Let the games begin!
Despite a two-game series in Japan between the A’s and the Mariners that hardly anyone saw-let alone stayed awake for-the baseball season will truly kick off this week in earnest. And boy, we couldn’t more amped and ready for it to begin. Am I right?
With not much trending statistical data to look at (outside of Spring Training games), this week we will look at players who will begin the season with new teams (with the exception of one stud pitcher coming back from a major injury) and what we should expect. (We would have profiled Yu Darvish and C.J. Wilson in this column, but they likely won’t start in this abbreviated week. More on them next week)
Leading the way on this list will be one of the most electrifying players in the sport and a player who has a lot to prove this year with a rich new contract. That, of course, is Jose Reyes, whose Florida Marlins’ team will kick off the season in brand new Marlins’ Park in a nationally televised game against the defending World Series champs St. Louis Cardinals.
Jose Reyes: Florida Marlins
It should be interesting to see how Reyes adjusts to playing alongside Hanley Ramirez; a player he forced to move to third base in order to accommodate him.
For a player who has a sordid history of nagging injuries, Reyes appears to be in good shape this spring. Reyes will have to show that he is healthy all season to prove he is worthy of such a lucrative contract.
The switch-hitting shortstop will face off against the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse in a one-game duel on Wednesday before heading to Cincinnati to face the Reds’ Johnny Cueto and two pitchers to be determined (most likely to be Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo).
Albert Pujols: Los Angeles Angels
It sure is going to feel weird when the game’s preeminent slugger will be donning an Angels’ uniform while taking his game to the AL.
Pujols’ game transcends leagues and he should have no trouble bursting out of the gate fast. His Angels’ squad will be at home facing off against the Royals. Pujols should have no trouble teeing off against Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez.
Prince Fielder: Detroit Tigers
From one luxury to another goes Fielder.
Fielder had the treat of hitting beside Ryan Braun in Milwaukee for years and now he’ll get to hit ahead of Miguel Cabrera in Detroit.
Fielder will continue to mash in Comerica Park-which is transforming into a hitter’s park-and off the bat he will face the Boston Red Sox staff. While Fielder may have trouble with the lefty Jon Lester, he could rebound against righties Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz.
Jonathan Papelbon: Philadelphia Phillies
Pitching behind the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels should be a dream scenario for Papelbon.
Papelbon didn’t feel he was much appreciated in Beantown and left when the Phils came calling. He’ll have to start out quickly to please the always impatient Philly fanbase.
The good news, though, is the Phillies will start off the season against a still relatively weak Pirates squad. There should be ample chances for saves this weekend.
Adam Wainwright: St. Louis Cardinals
After a year off due to Tommy John surgery, Wainwright will be eased into the rotation and start the team’s third game against the Milwaukee Brewers and likely will be opposed by Zack Greinke
There may be some rust, but Wainwright has looked good in Spring Training (1.45 ERA in 18. 2 innings pitched) thus far. It should be interesting to see how new manager Mike Matheny delegates his innings. Matching up with Greinke is no picnic either.
Mat Latos: Cincinnati Reds
Latos will be going from one extreme to another, as he’ll leave a pitcher’s paradise (Petco Park) to pitch in one of the league’s biggest launching pads (Great American Ballpark).
The potential tradeoff for more run support will no doubt be more beneficial for his chances at winning more regularly, though.
Although Johnny Cueto will get the opening day nod, Latos should be in line for a start next Saturday or Sunday at home against the Marlins.
Aramis Ramirez: Milwaukee Brewers
Faced with the unenviable task of trying to fill some of the void left by the departure of Fielder, Ramirez will try to get out of the gate quickly and embrace himself to Brewers’ fans. And as any owner of A-Ram can attest, that (starting quickly) is something that is foreign to him.
Ramirez will be hitting behind Braun and will at least be put in a position to succeed. Ramirez always blamed his poor starts to playing in cold weather and with the Brewers playing in a dome he could reverse his first-half struggles.
Ramirez and his Brewers will be going up against the Cardinals and most likely the trio of Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and the aforementioned Wainwright.
Carlos Beltran: St. Louis Cardinals
After a great bounce back season in 2011, Beltran will be assigned to the herculean task of trying to make up some of the offense lost for the Cardinals when Pujols decided to take his talents to Southern California.
At least for Beltran’s sake he will be hitting in a lineup that offers the best protection (batting in front of Matt Holiday and Lance Berkman) he has had since the Mets were contenders a couple of years ago.
Beltran and the Card’s will square off against Josh Johnson and the Marlins on Wednesday before playing the Brewers, who will throw out Yovani Gallardo, Greinke and most likely Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf. Hence, the chances are not ideal for Beltran to get off to a good start.
Gio Gonzalez: Washington Nationals
After signing both Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to accompany Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals put the league on notice that they will be no pushover.
Transitioning to the tough NL East won’t be easy, but Gonzalez should be up for the task. Up first for Gonzalez will be a trip to the Windy Cty to take on the Cubs and Matt Garza.
That start could get rocky as Gonzalez is not used to the chilly weather, but as the summer heats up, you should expect his usual brilliance.
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