Daily Dose: Everyone, Meet Mr. Heyward

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In a moment the baseball gods couldn’t have scripted much better, 20-year-old stud prospect Jason Heyward made his big-league debut Monday afternoon and blasted a three-run homer 450 feet off Carlos Zambrano in his first at-bat. The crowd in Atlanta chanted Heyward’s name before he stepped into the batter’s box and the post-homer scene can probably be described best as pandemonium.
Zambrano went on to completely unravel, allowing eight runs without making it out of the second inning, but few people will remember any of that when watching the first clip of Heyward’s career highlight video 25 years from now in Cooperstown. OK, so that’s admittedly a bit over the top, but Heyward is truly a special prospect and I’ll be shocked if he ends up being anything less than a multi-time All-Star.
While the Jason Heyward Era gets off to a memorable start, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* In addition to Heyward announcing his arrival as a future star, some established stars did their usual thing on Opening Day. Albert Pujols went 4-for-5 with a pair of homers against the Reds. Tim Lincecum tossed seven shutout innings against the Astros. And just like last season Zack Greinke saw a Quality Start wasted when the Royals’ bullpen blew a two-run lead (Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez had a similar fate in Oakland).
* Ben Sheets, Shaun Marcum, and Jake Westbrook each drew Opening Day starts after missing 2009 following elbow surgery. Westbrook struggled to throw strikes in Chicago and Sheets was merely OK versus Seattle, but Marcum took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Texas. He eventually gave up a three-run homer to Nelson Cruz and had his win vanish when Jason Frasor blew a save, but it was a very encouraging outing.
* Rotoworld’s award-winning Season Pass product offers subscriber-only columns, daily waiver wire and starting pitcher advice, extensive prospect coverage, detailed bullpen and rotation databases, frequently updated projections and rankings, and much, much more. If you’re not satisfied simply putting your teams on cruise control after draft day, Season Pass can help you make the most of this season.
* Milwaukee’s lineup included a couple surprises, with Carlos Gomez in the second spot despite a .292 career on-base percentage and 39-year-old Jim Edmonds starting over Corey Hart after sitting out 2009. Gomez grounded into a rare double play before four straight hits, notching a homer and a steal in the same game for just the second time. Edmonds went 1-for-4 with a walk and will likely start often over Hart versus righties.
* Clearly distraught about being included on my “players to avoid” list, Garrett Jones homered in his first two at-bats against Vicente Padilla. Jones has always had plenty of power and has now gone deep 25 times in 395 career at-bats, but his lengthy, mediocre minor-league track record still has me convinced that his batting average and overall production will come crashing back down to earth soon enough.
* If you’re not sick of me yet, you can also find me spending way too much time on Twitter.
AL Quick Hits: Josh Beckett and the Red Sox finalized a four-year, $68 million contract extension that keeps him in Boston through 2014 … Mark Buehrle shut out the Indians for seven innings Monday and also made one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see from a pitcher … Scott Kazmir (shoulder) was “very surprised” by the Angels putting him on the disabled list to begin the season … After saying last week that he’d refuse any assignment to the minors, Hank Blalock changed his mind and will report to Triple-A for the Rays … Ron Washington confirmed that Neftali Feliz will serve as the Rangers’ primary setup man … Willie Bloomquist started at third base in the Royals’ opener, but Alberto Callaspo (oblique) is hoping to return Tuesday … Kevin Kouzmanoff went 0-for-4, grounded into two double plays, and committed an error in his A’s debut … Casey Kotchman opened the season batting third for the Mariners, behind Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins, and drove in four runs.
NL Quick Hits: Jose Reyes (thyroid) singled and stole two bases in an extended spring training game Monday … Roy Halladay had an excellent Phillies debut, allowing one run in seven innings … Colby Rasmus homered Monday and also robbed Scott Rolen of a potential homer with a leaping grab in center field … Drew Stubbs was on the bench Monday in favor of Chris Dickerson and Laynce Nix … Cameron Maybin was a mess Monday, going 0-for-4 with three swinging strikeouts and several poor plays in center field … Jeff Suppan (neck) is aiming to return from the disabled list when eligible Saturday … After struggling down the stretch with a wrist injury last season, Mark DeRosa homered in his Giants debut … Johan Santana out-dueled Josh Johnson, allowing one run in six innings Monday … Not only did Yadier Molina (oblique) start Monday, his grand slam broke the game open late … Mike Jacobs went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Monday while inexplicably batting cleanup for the Mets.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.