The stars and chumps of Opening Day

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zambrano-standard-100405.jpgIt all started with a John Lannan pitch to Jimmy Rollins around 10 a.m ET, and ended when Denard Span’s fly ball settled into Bobby Abreu’s glove about 15 hours later.

Once again, Opening Day didn’t disappoint, as there were stellar defensive plays, dramatic home runs, and dominant pitching performances. It was everything you want out of the first full day of baseball, and reminded us how much we grew to miss the game over the last six months.

Let’s take a look at the big winners and losers from Opening Day.

STARS OF THE DAY
Albert Pujols, Cardinals:
What else is there to say about Pujols? He’s great. And if the Cincinnati Reds didn’t know that, they do now, after he goes 4-for-5 with two home runs. *That puts him on pace for 324 this season, in case you’re counting.
*This might not happen

Garrett Jones, Pirates: Anything Pujols can do, Jones can do, umm better? Well no, but it was still a fine performance for the right fielder, who was 2-for-4 with a pair of homers in a rout of the Dodgers.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas “Walk-off” Ranger: Poor Shaun Marcum. The Blue Jays starter had his no-hitter broken up by Vlad Guerrero in the seventh inning, then watched his lead vanish when Nelson Cruz tied it up by going opposite field off his shoe tops for a three-run blast. That all set the stage for Saltalamacchia, who completed the Rangers rally with a walk-off single over the head of a shallow outfield.

CHUMPS OF THE DAY
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs:
Zambrano has been throwing out lines about how he’s ready to “kick some (butt)” this season, and wants to “rock and roll.” Apparently, what he meant was that he was ready to “get his (butt) kicked” and wanted to let the Braves “party every day,” as he allowed 8 runs in 1 1/3 before hitting the showers.

Los Angeles Dodgers in general, Vicente Padilla in particular: OK so Padilla as Opening Day starter is a joke, as Clayton Kershaw is clearly the better talent. But to allow seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Pirates is, well, sad. The pressure is already building in L.A., as the Dodgers need to take advantage of a favorable early-season schedule.

Marvin Hudson, umpire: Hudson and his cohorts in blue didn’t have as bad a game as Zambrano, but they certainly didn’t help matters much, as Hudson gave Nate McLouth credit for a catch on a fly ball by Marlon Byrd. [Watch here]

The drop was so obvious that Aramis Ramirez didn’t even try to return to first base, and he was promptly doubled up. Luckily the call didn’t figure in the outcome.

As if to take the pressure off Hudson, the umps later blew a similar call in the A’s-Mariners game when Casey Kotchman’s fly bounced into Rajai Davis’ glove for what was ruled an out.

Royals bullpen and defense: We pity you, Zack Greinke. You do your thing, allowing two runs (only one earned, of course) in six innings. You outduel Justin Verlander and depart with a 4-2 lead, then sit and watch your team lose 8-4. Gonna be a long season buddy.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Other performances you may have missed
Placido Polanco:
New Phillies third baseman goes 3-for-5 with a grand slam and 6 RBIs.

Ubaldo Jimenez: Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana and Mark Buehrle were all strong, but you might have missed Jimenez, who struck out six and allowed one run in six innings against the Brewers. And he reportedly hit 99 mph on the gun, too.

Yunel Escobar: While Jason Heyward was amazing the masses, Braves shortstop quietly went 2-for-5 with 5 RBIs.

Carlos Gomez: Not a bad Brewers debut for the former Twin/Met, as Gomez goes 4-for-5 with a double and a homer.

Casey Kotchman: Another steal by GM Jack Zduriencik? New Mariners first baseman goes 2-for-4 with 4 RBIs, and was robbed of another hit by the umpires, err, I mean Rajai Davis.

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Rob Manfred blames Bryce Harper for going unsigned

Bryce Harper
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with the media today. Naturally, he was asked various questions about the landscape of the sport, given that superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain unsigned as spring training begins. Per The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli, Manfred said that he thinks the free agent market will begin to move once spring training exhibition games begin. Manfred also said that Harper’s camp suggesting that he wants $400 million back in 2016 was “an impediment” to discussions throughout the offseason.

No word on why Machado is also as yet unsigned, as he did not have a reported $400 million ask.

Manfred’s job is to look out for ownership, so it’s not surprising to see him point the finger at Harper. Consider:

Manfred’s comment comes just months after the Red Sox won 108 regular season games and the World Series with baseball’s largest payroll. And ongoing evidence that there is indeed a positive correlation between dollars spent and team success. We often hear justification for tanking/rebuilding because the Cubs and Astros did it and won championships because of it. When the Red Sox use financial muscle to win a championship, it’s crickets.

Manfred didn’t stop there, however.

An easy way to get baseball’s “glow” back would be for two of the game’s best and most popular players to be in uniform playing games. The first spring training exhibition game will be played on February 22, so it’s not looking like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Baseball’s “glow” would also come back if more teams were actively trying to win. Instead, one-third of the league is “rebuilding” or otherwise coasting on revenue-sharing. For fans of the Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Marlins — to name a few — the outcomes of their favorite teams’ seasons have already been decided, so what is there to get excited about?