Cleveland Baseball Weekly: Five things to take away from Opening Day

The Kansas City Royals Jarrod Dyson steals second as the throw to Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera bounces off his glove in the third inning of a spring training game at Goodyear Stadium in Goodyear, Arizona, Feb. 26, 2013. The Royals defeated the Indians, 4-1. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

The Kansas City Royals’ Jarrod Dyson steals second as the throw to Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera bounces off his glove in the third inning of a spring training game at Goodyear Stadium in Goodyear, Arizona, Feb. 26, 2013. The Royals defeated the Indians, 4-1. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

Jim Piascik

Cleveland was far from perfect on Tuesday, but the team did enough to get a 4-1 victory in Toronto. The game was much better than last year’s Opening Day, when the 16-inning loss to the Blue Jays foreshadowed the long, slow descent the team took into the depths of the American League standings.

You never want to put too much stock in one baseball game, but with that disclaimer, let’s take a look at five things to take away from the Opening Day win.

Cabrera goes deep

The biggest moment of Tuesday’s game was Asdrubal Cabrera taking Toronto starting pitcher R.A. Dickey deep in the fifth inning. The two-run shot to right field made the game 4-1 and gave Cleveland the cushion needed to hold the lead.

Cabrera doing well in the first half of the season is nothing new; his struggles after the All-Star break in the past two years are the bigger worry. Still, it is good to see Cabrera getting off to a fast start.

The baseline for offensive success at shortstop is very low and having one in Cabrera who can really hit is a huge advantage for Cleveland. If this home run is the start to another 20-home run season for the switch-hitter, then the team is in very good shape.

Brantley’s swinging well

Michael Brantley’s performance may not jump out at you (1-for-2, 2 walks, 1 strikeout), but actually watching Brantley hit was a treat. The outfielder has a sweet swing at the plate and really seems to understand hitting.

Specifically in the fifth inning, Brantley fought off some knuckleballs from Dickey and took a few close pitches to draw a walk. Even though the end result was fairly boring, watching how Brantley went about the plate appearance was impressive.

Brantley will never be a slugger, but what he does bring to the team is a steady, intelligent approach to hitting. He has cut down on his strikeouts, knows how to spray singles around the field, and generally just helps keep the team rolling.

Defense flashes some leather

Even though much has been made of the new-and-improved lineup on offense, the upgrades on defense will play a pivotal role in 2013.

The defense was on display Tuesday, as it seemed like every time the ball was in the air, one of the three centerfielders Cleveland has in the outfield made their way under it. Most catches just looked routine, though Drew Stubbs’ flashy sliding catch in the eighth inning was remarkable.

In the infield, Jason Kipnis had a beautiful diving stop in the sixth inning, Nick Swisher showed range going to his left on a groundball from the next batter and Cabrera started a key double play in the third inning.

The starting pitching on the team may be lacking, but it might not look so bad if the defense can routinely pick them up.

Masterson gets the job done

In my season preview, I wrote that the two most important players to the 2013 season were Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. One start into the season it’s so far, so good.

Masterson scuffled in his first few innings, but the right-hander pulled things together and retired the last 11 batters he faced. He finished the day with a quality start of six innings, three hits, four walks, five strikeouts and only one run.

Masterson struggled to throw strikes in the early going and walked too many batters, but he made it through six innings. Cleveland’s bullpen is one of the best, and if Masterson and company can get the team through six innings, they will finish plenty of games with a “W” in the win-loss column.

The Bullpen Mafia locks it down

Speaking of that bullpen, the strength of the Joe Smith-Vinnie Pestano-Chris Perez triumvirate was on full display Tuesday. Masterson got the game to the teeth of the Bullpen Mafia, and they took it on home.

Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Cleveland went 20-7 in games last year when Smith, Pestano and Perez all pitched. Simply put, if the starting pitchers can get the game to those three relievers, more often than not, they will finish the victory.

There have been hiccups along the way (see Perez’s blown save on Opening Day last year), but relief pitching is a strength of this team. Every night, fans will hope that games go as they did on Tuesday, with the Bullpen Mafia coming in to shut the door on another win.

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected] and @JimPiascik.