The best part of the first week of the baseball season is flipping through games and seeing all the amazing things going on: Giancarlo Stanton being booed in the rain at Yankee Stadium, Gabe Kapler forgetting to warm up a reliever, Dodgers and Cardinals fans panicking about their bullpens, Khris Davis playing left field, the Giants scoring a run.
I kid, I kid! It has been a spectacular debut to the 2018 season, so let’s run down some of the most exciting things we’re going to witness all season.
Most exciting teams
Houston Astros. What a team. The No. 5 starter is Charlie Morton, who averaged 96.7 mph with his fastball in his season debut, tossed six scoreless innings and then said, “I don’t think I threw the ball great tonight.” The No. 4 starter is Gerrit Cole, who in his first start with the Astros merely set a career high in swing-and-misses. You know about the lineup. The biggest challenge for A.J. Hinch might simply be keeping the team focused and motivated as it runs away with the American League West.
Washington Nationals. Bryce Harper looks locked in so far, and love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he has a special presence that few players can own. Trea Turner reminds us of 1980s baseball with his blazing speed and stolen bases. The Nats have two must-see starters in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Most exciting teams that probably won’t make the playoffs
Philadelphia Phillies. They’re going to be a fascinating drama to watch all season, particularly now that every move Kapler makes will be scrutinized like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. More interesting is how all the young talent matures -- Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams -- and whether the Phillies can develop quickly enough to be surprise playoff contenders.
Atlanta Braves. Once Ronald Acuna joins the mix, they’ll have a fun foursome of Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Acuna. Is this the season Freeman bashes from April through September and contends for an MVP? In 2016, he hit .327/.428/.641 from June to the end of the season. Last year, he was hitting .341/.461/.748 on May 17 when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his wrist; he batted a more pedestrian .292 when he returned.
Chicago White Sox. When was the last time the White Sox were interesting? Other than when Chris Sale was pitching or cutting up throwback jerseys? Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson are exciting, though we’re still learning if they’re any good. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez provide hope in the rotation. Michael Kopech should get called up at some point, and maybe Eloy Jimenez as well.
Most exciting two-way newcomer
Shohei Ohtani. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.
Most exciting one-two punches
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. In a span of five games, Stanton homered twice in his Yankees debut, then struck out five times and got booed in his Yankee Stadium debut. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a thrill ride, but I still like the possibility of 100 combined home runs.
Scherzer and Strasburg. Scherzer is the two-time defending Cy Young winner, and Strasburg is the guy who might take it away from him.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate for the Blue Jays, is the must-watch minor league team. Guerrero just turned 19 in March, but don’t rule out the possibility that he reaches the majors this season (especially if Josh Donaldson gets traded).
Most exciting outfields
Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler. Last year’s most exciting outfield of Stanton, Ozuna and Christian Yelich has been scattered to the winds, but this group could be the best in 2018, with sleeper MVP candidate Pham leading the way as he plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun. Yelich could be poised for a huge season if he can stay healthy. He always hit better on the road while with the Marlins -- .838 OPS versus .765 at home -- and now he’s in a great hitters' park. If he finds a way to add even a little more launch angle to his swing, he could hit .300 with 25 to 30 home runs.
Most exciting old guys who are still playing
Ichiro Suzuki. He’s 44 and can still do this:
This is Ichiro’s 27th season of professional baseball; he was 18 when he started his career for Orix in the Japanese Pacific League. One of his teammates that season was Carmelo Martinez, who was once a teammate of Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins played with Robin Roberts on the 1966 Cubs. Roberts played with Schoolboy Rowe, who pitched against Babe Ruth. In Ruth’s first major league game, he pitched against Nap Lajoie, who was born in 1874, two years before the National League was founded.
Bartolo Colon. He’s with the Rangers, the 11th team he has started for. The 44-year-old needs to start for one more team to tie Mike Morgan’s record.
Adrian Beltre. He’s just a kid compared to these two, but at age 38, he’s the seventh-oldest player in the majors. When he came up as a teenager, he was the youngest player in the majors. He could easily outlast the rest of those older than him: Suzuki and Colon plus Fernando Rodney, Peter Moylan, Chase Utley and Victor Martinez. I wonder if anyone has been both the youngest AND oldest player in his career.
Most exciting walk years to watch
Manny Machado: You can sub in Donaldson here as well, but he’s more likely to remain all season with the Blue Jays than Machado is with the Orioles. If the Orioles fall out of the race, the front office will have to decide whether to extract some value by dealing Machado to a contender.
Clayton Kershaw. Just a gentle reminder that he has an opt-out clause.
Most exciting defenders not named Khris Davis
Byron Buxton/Kevin Kiermaier/Andrelton Simmons/Nolan Arenado/Betts (tie). No, I’m not going to choose. If you’re looking for a defensive breakout for 2018, here are three names: A’s third baseman Matt Chapman, who was great last year; Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon, who already has looked comfortable out there and has a plus arm to go with his blazing speed; and Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson, who is silky smooth out there.
Most exciting bullpen problems that aren’t exciting but might be alarming
Cardinals. Greg Holland will eventually take over as closer, and he should be fine, but he also walked 4.1 batters per nine innings last season, and you have to worry about a little about his durability.
Dodgers. Kenley Jansen should be fine, but the velocity is significantly down, and he has to mentally rebound from a couple of tough outings in the World Series. Behind him, there are questions as well. I still say the Dodgers are the most vulnerable of the Super Seven teams.
Phillies. Kapler went to his bullpen 18 times in the first three games and then admitted that maybe he needs to use those guys for longer outings. Yeah, bullpenning is hard.