Nolan Arenado (STL): 4-4, 3 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI.
It’s safe to say that year one for Arenado in St. Louis was a bit of a mixed bag, and that is putting it kindly.
His acquisition from the Rockies was a bit of a head-scratcher to Colorado fans, especially considering the Rockies had just recently signed him to a nine-year extension in 2019. However, Arenado was coming off a sub-par shortened 2020 where he posted a slash of .253/.303/.434 with an OPS of .737 in 48 games and 201 plate appearances. Hence, there was some concern that Arenado was already hitting the regression slide going into his age-30 season in 2021.
Arenado didn’t do much to necessarily help prove that narrative wrong last season.
While he did hit 34 home runs and drove in 105 RBI, his average was only .255 and his .806 OPS was the third-worst mark of his career. Additionally, his 6.7 percent barrel rate was the second-worst mark in his career in the Statcast era (i.e. since 2015). With an opt-out clause in his deal after this season, it was going to be interesting to see if Arenado would be able to bounce back in his triple-slash categories in 2022, or if he was going to continue to produce a line like his 2021 totals. The latter would further boost the reputation that Arenado simply benefited from Coors Field’s “hitter-friendly” confines during the prime years of his career.
So far this year in two games, Arenado is off to a scorching start, as he is hitting .625 with an OPS of 1.375.
In Saturday’s game, he went 4-for-4 with three doubles, which included ones off of Mitch Keller, a popular “bounce back” pitcher for 2022, and Roansy Contreras, one of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects. Arenado is also posting a barrel rate of 33.3 percent in his first two games of 2022. While that is obviously not sustainable, it does show that his pop is somewhat back, which is encouraging for Cardinals fans as well as fantasy managers who roster Arenado at the hot corner.
Of course, these numbers are coming against the Pirates, who are expected to be one of baseball’s worst teams. But, Arenado has a chance to not only feast on them for one more game, but also the Kansas City Royals, who come to St. Louis for a two-game set before the Cardinals head to Milwaukee, who has one of the NL Central’s best pitching staffs, for a four-game series.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Saturday
Tom Murphy (SEA): 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB.
In his first game of the year, Murphy came through for the Mariners at the plate, as his two-run, two-RBI performance was crucial in a 4-3 win over the Twins at Target Field in Minnesota. Murphy is expected the primary backup this year to Cal Raleigh, who started the season opener for the Mariners behind the dish. The 31-year-old catcher is known more for his glove, as he only posted a .202/.304/.350 line last year with the Mariners in 97 games and 325 plate appearances. However, occasional hitting outbursts like this will be welcomed by Mariners fans, especially if they hope to end their playoff drought, the longest of any team in baseball currently.
Javier Báez (DET): 2-4, 2 RBI.
The Tigers dropped the second game of the series to White Sox 5-2, but the Tigers’ newly acquired shortstop has gotten off to a scorching start. He is currently hitting .444 with an OPS of .888, and he has two multi-hit games to start the 2022 season, which included yesterday’s two-hit, two-RBI performance. Granted, Baez’s high-strikeout, low-walk profile is in full force in his new surroundings in Detroit, as he has struck out three times and accumulated zero walks in 9 plate appearances. However, Baez’s combination of power and speed brings a much-needed element to this Tigers team, which hopes to improve in the standings after winning 77 games a year ago.
Yoshi Tsutsugo (PIT): 2-4, 2 RBI.
There haven’t been a whole lot of bright spots for the Pirates so far in 2022. Not only are they 0-2, but they have been absolutely throttled in both games against the Cardinals to begin the year. Add that with a roster that is clearly in the rebuilding process, and it’s not surprising that Pirates fans have been quick to voice their displeasure with this team on Twitter and other forms of social media. However, a bright spot for the Pirates has been Tsutsugo, who not only had a two-hit game on Saturday but is hitting .571 with a 1.071 OPS over the first two games of the 2022 season. It’s been a bit of an underwhelming MLB career thus far for the 30-year-old Japanese first baseman, as he struggled with the Rays and Dodgers before showing signs of life with the Pirates in a 43-game sample in 2021. While it’s early, it appears that Tsutsugo is proving that his 2021 in Pittsburgh wasn’t a fluke.
Austin Meadows (DET): 2-4, R, 2 RBI.
Acquired by the Tigers shortly before Opening Day, the former Tampa Bay outfielder has thrived thus far in his new home in Detroit. Hitting in the two-spot behind Robbie Grossman (and in front of Baez), Meadows accumulated two hits and two RBI, another solid line after a 1-for-2 performance on Opening Day which included three walks. The 26-year-old outfielder is currently hitting .500 with a 1.500 OPS in 9 plate appearances and is entering a crucial year, as he could be an extension candidate this offseason if he continues to produce for the Tigers in 2022 (he has two arbitration years remaining before he becomes a free agent).
Steven Kwan (CLE): 2-3, 2B, BB.
Kwan went a bit under-the-radar this Spring for a variety of reasons. He doesn’t hit a whole lot of bombs (only 15 career home runs in 947 career plate appearances in the Minor Leagues), and he plays for the Cleveland Guardians, who don’t generate a whole lot of buzz in the baseball world outside of Northeast Ohio. That being said, Kwan has been a force thus far for the Guardians lineup, and manager Terry Francona has already recognized that, as he moved Kwan up to the two-hole on Saturday after batting him seventh on Opening Day. The decision was a wise move, as Kwan got on base three times and was the only Guardians hitter to have multiple hits on Saturday afternoon. The Guardians have struggled out of the gate offensively, as they were shut out on Saturday and only scored one run on Opening Day. And this came at the hands of the Royals, who are a popular pick for the basement of the AL Central in 2022 by most media outlets. If Cleveland is going to turn it around, they will need more performances like this from their rookie outfielder.
Frank Schwindel (CHC): 2-4, R, RBI, BB.
After going 0-for-4 on Opening Day, Frank the “Tank” bounced back in a big way on Saturday afternoon, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored in Chicago’s 9-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. The 29-year-old is a late bloomer of sorts, as he failed to do much at the Major League level with the Royals and Athletics previously before breaking out with a .342 average and 13 home runs in 56 games with the Cubs in 2021. The question will always be this: is Schwindel a legitimate option at first base for the Cubs long-term? Or is he simply a Four-A player who just rode a hot streak with the Cubbies a season ago? The answer will probably be revealed by the season’s end, but at the very least, Schwindel did his part on Saturday to combat the Four-A narrative (for now).
Marcell Ozuna (ATL): 3-4, 2 2B, RBI.
Ozuna’s return to Atlanta has been polarizing for all kinds of reasons, both on the field as well as off. While the National League’s adoption of the DH is certainly a boost for Ozuna to continue to earn everyday at-bats, the Braves lineup is filled with “hit-first” players who don’t provide much, if any, value in the field defensively, much like Ozuna. Thus, there will be times when Ozuna will have to play the field, which could limit his plate appearances, especially in late innings when he most likely will be replaced defensively (as was the case yesterday). That being said, Ozuna, when he’s on, can be one of the National League’s best power hitters, and he was able to demonstrate that yesterday against the Reds, as he accumulated three hits, which included two doubles. Saturday’s performance was an encouraging sign for Ozuna after going 1-for-7 in his first two games of 2022.
Connor Joe (COL): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Joe, much like Schwindel, was a surprise in 2021 after being pretty much a Minor League journeyman for most of his career. In his first season in Colorado, Joe posted a .285/.379/.469 line with eight home runs in 63 games and 211 plate appearances. While the Kris Bryant acquisition this offseason initially looked like a roadblock for Joe to get regular playing time with the Rockies in 2022, Colorado did trade away Raimel Tapia to Toronto, which cleared a spot in Colorado’s crowded outfield (Garrett Hampson, a popular breakout candidate, hasn’t started a game yet). Joe has been the Rockies’ primary DH so far, and if he continues to have two-hit games like yesterday, it won’t be surprising to see him hold onto that position, with perhaps brief spells in the outfield to give other outfielders a break every now and then.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 2-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB.
There was some worry that Hayes would miss extended time after he left Opening Day early due to a hand injury. Hayes struggled with injuries a year ago and seeing him leave early a mere eight hours after signing an eight-year extension is only salt in the wound for Pirates fans who have already suffered enough the past couple of seasons. Thankfully, it appeared that the hand injury wasn’t anything serious, as Hayes was not only back in the lineup in game two but also went 2-for-4 with a double to boot. It may be a nerve-wracking affair with Hayes for Pirates fans and fantasy managers who roster him in their leagues. But performances like Saturday show why he is worth the extension that the Pirates gave him.