4 takeaways from MLB's Seoul Series, including Yoshinobu Yamamoto's disappointing Dodgers debut

Rookie Jackson Merrill is going to fit in just fine in the Padres lineup

After an opening game that featured a combined 13 pitchers and zero extra-base hits — and a gambling scandal involving Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter that rocked the baseball world — the Dodgers and Padres delivered a sloppy slugfest in Game 2 of the Seoul Series, with San Diego barely hanging on to win 15-11.

While the reporting surrounding the conflicting stories regarding whatever happened between Ohtani and his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, loomed over the proceedings, the first two installments of this year’s Dodgers-Padres rivalry also delivered a healthy amount of memorable on-field moments — some more positive than others.

Here are four takeaways from the first 18 innings of the 2024 regular season.

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1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

It took all of one MLB start — one MLB inning! — for Yamamoto to allow more runs than he had in any regular-season start since he allowed five runs to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on July 2, 2022 (a NPB game in which he pitched into the seventh). During his sensational season last year for the Orix Buffaloes, in which he posted a 1.21 ERA across 23 starts, Yamamoto had more outings in which he allowed zero earned runs (11) than ones in which he allowed multiple (6) — and never allowed as many as five earned runs. That goes to show how unfamiliar of a feeling it must have been for Yamamoto to exit a start after just one inning.

Even across his three up-and-down spring training starts, in which his ERA ballooned to 8.18, Yamamoto demonstrated flashes of excellence and an arsenal with wicked movement that he could unleash with precision. That was not the case Thursday. While he recorded two of his three outs via strikeout — and his defense didn't do him any favors — his command was uncharacteristically poor, particularly of his splitter, which has traditionally been his best pitch. All nine Padres bats came to the plate in the top of the first, forcing Yamamoto to throw a staggering 43 pitches before he was replaced by Michael Grove after just three outs were recorded and five runs were surrendered.

To be clear, though: I’m not worried. This was such an anomalously bad showing from a command perspective that I’m willing to chalk it up to nerves and the unusual setting and schedule surrounding Yamamoto's debut. At the same time, when you sign the largest free-agent contract ever for a pitcher, the expectations will remain exceptionally high. And while I don’t think we learned that much about Yamamoto from this ugly showing in Seoul, I do think he’ll need to start delivering stronger outings soon to avoid the whispers of skepticism growing louder.

It was about as rough of a start as you could draw up, but I’m excited to see Yamamoto find his footing and get back to what he’s always done: dominate.

2. Didn’t I see this movie?

If it felt familiar to watching a back-and-forth bonanza in a unique venue, that’s because it has become oddly common in recent years as MLB has expanded to play regular-season games in new locations around the globe. The Yankees smashed the Red Sox to the tune of 17-13 and 12-8 during the London Series. Two years later, the Yankees and White Sox combined for eight homers in a 9-8 epic in the Field of Dreams game in Iowa. Last season, the Padres secured a similarly messy 16-11 victory over San Francisco in Mexico City in a game that featured 11 homers.

While smaller ballparks (or ballparks at elevation) and possibly juiced balls likely contributed to much of those scoring outbursts, it’s harder to understand what we just witnessed in the Gocheok Sky Dome beyond the beautiful randomness of our game and two pitching staffs that clearly were not ready to perform at their best. Hey, at least we have the pitch clock now!

What was especially strange about the Seoul Series was how sharply Game 2 contrasted with a Game 1 that was defined more by slog than slug. The Padres' offense was practically asleep Wednesday before exploding for 17 hits and 15 runs Thursday, remarkably the most ever scored by the franchise in a game against the rival Dodgers.

And the Dodgers mashed, too! Eleven players enjoyed multi-hit games Thursday, as nearly every bullpen button Dave Roberts and Mike Shildt pressed seemed to result in more runs. Game 2 see-sawed between a haphazard blowout and a wildly entertaining comeback attempt, only for Manny Machado to slam the door on any hope of a Dodgers miracle with a massive, three-run homer in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach.

All of which is to say …

3. These teams are not in regular-season form yet

These two contests might have counted officially, but it sure didn’t feel like regular-season-quality baseball on the whole, and it’s hard to say I blame either team. It was a blast watching a bunch of the offensive stars on both squads smash some balls around and/or out of the yard, but nearly every other component of the game — the defense, the strike-throwing, the base-running, the catching — was severely underbaked and at times laughably bad. I don’t know how to ensure a higher quality of play in future events such as this one or if I’m overreacting to a small sample of untidy baseballing, but it was undeniably not the most pristine showing.

Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing MLB expanding to new markets and bringing the best players on Earth to venues across the globe, and I hope they continue to do so in years to come. The time zone component can be a challenge, but it’s a worthwhile side effect for an otherwise ultra-valuable experience for players and fans alike. Hopefully future audiences being introduced to regular-season Major League Baseball for the first time can enjoy a more well-rounded display of our beloved game.

[Read more: NL West preview: What's in store for the Dodgers, Padres, D-backs, Giants and Rockies in 2024?]

4. Jackson Merrill is going to fit in just fine

The top prospect and surprise Opening Day center fielder for the Padres looked entirely comfortable in his first taste of the big leagues. Not only did Merrill collect his first couple of knocks in The Show a few weeks before turning 21 — including a double off the right field wall that would’ve been a HR in 23 MLB ballparks — but he also put five balls in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, the threshold Statcast defines as “hard-hit.” Only Ohtani produced as many across the two games in Seoul.

Having zoomed through the minors so quickly, Merrill’s offensive ceiling remains something of a mystery considering his relatively sparse statistical track record. He sure looks the part, though — and scouts have absolutely loved him for a while. While it’s hard to imagine him cracking the star-studded top of the lineup, it’s also hard to fathom he’ll be hitting ninth all year if he continues to display an aptitude at the plate that is far more advanced than his age.