity intervenes

Adley Rutschman, the centerpiece of the Baltimore Orioles’ rebuild and likely key to its success, went 5-for-5 with a season-opening homer in the Orioles’ 10-9 win over the Boston Red Sox. No catcher in major league history had accumulated five hits on Opening Day before. He reached base six times, becoming just the eighth player since 1901 to do that on Opening Day, according to MLB researcher Sarah Langs.

The Orioles’ rebuild is behind them. Uncertainty is not.

Rutschman also became the first player in recent memory to slide so awkwardly into second base that he ended up out and apologizing for the damage caused to the second baseman, though people will probably forget about that. The 5-for-5 thing seems like a much bigger deal, and a surefire predictor of a future trip to Cooperstown.

Aaron Judge will pass Barry Bonds

This one is just simple math: After signing the biggest deal in Yankees history and being named captain in the offseason, 2022 American League Most Valuable Player Aaron Judge hit the first pitch he saw on Opening Day out to Monument Park in dead center field at Yankee Stadium. He is, therefore, on pace for 162 homers in 2023, more than double the 62 he hit to so much fanfare in 2022. If he maintains that pace, he will blow by the polarizing 73-homer mark set by Barry Bonds, and would render moot any debate about the identity of the true single-season home run king.

Pitch Clock, Smitch Clock

For years, Major League Baseball officials believed a pitch clock would change the sport for the better. It could suck up all the useless downtime, they said. It decreased game times by almost a half-hour when they tested it in the minors, they yelled from the rooftops. Well, that pitch clock made its regular season debut Thursday. Average game time for Opening Day was 2 hours, 45 minutes, down from the average of 3 hours, 11 minutes in 2022. But it couldn’t speed up everyone.

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For example, the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays required 3 hours and 38 grueling minutes to complete their Opening Day affair, one that included just a handful of lead changes, 34 combined hits, nine combined walks and 19 combined runs. In other words, the longest game of the day saw teams averaging an entire five minutes between base runners in a game that was the riveting until the very end. What a mess.

Ohtani will not be an Angel after this season

For those who did not stay up to watch the first game of the Oakland Athletics’ 2023 season, it went something like this: Shohei Ohtani started his first meaningful baseball game since willing Japan to victory in the World Baseball Classic with an outpouring of competitive spirit like none he has had the chance to display during his MLB career. He struck out 10 batters, threw six scoreless innings and left with a one-run lead.

The Angels are desperate to win to prove to Ohtani, a free agent after this season, that he has reason to stay long-term. But Ohtani has been clear with Japanese and American reporters, alike, that having a chance to win is important to him. Losing a game like that, in which he did all he could and got no support behind him, is exactly the experience Ohtani has had with the Angels since joining them at 23. If Opening Day is any indication — and as one of 162 games this season it certainly qualifies as a representative sample — Ohtani might have reason to look elsewhere for 2024.