Opening Day Thoughts
I know there was a game last night but today is the true Opening Day. Here are some thoughts on the games being played today:
- Nationals vs Mets: Tom Glavine normally gets off to a hot start (career 45-23 with a 2.76 ERA in April) but last year he struggled out of the gate (1-3 with a 5.67 ERA last April). If Glavine is hot in April this year - it will be a very good omen for the Mets chances to unseat the Braves as NL East champs. Meanwhile the Nationals are just a mess. They may win today but the over / under for wins this season is 74 and there's no way I see them winning 74 with 57 combined games against the Mets, Braves and Phillies. I predict a Mets win today.
- Red Sox vs Rangers: Three pitchers will be under the microscope in this tilt. Much of the fortunes of the Red Sox will be on the shoulders of starter Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke. Neither contributed much to the Sox last year and the Sox still managed 95 wins. With all of the teams in the AL East improved over last year - the Sox will need big contributions from Schilling and Foulke if they are to win more than 90 games and compete for a playoff spot. For what its worth - I see Schilling pitching 200 innings this year and winning at least 15 games. For the Rangers - the big question is whether Kevin Millwood can handle being the team Ace. Personally - I'm not sold on Millwood as a true number 1. Two of the best offenses in baseball are playing today which means we'll probably see a 2-1 game.
- Brewers vs Pirates: These could be two of the more exciting teams in the NL this year. Lots of young talent on both sides. If Pirates starter Oliver Perez can rebound to his form of 2004 - then he could be the dark horse NL Cy Young candidate. Word has it that Perez has added another pitch and may have his control issues worked out. Doug Davis starting for the Brewers isn't exactly chopped liver but like Oliver Perez - he plays second fiddle to a younger arm (Perez to Zach Duke and Davis to Ben Sheets). Everyone is looking for Prince Fielder to have a breakout year (and he has to be a big contender for NL rookie of the year) but I think it is Brewer shortstop JJ Hardy who will have the big breakout year (Hardy had a post all-star OPS of .865 last season and I can see him hitting 20 HR this season). If both the Brewers and Pirates are competitive this year then that will mean that the Wild Card will not come out of the NL Central.
- Cubs vs Reds: It's not going to happen in one game but I expect Matt Murton to emerge as a bright young outfielder while Jacque Jones is exposed as a fraud in the Chicago outfield. There aren't many expectations for the Cubs or the Reds this year so fans will have to content themselves with side stories and chief among them may be watching today's Cubs starter - Carlos Zambrano emerge from Mark Prior's and Kerry Wood's shadows to become a Cy Young contender in his own right. Zambrano has lowered his WHIP every year he's been in the league and if he can improve on last year's 1.15 then he just could be this year's NL Cy Young Award winner. Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. may get much of the spotlight for the Reds but the real player to watch is shortstop Felipe Lopez (who I predict will out-homer Jacque Jones this year). Great American Ballpark is a pinball machine with balls flying out of the park left and right but somehow Aaron Harang thrives there. Last year his ERA for home starts was a full run (almost) lower at home than on the road (3.31 vs 4.30). The over under for runs today is 9 but if I had to bet - I'd say we go under and see the first real pitchers' duel of the season today in Cincinnati.
- Cardinals vs. Phillies: Everyone is picking the Cardinals to win the NL Central (except me - I'm on board with the Astros). Today they trot out ace Chris Carpenter who was successful last year in large part because he was able to keep his HR down. Today he's pitching in a park in Philly where the ball really travels and the wind may be blowing out. The Phillies have been up in Philly for a few days now and will be used to the cool weather. Jon Lieber starts for the Phillies and I think the Phillies take this one.
EDIT: Added Cards / Phillies game