Debuts of old faces in new places lead Opening Day, Part III
As surprising as Sunday’s season opener between the Astros and Rangers was, and as enjoyable — and historic — as Monday’s 12 games were, there are still four teams that have yet to play an inning. Those four finally get things started on Tuesday in the third installment of Opening Day. Here’s a quick preview of the final two season-starting games of 2013, both of them compelling American League matchups.
Orioles @ Rays, 3:10 pm EST, Jason Hammel vs. David Price
Baltimore and Tampa Bay finished second and third, respectively, in the AL East last year, both winning 90 or more games under the watchful eye of two of the best managers in baseball, the Orioles’ Buck Showalter and the Rays’ Joe Maddon. The O’s are expected to come back down to earth this season, but the Rays are a popular pick to win their weakened division based largely on the strength of their pitching and the hope of having Evan Longoria healthy for a full season. That pitching starts with the defending AL Cy Young award winner Price, who went 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA in his home ballpark last year and allowed just one run in 22 1/3 innings against the upstart Orioles.
Baltimore, meanwhile, will try to repeat last year’s success despite a weak starting rotation led by the 30-year-old Hammel, whose breakout campaign in 2012 was repeatedly interrupted by knee problems. The Orioles won last year with home runs, relief pitching and tremendous luck in one-run and extra-inning games, the latter two of which are very volatile year-to-year. The Orioles have some reasons for optimism in their lineup with the expectation of a full season from 20-year-old Manny Machado and the return to health of Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, but recent concerns about top prospect Dylan Bundy’s elbow have dampened the hope of them being able to use Bundy as a mid-season upgrade in their rotation.
Indians @ Blue Jays, 7:07 pm EST, Justin Masterson vs. R.A. Dickey
Cleveland and Toronto both have new managers and improved rosters, but while both should experience improvement this year, only the Blue Jays seems likely to contend. In part due to injuries (new and old), six of the 10 Jays in Toronto’s Opening Day lineup (including Dickey) weren’t there at the end of last year, but it’s worth remembering that Toronto gave up many of its top prospects to land those players, so the pressure is on the newest Blue Jays to deliver.
The trade that brought Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Candada was the biggest blow that the Jays struck this offseason, but the trade that netted defending National League Cy Young award winner Dickey was the one that may have put them over the top in their quest for their first playoff berth since 1993. Dickey alone makes this game worth watching as he’s not just the only knuckleball pitcher in the major leagues right now, but last year achieved a level of effectiveness few knuckleballers ever have.
As for the Indians, while they did improve their lineup over the winter, they also traded away Shin-Soo Choo, who was their best hitter in 2012, so one must temper expectations. If newcomer Nick Swisher cancels out the departed Choo, that leaves fellow new arrivals Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs to provide upgrades, which could just also come from the health and maturation of Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Meanwhile, the key player acquired in the Choo deal, pitcher Trevor Bauer, is back in Triple A leaving a converted Brett Myers and reclamation project Scott Kazmir as the new faces in Cleveland’s rotation. If the Indians are going to make any kind of waves this season, they need Masterson to step up.