Opening Third Day is Here
Our long winter wait has finally come to an end. After a couple of "for real" games in Japan as well as the stateside opening night unveiling Washington's new ballpark yesterday, we get treated to a full slate of games for the first time in six months. With the exception of Boston and Oakland, every team will be playing today.
The Red Sox and A's split their two games last week in what now seems more like last season than this season. Emil Brown made a huge baserunning gaffe in the opener, then bounced back to hit a home run in game two when Rich Harden tossed a three-hit, one-run gem while striking out nine over six innings. One might say Harden looked as if he was in mid-season form but that would mean he was on the disabled list so we'll just say that the 26-year-old (yes, he's still young) righthander pitched as well as anyone could have hoped.
Boston and Oakland will extend their series tomorrow with Daisuke Matsuzaka facing Joe Blanton for the second time in a week, followed by a rematch of Jon Lester and Harden on Wednesday. In one of the most bizarre "road trips" in recent memory, the Red Sox will travel to Toronto for a three-game set this weekend. The defending World Series champions will finally unpack their suitcases next week when they host Detroit in what promises to be one of the best series of the young season.
Over in the National League, the Chicago Cubs are hoping to win a World Series title for the first time in 100 years. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will square off today to mark the 50th anniversary of their move to California.
Let's take a look at today's schedule with a few comments attached to each game. All times are ET.
Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb) at Reds (Aaron Harang), 2:10
In a pitching duel between two of the ten best starters (yes, Aaron Harang deserves that ranking) in baseball, the game will feature Dusty Baker's return to the dugout. His influence is already being felt as Corey Patterson will play center field and bat lead-off for the Cincinnati Reds. After a horrendous spring, Brandon Webb will need to keep his sinker down at the Great American Ball Park to give the hitting-starved Arizona Diamondbacks a legitimate shot at winning their opener.
Brewers (Ben Sheets) at Cubs (Carlos Zambrano), 2:20
This game features the top two teams from the NL Central. Although the Chicago Cubs are the favorites to win the division, the Milwaukee Brewers won't go down without a fight, especially if Ben Sheets is healthy enough to start 30 games this season. Carlos Zambrano begins the first of five years of his new $91.5M contract. Some pundits believe he will pitch better with his new deal in hand while skeptics wonder if the ace of the Cubbies may face more pressure than ever. Only time will tell.
Nationals (Matt Chico) at Phillies (Brett Myers), 3:05
Matt Chico is one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. His strikeout and walk rates are well-below average, which spells trouble for an extreme flyball pitcher. Brett Myers, in his return to the rotation, won't enjoy an easier matchup all year (at home against a mediocre hitting club and a weak pitcher, not to mention the fact that the Nationals will be coming down from their high after celebrating Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run in the team's opener at its new ballpark).
Giants (Barry Zito) at Dodgers (Brad Penny), 4:10
After three consecutive years of starting on Opening Day, Derek Lowe has relinquished his role to Brad Penny even though all of his stats other than wins, losses, and ERA would suggest that he actually had a better season than his fellow righthander. In the meantime, Barry Zito and his $126 million contract – the largest-ever pitcher contract at signing – gets the nod over Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. I guess Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy think the former Cy Young Award winner has earned it, so to speak.
Mets (Johan Santana) at Marlins (Mark Hendrickson), 4:10
In a matchup of lefthanders – hey, how else can I compare these two? – the New York Mets and Johan Santana are the prohibitive favorites to win this game despite playing on the road. The 2004 and 2006 Cy Young Award winner will think facing the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium is a minor league tuneup compared to a more normal game from past seasons in the American League.
Rockies (Jeff Francis) at Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 4:15
This game is as much about the changing fortunes of two teams as anything else. These two clubs represented the NL in the last two World Series but their prospects seem to be heading in opposite directions with the Colorado Rockies trying to win the NL West and the St. Louis Cardinals trying to stay out of the cellar in the NL Central.
Pirates (Ian Snell) at Braves (Tom Glavine), 7:10
I like the Atlanta Braves more than the Pittsburgh Pirates but, at the same time, think Ian Snell is a much better pitcher than Tom Glavine. The latter is entering his 22nd season in the bigs while returning to the Atlanta Braves after spending five years with the New York Mets.
Astros (Roy Oswalt) at Padres (Jake Peavy), 10:05
The Houston Astros should struggle all year but Roy Oswalt will generally give his club a decent shot at winning anytime he is on the mound. It's just too bad that the perennial Cy Young candidate will be facing the CYA and Triple Crown of Pitching winner in Jake Peavy. Take the unders if the oddsmakers forget that the game is being played at Petco.
Blue Jays (Roy Halladay) at Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang), 1:05
It's only one game but this is a chance for the Toronto Blue Jays to make a statement right off the bat. A couple of sinkerballers will take the mound in what should be a low-scoring affair. Today's game marks the last opening game at what will be the old Yankee Stadium come next season.
Royals (Gil Meche) at Tigers (Justin Verlander), 1:05
The Detroit Tigers are the heavy favorites here but don't be too quck to dismiss the chances that Gil Meche could hurl a dandy and beat the team that many are picking to go to – and even win – the World Series. It says here that the Royals may be a little better than most think while the Tigers could be a little worse. We shall see if I'm right.
Rays (James Shields) at Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie), 3:05
Who would have thunk that James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie would be their team's Opening Day starters in 2008 just one year ago? Shields has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the AL while Guthrie finally met some of the expectations placed upon him when he was drafted out of Stanford in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft. The Rays are going up the elevator while the Orioles are going the elevator, and it would surprise few if Tampa Bay won as many as a dozen or more games than Baltimore than year (after winning three fewer last season).
White Sox (Mark Buehrle) at Indians (C.C. Sabathia), 3:05
Two lefthanded aces take the hill in this AL Central tilt. Give the edge to Cleveland as C.C. & Company are clearly better than Mark Buehrle and his teammates.
Rangers (Kevin Millwood) at Mariners (Erik Bedard), 6:40
Everyone will be watching to see if Erik Bedard can reverse a horrendous spring and pitch like he did last summer when the southpaw may have been the most dominating starter in baseball. If Bedard and Felix Hernandez put up Cy Young-type seasons, the M's just may find themselves competing for the AL West title now that the Los Angeles Angels are looking at a depleted pitching staff (with John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Scot Shields all on the shelf).
Angels (Jered Weaver) at Twins (Livan Hernandez), 7:05
I haven't seen the line for this game, but if it is -120 or better, I would gladly take the Angels. Jered Weaver is healthy and he is coming off an outstanding spring. Livan Hernandez is the ace of the Twins' staff in name only. Last I heard, Ron Gardenhire hadn't even committed to Jason Kubel as his Designated Hitter. If Gardy can't see fit to play Kubel over Craig Monroe against a righthander who throws from a 3/4 arm slot, then Minnesota would be better served to trade the 25-year-old who hit .303/.379/.511 in the second half of 2007. That said, the main storyline here is Torii Hunter's return to Minnesota.
Let the games begin!