Opening Day Preview

It’s here!  It’s finally here!  Baseball season has finally arrived.

Last night, despite having to work this morning, I stayed up to watch the entire Red Sox-Yankees game.  It couldn’t have gotten any better.  Sure it was a four-hour game, but it wasn’t short on offense at all.

I applaud Major League Baseball for their decision to open with Sox-Yanks.  It’s easily the most identifiable rivalry in baseball, and sure to get ratings.  Not to mention the fact that both teams will probably win at least 90 games.  I’m a huge baseball fan, but that matchup should rope in even the casual baseball fan, so kudos to Major League Baseball.

Now comes Opening Day, when everyone else begins the six-month march to October.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year, simply because it’s the one day when everyone has a chance to win the World Series.

We here in Chicago are lucky enough to have two baseball teams to follow, and they both should have decent, if not really good, years. Both open up today, one at home, one on the road.  The Cubs are in Atlanta taking on the Braves, and the White Sox are hosting the Indians at US Cellular Field.

Let’s start on the South Side, where the Sox are expected to compete for the AL Central Division title.  They may have even become the favorites when Joe Nathan of the Twins went down for the year.  Things get rolling at 1:05 Central, with Mark Buehrle taking on Jake Westbrook.

Mark Buehrle will try and get the Sox off on the right foot.

Buehrle has been a mainstay on Opening Day for the Sox, getting the ball for the eighth time in his career.  That makes him the all-time leader in Opening Day starts for the Sox, passing Billy Pierce.  Last season, Buehrle went 13-10 with a 3.84 ERA.  He threw a perfect game on July 23rd, but he won just two games after that .  He’s under .500 in his career against the Indians, but I think he’ll improve on his 11-14 mark against them today.

The Sox’ offense has some question marks, but they should be OK.  It’s hard to replace a Jermaine Dye (who still doesn’t have a job) and a Jim Thome (now in Minnesota), but having a healthy Carlos Quentin should help.  Here’s their projected lineup:

  1. Juan Pierre, LF
  2. Gordon Beckham, 2B
  3. Carlos Quentin, RF
  4. Paul Konerko, 1B
  5. Mark Kotsay, DH
  6. Alex Rios, CF
  7. AJ Pierzynski, C
  8. Mark Teahen, 3B
  9. Alexei Ramirez, SS

It’s a lineup that can pack a punch 2-7 if everyone is healthy and productive.  Some think they’ll struggle to score, and that their pitching will carry them.  I think the Sox are sitting pretty with a really solid rotation and the potential for a lot of offense.

Jake Westbrook goes for an Indians team that is not expected to compete for the division this year.  They’re just a couple of years removed from being a contender, but with injuries and trades, they’ve fallen from the top.  Westbrook missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery, and pitched just five games in 2008.  He’s pitched on Opening Day before, in 2005, against the White Sox (he lost, 1-0).  He’s won 15 games twice, as recently as 2006.  We’ll see how he returns from the injury, as I’m sure the butterflies will be engulfing his stomach.

Here’s the Indians lineup:

  1. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  2. Grady Sizemore, CF
  3. Shin-Shoo Choo, RF
  4. Travis Hafner, DH
  5. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
  6. Matt LaPorta, 1B
  7. Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
  8. Lou Marson, C
  9. Michael Brantley, LF

They’re hoping for a return to health for Sizemore and Hafner, and a big year out of Matt LaPorta.

I see the White Sox getting off to a good start, beating the Indians soundly today at the Cell.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are in Atlanta to open the year with the Braves.  It’ll be Carlos Zambrano against Derek Lowe.  Both clubs are not projected to win their division, however the Braves are thought by many to be the leaders for the Wild Card in the NL.

Big Z only won nine games for the Cubs last year, and made a couple of trips to the DL.  He came into camp a little lighter, and by all accounts is a reformed man.  It’s kind of like a broken record, though.  We’ve heard all those things before and he’s yet to turn into the without-a-doubt ace everyone thinks he can be.  I think he can be that guy.  He’s certainly got the stuff and the competitiveness to do so.  Problem is, he’s his own worst enemy a lot of times.  If he can keep from beating himself, he can easily win 16-18 games.

Is this Lou Piniella's last year as a manager?

Here’s the Cubs’ projected lineup:

  1. Ryan Theriot, SS
  2. Kosuke Fukudome, RF
  3. Derrek Lee, 1B
  4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
  5. Marlon Byrd, CF
  6. Alfonso Soriano, LF
  7. Mike Fontenot, 2B
  8. Geovany Soto, C
  9. Zambrano, P

The Cubs’ downfall in 2009 was the lack of production from Soto and Soriano, as well as Milton Bradley.  New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is reunited with Soriano, and comes over from Texas with Marlon Byrd.  All indications are that the Cubs are buying into Jaramillo’s unique system, and hopefully that translates into more runs.

Derek Lowe may be on the downside of his career, but he’s still effective (he won 15 games last year).  He’s got a revamped delivery, and if his sinker is working, he’s near impossible to hit.  The Cubs need to be patient.  Make him get the ball up so they can hit some line drives and get on base.  The last time he faced the  Cubs, he got a no decision in a Cubs’ win.  The time before that, though, he shut down the Cubs in the 2008 NLDS.

Here’s the Braves’ projected lineup:

  1. Melky Cabrera, LF
  2. Martin Prado, 2B
  3. Chipper Jones, 3B
  4. Brian McCann, C
  5. Troy Glaus, 1B
  6. Yunel Escobar, SS
  7. Jason Heyward, RF
  8. Nate McLouth, CF
  9. Derek Lowe, P

Brian McCann may be the best hitting catcher not named Joe Mauer, and Jason Heyward is bound to be a superstar in this league for a long time to come.

The Cubs’ Opening Day record hasn’t been great in recent years, but it always feels good to start 1-0.


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Filed under Cubs, MLB, White Sox

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