We tend to place inordinate weight on the initial game of a 162-game baseball season, and I won’t tell you not to do it. We know it doesn’t actually MEAN that much, but you know what? We waited a dang long time for this game, and it went wrong in all of the most awful ways. Against a terrible team, too.
Kyle Hendricks lasted just three innings today (63 pitches), fighting through the bitter cold and a pretty surprising lack of control, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks (four strikeouts). You just never see Hendricks with a line like that. Hendricks came out of the gate cold on this very cold day, with control spotty enough in the first that he walked the leadoff man and hung a changeup to the one hitter in the Pirates lineup that you really can’t do that to (Ke’Bryan Hayes), and two batters into the season the Cubs were down 2-0. The wildness continued into the second, with poorly-located pitch after poorly-located pitch (and another run coming in).
Hendricks has earned many, many games’ worth of leash, so you can easily point to first start, bitter cold, etc. in this one and leave it there. But you do have to note the reality that he could not locate his pitches reasonably well (not just “not well for Hendricks,” just … not well). He also saw swift drop in his velocity as the start went on, from his typical early-season 86/87 mph on the fastball to just 84 mph at times. Gonna guess it was an extreme cold and mechanical issue rather than a health issue.
Of course, Hendricks was not alone in Cubs pitchers who could not locate today … the walk numbers across the board were frightening. Cubs pitchers clearly got together before the game to make a pact: you must walk at least one batter today. Cold? Yes. Wild? Also yes. It was PAINFUL to watch.
And yet the cold didn’t seem to impact the Pirates pitchers quite as badly, including old friend Duane Underwood, Jr., who struck out Javy Báez, Jason Heyward, and David Bote, all swinging, in order. One-game reaction: oops on that trade!
Offensively, the Cubs managed to turn bupkis into three runs by putting the ball in play when a runner was at third and fewer than two outs (three sac flies), but that’s little comfort when they were mostly dominated all day.
The Pirates wound up going an incredible 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position, which tells you so much about the game.
One game, though. One … frustrating game.