1. NL West: Change, Money and Bubble Gum

One week in, and you know what’s more fun than Furious 7 meets Coachella?

The National League West.

Grab a fistful of Dubble Bubble, because that’s the first checkpoint for a summer of bubble-blowing good times: Padres home opener Thursday, ninth inning, Giants center fielder Angel Pagan at the plate and suddenly he and San Diego catcher Derek Norris are jawing and must be separated.

The occasion?

Pagan flipped a wad of chewed bubble gum at Norris, who immediately took offense.

Pagan pleaded that he meant to toss it further, but the wad stuck to the pine tar on his glove and stunted his throw.

Norris went ballistic because, well, as he told reporters afterward, “I don’t come into center field and throw gum at him when he’s playing defense.”

Great point.

Chomp, chomp.   

The Padres, for the first time in a decade, are actually trying.

The Dodgers, after two seasons of 90-plus wins and a postseason in which Clayton Kershaw still failed to get them to their first World Series since 1988, are rebooting.

The Giants are hurting.

The Diamondbacks rebuilt their front office with new baseball ops guru (and Hall of Famer) Tony La Russa and new general manager Dave Stewart.

And the Rockies, who ever knows what they’re up to?

“We know what the vision is,” new Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins says. “The guys who were brought in here, we know why we were brought in.”

New Dodgers baseball operations boss Andrew Friedman, special assistant Josh Byrnes (the deposed Padres GM) and GM Farhan Zaidi completed 10 trades in 25 days in December. They completely rebuilt up the middle with Rollins, second baseman Howie Kendrick, rookie center fielder Joc Pederson and catcher Yasmani Grandal.

“I knew we had talented players,” Rollins says. “But we have a good team.”

That’s what the Padres think, too—of themselves. Their winter made the Dodgers look like they were standing pat, and new GM A.J. Preller carried it right up to Opening Day eve, when he acquired the game’s best closer, Craig Kimbrel, in what otherwise was an exchange of bad contracts. The Padres got the Artist Formerly Known at B.J. Upton (he’s Melvin now), and they unloaded outfielder Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin.

So add Kimbrel to Norris, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks and James Shields in what might be the most stunning and dizzying offseason that one club has ever had.

“The vibe is completely different,” says starter Ian Kennedy, who strained a hamstring in his first start of the season on Thursday and now is on the disabled list. “You have these high-profile guys that people know. A lot of people didn’t know Padres players before.”

Not even the folks running the witness protection program.

“Our pitching staff was so under the radar, but we had the second-best ERA in the National League last year,” Kennedy continues, accurately speaking of the 3.27 ERA the ’14 Padres produced. “You get Kemp, who’s been on national TV so often and is an all-time Dodger, Justin Upton, an All-Star, Wil Myers, who is supposed to be a superstar player like Mike Trout, Norris…all of these people have been to the playoffs.

“The vibe, everybody is excited.”

Including fans who have leaped off the bandwagon by the thousands in recent years as previous ownerships alienated them. The four-game series against the Giants just completed set a Petco Park attendance record of 168,181, and the new Padres surely won some more hearts.

Though he hasn’t homered yet, Kemp is off to a roaring start at .367/.406/.533 through Sunday with three doubles and a triple. He pumped his fists and emitted a primal scream following a key triple Sunday—that burst of joy/enthusiasm could be the poster moment of the first week.

“I feel better now than I felt in the second half last year,” Kemp told Bleacher Report in the final days of spring camp. He batted .309/.365/.606 with 17 homers and 54 RBI in the second half last year in looking like the old Matt Kemp before significant shoulder and ankle surgeries.

“My legs weren’t all the way under me, as far as being able to run the way I wanted to run,” Kemp continued. “Now, I’ll be able to do some things I couldn’t do. People don’t understand: Microfracture surgery is pretty serious.”

Then there are the Giants, who you might recall have won three World Series titles in five seasons and have no plans to surrender despite their recent track record of odd-year disappointments and a stunning array of injuries.

Right-hander Matt Cain (flexor strain, right forearm) is out for several weeks, an early blow the Giants did not see coming. Outfielder Hunter Pence (broken arm) won’t return until May. First baseman Brandon Belt missed most of the first week with a groin strain. Manager Bruce Bochy was forced to juggle his rotation when right-hander Jake Peavy‘s lower back locked up.

“It’s been one thing after another since we started spring training,” Peavy says. “That being said, it’s early and we’re going to hold the fort down. It’s the Next Man Up mentality.

“This team has a quiet confidence. Hopefully, we find and create some depth out of this situation.

“But there ain’t no way these teams (Dodgers and Padres) ain’t panning out. Both have a lot of talent. Both have a lot of exposure. We’re not banking on these teams not jelling. We expect the Dodgers to be a great team, as always, and we expect the Padres to be good.

“But this group of guys we have knows how to compete, and we expect to.”

In the season’s first six days, the Padres’ Shields outpitched both the Dodgers’ Kershaw and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.

So pass the bubble gum, and settle in. This summer more than any other, you never know what’s coming next in the NL West.


2. Jackie Robinson Day: Stand and Salute

You can make an argument—and I will, every year—that the way baseball blows out Jackie Robinson Day is one of the game’s finest moments.

Former commissioner Bud Selig spoke often of the game’s responsibility as a social institution, and those roots trace back to the Dodgers, Branch Rickey and Robinson smashing the color barrier on April 15, 1947.

That moment, incredibly, came 17 years before the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It banned racial segregation in the schools, the workplace and the voting booths.

That baseball was so far ahead of the rest of the country absolutely is worth remembering and celebrating. Especially now, with a steady string of sickening moments—Sanford, Florida; Ferguson, Missouri; New York; South Carolina—that suggest we’re still not where we should be in this country.

So MLB will hold Jackie Robinson Day on Wednesday, and players throughout the game will wear No. 42 in his honor. The official celebration will take place in Dodger Stadium with the Civil Rights Game between the Mariners and Dodgers. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Don Newcombe, a former teammate of Jackie’s, and Joni Campanella, daughter of the late Dodgers’ catcher Roy Campanella, will participate too.

Players wearing No. 42 traces back to 2007—the brilliant idea of Ken Griffey Jr. It’s true. Griffey that year asked Selig if it would be OK to wear No. 42 in tribute on Jackie Robinson Day, and when Selig said he would bring the idea to Rachel Robinson, Griffey asked if he could make that call himself.

In the end, Selig loved the idea so much he asked Griffey whether he would mind if baseball expanded that idea to every player.

Now, Griffey has another idea that would build upon Jackie Robinson Day.

“I look at guys who have done so much, and not only for baseball. The next one I’d like to see is Roberto Clemente, everyone wear No. 21,” Griffey told me when we spoke this winter, referring to the former Pirates outfielder who was the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Clemente was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972, while en route to delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Baseball already presents the Roberto Clemente Award at the end of each season to an elite player who also is personally involved with community work, an honor that dates back to 1973.

“I understand we give an award at the end of the year, but maybe if we do it on [Roberto Clemente Day], and honor the things that he did for other people, the things that they all went through,” Griffey continued. “It could be on the last day of the season because that was the last day he played.

“As a baseball player, we look forward to those types of celebrations. Whether it’s wearing a throwback uniform for the Mariners, or whatever, we look forward to being able to wear uniforms of certain guys who mean so much to the organization. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do that and celebrate them.”


3. The Angels Should Be Ashamed

If Angry Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of We Should Be Embarrassed, insists on blaming someone for the current Josh Hamilton mess, he should look in the mirror.

It was Moreno who signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal even amateur armchair GMs could have told you would be a horrendous contract.

Nobody could have predicted that Hamilton would descend back into the hell of cocaine, as he reportedly did, according to the New York Daily News, but the possibilities were there. The entire world knew of his history of addiction. Age 31 when he signed the deal, Hamilton also had a tremendous amount of wear and tear on his body.

This was a high-risk deal from Day 1. And now that the Angels have been burned with two years of underperformance followed by the reported cocaine relapse, for them to take the public offensive against Hamilton is outrageous. This is a guy who clearly needs help, and that phony family atmosphere the organization promotes has never looked so inauthentic.

“It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his drug program,” read a statement attributed to club president John Carpino.

“The Angels have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans,” read a statement attributed to GM Jerry Dipoto.

Both clearly were serving as henchmen for Moreno, who stayed in the shadows until Friday, when he said he couldn’t guarantee Hamilton would play for the Angels again.

It is difficult to imagine the Angels being an attractive destination for future free agents when the team is so quick to trash the ones who disappoint.


4. Phillies Closer: Baby sitter Needed

Three years into a four-year, $50 million deal, Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon continues to take his employers’ millions with little investment of his own.

“I don’t really feel much like a Phillie,” Papelbon told Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe last week.

And: “What is a Phillie? A horse? That’s what it is? I feel like a horse.”

It’s tempting to say Papelbon should be seen and not heard. Yet that’s dangerous, too: It was last September when he grabbed his crotch in the direction of Philadelphia fans.

Of course, their ungrateful closer isn’t the only thing the Phillies have to worry about. Heading into this week, first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley were a combined 5-for-39 (.128) with 13 strikeouts.


5. Never Dull with Yankees and Red Sox

When the Yankees scored seven times in the first inning against Boston Sunday night, it was the first time the Yanks scored seven or more first-inning runs against the Red Sox since Aug. 15, 1954, when Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were in the lineup and Tom Brewer started for the Red Sox, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

And in Friday night’s 19-inning, 6-5 Boston win, the two teams combined to use 17 pitchers and throw 627 pitches.

Every player on Boston’s 25-man roster played except infielder Brock Holt and starting pitchers Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson.

The Yankees used 21 of their 25-man roster, everybody except CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka and Adam Warren.


6. Springer’s Got Some Springs

If you missed Houston right fielder George Springer’s sensational catch against the Rangers on Sunday, you can fix that mistake right now.


7. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Home Openers: Ah, the promise of warm weather and summer vacations. A promise no other sport can make.

2. Tigers: Undefeated Tabbies (heading into the week) savage Minnesota and Cleveland to tune of MLB-best plus-31 run differential. Did someone say 1984?

3. Royals: Quick, start the stopwatch to see which is quicker—center fielder Lorenzo Cain chasing down fly balls or frisky starter Yordano Ventura’s mouth chasing down Mike Trout.

4. Stanozolol: The old-school steroid of choice makes a comeback, knocking out Jenrry Mejia (Mets), Ervin Santana (Twins), David Rollins (Mariners) and Arodys Vizcaino (Braves) for 80 games each.

5. Cubs bathrooms: After Opening Night debacle, the team brings in 72 portable toilets. And still no Kris Bryant.


 8. Superhuman Player of the Week

Yes, the Tigers finally lost Monday. But that won’t happen often if this continues:


9. How Do You Like Ned Yost’s Managing Now?

Look at these Royals go:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Happy Jackie Robinson Day….

“We’ll walk hand in hand
“We’ll walk hand in hand
“We’ll walk hand in hand, someday
“Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
“We shall overcome, someday”

— Pete Seeger, We Shall Overcome


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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