To me, nothing in sports quite beats MLB Opening Day.
Sure, there are Opening Nights in the NBA and NHL and Opening Weekends in the NFL and College Football. However, at the end of the day, Opening Day in baseball is an event like no other in sports, and I am lucky that I am able to be in a city where there is a Major League Baseball team, which allows me to attend Opening Day on an annual basis.
This season was my second-straight Royals Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium, which was a little bit different from a year ago, where Opening Day was limited fan-wise, due to COVID protocols. With an upgraded season ticket plan, I was able to not just get to Kauffman Stadium considerably early, but also secure a pretty swell parking spot, up close to gate A of the K.
While it wasn’t the “warmest” day by any means, the Royals still pulled out a 3-1 Opening Day win over the Cleveland Guardians, which puts my record at 2-0 for Royals Opening Day games thus far.
Hopefully, this can be a good trend for myself and the Royals going forward in the coming seasons.
After an exciting, but frigid, day of baseball, here are five takeaways I had about the Royals from game one of the 2022 season.
Bobby Witt, Jr. Had a Heck of a Debut
Witt made the Opening Day roster, batting in the two-hole in his MLB debut. Safe to say, there was a lot of pressure on the Royals’ top prospect, as Witt has been the talk of not just Royals fans, but Kansas City sports fans in general.
After failing to get a hit in his first three at-bats, Witt came up clutch in the bottom of the eighth in a tie game, as he lined a Triston McKenzie changeup for a double. His first MLB hit and RBI not only plated Michael A. Taylor but gave the Royals their first lead, which they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
While Witt showcased his skills at the plate, he also demonstrated his glove and arm in the field as well in his Kauffman Stadium debut.
Here’s him making a great backhand play (while shifted over at SS) to get out Cleveland’s Andres Gimenez, who isn’t a slowpoke on the basepaths by any means:
It’s just one game.
But man, Royals fans have a lot to be excited about this season with Witt, based on his Opening Day performance.
Greinke Delivers Solid if Unspectacular Performance
When one takes a look at Greinke’s line initially, it may not look very impressive.
In his first start as a Royals pitcher since the 2010 season, Greinke went 5.2 IP, allowed five hits, one run, one walk, and struck out one on 84 pitches.
Some will take a glance at the lack of strikeouts and think that Greinke may have gotten overly lucky that cold afternoon at the K. However, let’s take a look at his called strike and whiff (CSW) data from today’s game via Baseball Savant:
The swings and misses just were not there from the five pitches Greinke threw today.
And yet, despite the lack of whiffs (14 percent total whiff rate), he still generated a CSW rate of 29 percent, which is still pretty solid. To compare, Shane Bieber, who was much more dominant, had a CSW of 32 percent today, only three percent higher than Greinke.
A big reason for that CSW mark was Greinke’s efficiency on the mound, as he generated 19 total called strikes, including 11 on the four-seam fastball alone (which heavily contributed to his 52 percent CSW on the four-seamer). I talked before on Pitcher List about how Greinke’s four-seamer generates called-strikes on a frequent basis due to his pinpoint command, and that proved to be the case today against the guardians.
Surprisingly, he only averaged 88.8 MPH on the four-seamer today, which is actually 0.1 MPH LESS than his average last year. Nonetheless, he was able to be effective with the pitch, because he threw it for strikes, and was constantly getting ahead in counts all game long.
Now, Greinke did benefit from some great Royals defense, which was demonstrated in Nicky Lopez’s diving stop of Amed Rosario’s line drive, which would have plated a run, had Lopez not made the play.
That being said, despite benefitting from the Royals’ stellar defense today, it was still a solid start to Greinke’s second tenure in Kansas City.
The strikeouts probably won’t be plentiful this year, though I think he will have more games where he strikes out more batters. On the other hand, with his pinpoint control, and excellent defense behind him, he won’t need to strike out so many in order to be successful in 2022.
Starts like today proved that.
Nicky Lopez Makes His Mark
Lopez dazzled Royals fans with his defense today, which is not surprising, especially since one could argue that Lopez should have two Gold Gloves by now.
However, his bat was on full display today, as Nicky lined a key double in the left-center gap to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth off of Cleveland ace and former Cy Young award winner Shane Bieber.
Additionally, Nicky was able to lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth, which ended up setting up the game-winning run that was eventually driven in by Witt.
(The same couldn’t be said of Hunter Dozier, who failed to execute a bunt, and it resulted in Carlos Santana being thrown out at second.)
It just seems like Nicky is always getting overlooked by baseball writers, content creators, and other, non-Royal baseball fans. That’s been a big reason why he hasn’t gotten Gold Glove consideration, even though his metrics have backed up his candidacy the past two seasons.
However, if Nicky keeps producing at the plate and on the field like this on a regular basis, it will be hard for the general baseball world to ignore what the former Creighton product is doing for much longer.
Barlow Doesn’t Miss a Beat
Barlow is coming off his best season yet at the MLB level, as he saved 16 games and posted a 2.42 ERA in 71 appearances a season ago.
That being said, while Barlow proved that he can handle the ninth inning in Kansas City last season, there is still a fair share of Royals fans who doubt he can do it full-time, especially with the arrival of Amir Garrett and the presence of Josh Staumount, who also had an improved season in 2021.
Today, Barlow went a long way to prove his doubters wrong.
The 29-year-old went two innings, allowed two hits, struck out three, walked zero, and gave up zero runs in his performance against the Guardians. Even though Barlow was asked to go an extra inning and throw 29 pitches, he closed the door on the Guardians when it mattered the most, as demonstrated by him striking out Myles Straw looking to end the game (which was helped by Salvy framing it a bit).
I am curious how Barlow will fare this year, especially as he becomes more and more reliant on his slider.
He threw the slider 41 percent of the time today, which was the highest usage of any pitch in his arsenal today. However, he only generated a CSW rate of 23 percent on the pitch, which is pretty paltry. In addition, he was only averaging 92.7 MPH on his fastball, which was nearly a 2.3 MPH drop from a season ago.
Is this a warning sign? Or was Barlow affected by the cold conditions of this early season contest?
Safe to say, Barlow didn’t have his best stuff today. Nonetheless, he showed that he can still get batters out in high-leverage situations even if his velocity and command is waning.
That is a good indicator for his future as the Royals closer, especially this season.
Attendance Sparse On Opening Day at the K
I was expecting a packed house at Kauffman for this season’s Opening Day, especially with the return of Greinke and the anticipated debut of Witt.
Yes, I figured the cold would affect attendance a little, but knowing how loyal Kansas City sports fans are, I thought Royals fans would brave the conditions and still make it out to Kauffman on Thursday afternoon.
Unfortunately, it was far from a packed house, as the Royals listed their attendance as 28,549.
It’s surprising that those Opening Days had considerably more fans, even though expectations for those Royals teams in those respective seasons were far less than this year. And that fact alone should be a concerning sign for Royals management and owner John Sherman, especially if they want to maximize revenue at the gate after two wonky COVID-affected seasons in 2020 and 2021.
Was it weather that affected the attendance? Or was it something else?
After all, the weather wasn’t great in 2019 (actually it was very similar), but that didn’t prevent Kauffman from still getting over 30,000 fans in attendance for Opening Day.
Getting less than 30K is just a big surprise, even for a bad weather day like today.
And maybe it’s not just weather.
Maybe KC sports fans are disenchanted with MLB after the lockout and are following through on their promises “not” to support the Royals after everything that happened this past Winter. Maybe Royals fans do not believe in the future of this team and are looking to spend their dollars elsewhere (though Sporting KC isn’t doing much to sway them for their money, as they are struggling out of the gate).
It will be interesting to see if this disappointing Opening Day attendance-wise is truly an effect of baseball’s work stoppage and a legitimate sign that the game is in decline.
It’s just one game, of course. And the weather will be better on Saturday (in the ’60s).
I guess we will see if it was the weather that affected attendance or something else this Weekend at the K.