MLB Preview: Opening Day

At Wrigley Field, Adam Wainwright and Jason Heyward led the way in a 3-0 Cardinals win. In an offseason not without hype, the opposing Cubs looked relatively mediocre in the Opening Night of baseball, and $156-million ace Jon Lester struggled in his Cubs debut, allowing eight hits, three runs, and two walks and failing to get out of the fifth inning.

Despite a relatively disappointing delivery on what seemed to be a more contested matchup, there are many games to look forward to on Monday.

Toronto Blue Jays @ New York Yankees, 1:05 pm

Masahiro Tanaka gets the ball tomorrow (13-5, 2.77) against Blue Jays youngster Drew Hutchison (11-13, 4.48). The Yankees have the advantage on the pitching side of this matchup, from a starting pitching standpoint as well as bullpen, after adding free agent strikeout machine Andrew Miller. The Blue Jays sport a better lineup, but getting to Tanaka and/or a Yankees bullpen that features Miller, Dellin Betances, and David Carpenter is a tall order. The Yankees and Blue Jays both have formidable lineups, and while the Blue Jays probably have a superior one, especially after adding Josh Donaldson this offseason, the Yankees have the better pitching staff, and a respectable offense that features wily veterans like Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Carlos Beltran, and even the tainted Alex Rodriguez.

Minnesota Twins @ Detroit Tigers, 1:08 pm

After learning of Ervin Santana‘s PED use, the Twins are starting the season rocky, but they hope Philip Hughes, who gave them a historic season in 2014, can give them a boost. Going against a Detroit lineup that isn’t without fearsome bats, it’s set to be an interesting matchup. The Tigers will throw out lefty David Price, one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Detroit had a relatively poor offseason just for the fact that they lost ace Max Scherzer to free agency, and every team in their division seemed to improve. Even still, in a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Ian Kinsler, newly acquired Yoenis Cespedes, and JD Martinez, they always have a chance. The Twins added Torii Hunter and now-suspended Ervin Santana, but seem to have a bright future. Offensively, they have some talent, with Joe Mauer, Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia and Hunter. From a pitching standpoint, the Santana suspension will hurt them, as they were certainly looking forward to a 1-2-3 punch of Hughes, Santana, and Kyle Gibson with a weak back-end.

Colorado Rockies @ Milwaukee Brewers, 2:10 pm

Don’t expect a pitcher’s duel. This is a matchup of two great offensive clubs. The Brewers have a lineup that includes Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Jonathan LuCroy, Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, and Scooter Gennett. With a better pitching staff than Colorado, they match up as the superior team. The Rockies, however, do have a lineup featuring guys like Justin Morneau, Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson, and Charlie Blackmon. In the pitching category, the Brewers hand the ball to veteran Kyle Lohse, a 13-game winner in 2014, while the Rockies go with Kyle Kendrick, who went 10-13, and has spent the better part of his career as back-end depth for the Phillies. Normally, this start would go to lefty Jorge De La Rosa, but a groin injury lands him on the DL.

Boston Red Sox @ Philadelphia Phillies, 3:05 pm

This matchup is definitely interesting in more ways than one. Several years ago, this was many pundits’ World Series pick. In 2015, it rivals a possible bounce-back team (Boston) against a team with not much hope in a surprisingly tough division now feeling the after-effects of some ill-advised contracts (Philadelphia). Also, Cole Hamels, the starter for Philadelphia on the day, has been the subject of many trade rumors, particularly ones that would have him landing in Boston, and it’s seen as something that could still happen by the trade deadline, with a Sox rotation with still a lot of question marks. Boston will hand the ball to the unpredictable Clay Buchholz. While Philadelphia has the pitching edge in this particular matchup, Boston has a far superior lineup, with guys like Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Mookie Betts on the attack. Philly, on the other hand, have declining stars like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Grady Sizemore, and Carlos Ruiz, and solid players like Ben Revere.

Baltimore Orioles @ Tampa Bay Rays, 3:10 pm

The Baltimore Orioles have been subject to much criticism this offseason after letting key guys go. Nelson Cruz hit 40 home runs for Baltimore last season, and they seemed perfectly content letting him sign a four-year pact with the Mariners. Nick Markakis had been a stabilizing force in the lineup since 2006, a fan favorite, and an excellent right fielder, but he was let go and signed with Atlanta. President Dan Duquette cited concerns over his neck. Reliever Andrew Miller was a midseason acquisition who was lights out in the ‘pen, but he ended up signing with the Yankees. How will the O’s respond? The O’s have added lots of outfield depth quietly over the last two offseasons, with guys like Alejandro de Aza, Travis Snider, and Delmon Young being brought in, and Steve Pearce developed into a respectable starter. In this game, they’ll be without catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman Chris Davis, and shortstop JJ Hardy. The Rays are always a team to watch for thanks to their pitching. Even with ace Alex Cobb out as well as Matt Moore, they still have Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Nate Karns, and a very good bullpen that features Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger. Offensively, they aren’t mashers like their AL East counterparts, but they can manufacture runs, with hitters like James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and youngster Steven Souza Jr. is a guy to watch for. In this game, they’ll throw out Archer against O’s ace Chris Tillman.

New York Mets @ Washington Nationals, 4:05 pm

The Nationals are picked by the overwhelming majority of pundits to bring a ring back to DC – and for good reason. On paper, they’re the most talented team in baseball. They could pitch last year, with probably the most talented rotation in all of baseball, featuring Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister. They then added Max Scherzer. Offensively, they’re not an overwhelming club, but can still score runs. Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, and Ian Desmond are the stars of the infield, while in the outfield they have Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Bryce Harper. Some of those guys will start the season on the DL, but not for the long-term. The Mets have respectable pitching, with Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Jacob de Grom, and Dillon Gee. Offensively, they don’t measure up, but still have some pieces, like a good outfield that features Curtis Granderson, newly acquired Michael Cuddyer, and recently extended Juan Lagares. In the infield, they have veterans David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Lucas Duda. In this game, they’ll match up 41-year-old Colon with Scherzer.

Atlanta Braves @ Miami Marlins, 4:10 pm

Both these teams face each other coming off very different offseasons. The Marlins had perhaps the best one of any team. While they’ll go into it without ace Jose Fernandez, they are well prepared after adding Mat Latos, extending Giancarlo Stanton, trading for Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, and adding role players like Aaron Crow and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki. They feature, in my opinion, the greatest outfield, with Christian Yelich, Stanton, and Marcel Ozuna. The Braves, however, are coming off a very frustrating, head scratching offseason. They gave $44 million to Nick Markakis, a solid, but not spectacular player, traded Justin Upton, traded Jason Heyward, traded Craig Kimbrel, and haven’t really added much of any significance. There’s still some talent on the team, with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Shelby Miller leading off the rotation, but they won’t have much run support and the bullpen will obviously be worse after trading Kimbrel. They’ll give the ball to Teheran against Henderson Alvarez for Miami.

Chicago White Sox @ Kansas City Royals, 4:10 pm

The Royals were 2014’s baseball Cinderella story, sneaking into the playoffs and advancing past Oakland in a one-game playoff, and dominating the favored Angels and Orioles, and losing in the World Series only thanks to an all time great performance by Madison Bumgarner. The Royals have every reason to go into 2015 feeling optimistic. They have a promising rotation led by youngster Yordano Ventura, recently signed to a five-year extension, and offensively, have mostly the same core without Billy Butler and Nori Aoki, and replace their production by adding Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. Their bullpen and speed were their strong suits in 2014, and that returns in 2015. The White Sox are coming off a disappointing season, but responded with a very aggressive offseason, adding Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, and Adam LaRoche. They figure to be a much improved team. This matchup will rival Samardzija, who has bounced around a lot over the last few seasons, against youngster Ventura.

Los Angeles Angels @ Seattle Mariners, 4:10 pm

The Angels finished a sensational 2014 season disappointingly, as they were swept out of the playoffs by Kansas City. Probably the most talented team in the AL, the Angels have the best player in baseball in center fielder Mike Trout, as well as supporting hitters like Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Erick Aybar, and David Freese. From a pitching standpoint, they’re very strong, with Jered Weaver, who will start this game, CJ Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, and Garrett Richards, when he comes back. Seattle barely missed the playoffs last season, and like the White Sox, seemed willing to make up the difference in their pockets, as they acquired Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith to add to an improving offense. They’ll obviously use King Felix Hernandez in this game, a consistent Cy Young candidate, and throw out a rotation that includes Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, JA Happ, and breakout candidate Taijuan Walker. They’re considered a team who can overthrow LA in the west.

Pittsburgh Pirates @ Cincinnati Reds, 4:10 pm

The Pirates and Reds have switched roles over the last few seasons. A few years ago, the Pirates were the doormat to an already poor NL Central, while the Reds seemed to be running it. Now, in 2015, the Pirates seem like a contender while the Reds seem prepared to be tenants in the basement of it. The Pirates have a solid lineup, with superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen leading it, but it’s not a one-man band; they also have Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker. They can pitch, too. They’ll give the ball to Francisco Liriano in this game, but they also have Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Vance Worley, and veteran AJ Burnett. The Reds have a talented outfield, with Marlon Byrd, Billy Hamilton, and Jay Bruce starting in it, and a good infield as well, with the returning Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, and Brandon Phillips, but many questions in the rotation. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey (on 15-day DL) make for a solid 1-2 punch, but after that, it’s relatively unclear. In this game, where they’ll have Cueto on the hill against Liriano, they certainly stand a chance, but they will certainly have obstacles to overcome in 2015.

San Diego Padres @ Los Angeles Dodgers, 4:10 pm

The Padres probably made the most noise of anyone this offseason, and completed it with a bang yesterday by acquiring Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, and outfielder Melvin Upton (if that’s worth anything in 2015). Before that, however, they added Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, and James Shields. They’ve been mostly absent from the playoff picture in recent years, and while, in my eyes, most of these moves are boom-or-bust, it takes them to at least a point where you have to take them seriously. Myers, Kemp, and Shields carry some risk. Myers had a sensational 2013 season, but in 2014, hit .222 with six home runs in 325 at bats. Kemp has injury history, missing 56 games in 2012 and 89 in 2013. Shields is obviously a reliable pitcher, but if the Padres are suiting up for the long run, Shields has struggled in big games, despite being nicknamed Big Game James. Either way, they have managed to put together a squad to respect. The Dodgers, however, already had that – and more. Outside of the Nats, you’d have a hard time finding a better staff than that of the Dodgers, with 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw, veterans Zack Greinke and Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and currently-injured Hyun-Jin Ryu. They can hit too, with Yasmani Grandal, Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig rounding out a lineup essentially without holes. In this game, that offense will face Shields, but you have to feel confident any time you have Kershaw on the bump.

Cleveland Indians @ Houston Astros, 7:10 pm

After signing Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to a five-year extension, the Indians enter 2015 on a positive note. They already had to feel good about their chances. With good reason, they’re predicted as a team that could run the AL Central if some things fall their way. They can rake, with hitters like Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Moss. With leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, they have a little mix of speed as well. They’ll use Kluber in this game, an 18-game winner, and also have depth behind him, with Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, and TJ House. The Astros just need to show signs of progress. Pitching-wise, they need work, and while they can hit, their pitching will certainly hold them back. Dallas Keuchel, the starter in this game, was a bright spot in 2014, as was Collin McHugh, and Scott Feldman is a solid veteran, but the back end is rough. They have a lineup that features Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, Jed Lowrie, and George Springer, and even guys like Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena can provide some production, so they can manufacture runs, but pitching will hurt them, especially against Cleveland.

Texas Rangers @ Oakland Athletics, 10:05 pm

The Rangers were once one of the most feared teams in baseball, but much has changed. Last year, they won 67 games, no thanks to injuries, and while they enter 2015 fresh, they aren’t off to a great start. Ace Yu Darvish, who has gone 39-25 in three seasons, will likely miss the entire season, and fellow starter Matt Harrison will also start the season on the DL. Adding Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler to the rotation has already turned out to help them, but it’s not a good sign. Offensively, they have pieces, like Adrian Beltre, star SS/2B combo Elvis Andrus/Rougned Odor, first baseman Prince Fielder, and outfielders Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo. But already, four key guys are on the DL (Harrison, Darvish, Jurickson Profar, and Martin Perez. The A’s, were, for most of the first half, one of the best teams of 2014. Down the stretch, however, they faded, and it seemed they faded only after acquiring superstar pitchers like Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, ironically. This year, they’ll enter with a far less impressive staff, but still solid, with Sonny Gray, new addition Jesse Hahn, veteran Scott Kazmir, and Kendall Graveman and Drew Pomeranz in the back. Offensively, it’s a very Oakland offense. Not a lot of power, a lot of contact guys, and guys who can play multiple positions. They’re an intriguing team. With some luck, I think it’s a team that could surprise some people. In this game, they’ll trot out Gray against Gallardo in a matchup of power vs. small ball.

San Francisco Giants @ Arizona Diamondbacks, 10:10 pm

These teams aren’t very evenly matched, and it shows in their records, as well as the squads. Last year, the Giants won their third championship in five years, while the Diamondbacks won 64 games, scoring only 615 runs. The Giants received one of the best postseason performances in baseball history from lefty Madison Bumgarner, and there has been some concern pertaining to the toll that takes on Bumgarner’s arm moving forward. Bumgarner, manager Brian Bochy and the Giants don’t seem too concerned. He takes the mound Monday, and the team doesn’t look much different. They obviously lost Sandoval and gained Casey McGehee to replace him, and lost Mike Morse, replacing him with Nori Aoki, but they have the usual offensive core, with catcher Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, and Brandon Crawford. They can pitch, obviously, with Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, and Tim Lincecum. It’ll be interesting to see what the rotation will be at the end of the year in a rotation that features lots of veterans and two other guys (Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit) vying for spots and Lincecum, who has pitched better out of the ‘pen. The Diamondbacks are a team without much to show. Offensively, they have a couple pieces, most notably, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and a very talented outfield, with David Peralta, AJ Pollock, Mark Trumbo, and Ender Inciarte, but a very limited pitching staff, led by eight-game winner Josh Collmenter, and a lot of question marks after that, with Rubby de La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson, Chase Anderson, and Archie Bradley.

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