SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale, Steve Gardner and Jorge Ortiz give their predictions for the new season.
USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI – As far as harbingers go, you couldn’t get a more powerful one – for both sides.
On the very first pitch of the Major League Baseball season, the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ pounded a fastball from the Miami Marlins’ Jose Urena over the right-field fence for a no-doubt-about-it home run and the year’s first run.
The game’s 12:43 p.m. EDT start was the earliest in the majors.
The Cubs, who have reached the National League Championship Series each of the last three years, are widely expected to repeat as NL Central champs and contend for a World Series berth.
The Marlins, under the new ownership group headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter, traded away star players like Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich and might struggle to avoid 100 losses.
Thursday’s first pitch was just the start of what could be a very long season in Miami.
Things didn’t get much better for Urena, who was making his first Opening Day start and got rattled. He hit three batters and walked another two in the first, somehow escaping with just a 3-0 deficit when he got his opposite number, Jon Lester, to ground out for the third out after nearly hitting him too.
In the top of the second inning, first baseman Anthony Rizzo added a solo home run off Urena.
Urena, who went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA in a breakout season in 2017, drew the start in place of the injured Dan Straily.
Happ’s homer seemed a continuation of 2017, where some confluence of juiced baseballs, free-swinging hitters and a commitment to launch angles produced an MLB-record 6,104 home runs. The previous high was 5,693 (2000), in the height of the so-called steroid era.
Happ provided a powerful reminder this home run revolution may be here to stay.