SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- What blister?
The blister that so many made a big deal about a couple of weeks ago when it forced Jake Arrieta out of a spring-training game against the Giants clearly was nothing, as Jake came out and dominated the Angels the same way he dominated so many teams over the second half of 2015. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing just two singles and a walk, striking out six and throwing 64 strikes in an almost-effortless 89 pitches, helping lead the Cubs to a 9-0 win over the Angels in their first-ever season opener against an American League team.
Beyond Jake's outstanding beginning to 2016, the offense started out clicking on all cylinders. Dexter Fowler led off the game by slicing a double down the right-field line and two outs later, Anthony Rizzo singled him in for a 1-0 lead.
Jake was mowing down Angels hitters, at one point retiring 11 in a row. That included Mike Trout, who left one at-bat muttering to himself (and who Jake struck out a second time in the seventh).
Meanwhile, Cubs hitters were putting up more runs and hits. In the fourth, a pair of walks to Rizzo and Kris Bryant led to RBI singles from Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero. One of the best things about this game for the Cubs offensively was seeing them work deep into counts, fouling off pitches and working walks after going down 0-2. These are things they did quite a bit of last year, and it's good to see them doing it again. Angels starter Garrett Richards threw 97 pitches in just five innings, and though he had good velocity, he had trouble finding the strike zone -- just 50 strikes.
The next two runs scored after the first two hitters in the sixth struck out. Then Soler walked (something good to see), and Montero hit the first Cubs home run of the season over the right-field wall. I know a fair number of BCB readers were at this game, and it was surprising to hear how loud the Cubs fans in the Angel Stadium crowd were cheering. I'm thinking this is going to be a common occurrence this year at road games.
Another Cubs run scored in the seventh inning, on Fowler's third hit of the game, a double by Jason Heyward and an infield forceout hit by Bryant. Every Cubs hitter in the lineup reached base except for Kyle Schwarber, who went 0-for-4. This is one of the best things about this year's team; even when a good hitter like Schwarber has an oh-fer, everyone else on the team picks him up. Also, Matt Szczur replaced Schwarber defensively in the seventh. I'd expect to see a lot of that happening this year. Szczur decided to add his bat to the fun, smacking a bases-loaded double in the ninth that completed the scoring.
The only discordant note of the evening was seeing Ben Zobrist get picked off first base, and he was taking way too large a lead. Zobrist isn't a base stealer. Years ago he did all right running the bases (24 steals in 2010), but last year he stole three bases and was caught four times. I realize Joe Maddon wants his guys to be aggressive, and this had no effect on the game, but I'm thinking Zobrist ought to stick a little closer to the base. Zobrist did turn a slick double play earlier in the game to end the third inning.
Justin Grimm gave up a long double but otherwise threw a scoreless eighth inning, helped by a web gem play from Addison Russell. Travis Wood wrapped things up with a 1-2-3 ninth.
So the Cubs are already a game ahead of last year's pace after Opening Day. Yes, of course I know it's far too early to worry about "pace." But it's nice to be a full game ahead of the Cardinals. Right? All in all, this one was a really nice way to start the season. Arrieta's next outing should come up Sunday against Zack Greinke, who got pounded by the Rockies in his Opening Night start. Should be interesting.
I'm still in Arizona (will be leaving to head back to Chicago on Wednesday), so I could have used the MLB.tv broadcast with Len and JD. But just to experience something different, I watched the ESPN2 broadcast with Karl Ravech, Dallas Braden and Tim Kurkjian. I have to say that while I like Kurkjian's writing at ESPN.com, as a broadcaster he's a good writer. He's got a high-pitched nasal voice that isn't good for TV and I have consistently stated that I don't like three-person broadcast booths. There's never enough time for three people to say cogent things, so they wind up blathering about nonsense, which is exactly what happened. Braden, forced into early retirement by arm injuries, has promise as an analyst and is only 32. The network would have been better served by just having Ravech and Braden call the game.
They'll never learn, TV sports executives. They seem to think: "If some is good, more must be better." That's not the case with broadcast teams.
Incidentally, I would have embedded the video highlights I linked above, but at posting time there were no embed codes available. I hope this isn't a trend.
Tuesday night, this brief two-game set against the Angels concludes with Jon Lester facing Andrew Heaney. With no national TV coverage, I'll watch the MLB.tv Cubs feed with Len and JD. Incidentally, Russ La Croix will be back again this year with "Heroes & Goats," which will post later this morning.