Opening Day is finally upon us! After months of waiting, we can put all of the analysis, speculation, and trade rumors of the offseason behind us and we can all get to the part we truly enjoy. It’s finally time to watch some baseball, and the fans—myself and the rest of the Wahoo’s on First staff included—are excited about what this season could hold.
Unfortunately, things won’t start off very easy for the Indians. This Opening Day, they welcome the Toronto Blue Jays to Progressive Field for a three game series spanning four days. Despite all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding all of the Opening Day festivities, one simple truth remains: This isn’t just the first series of the season for the Indians. It’s also the first important series of the season.
With the advent of the second wild card, teams that would often be considered fringe contenders are now in the mix of things to make the playoffs. The Indians, as we’ve pointed out numerous times, look like one of the teams who stand to benefit from the expanded format. Another team that may also benefit from the new playoff format? The Toronto Blue Jays.
That’s why it’s important that the Indians put their spring struggles behind them and get off to a good start. What better way to do that than by sending a message to a team they may very well be trying to fend off come late September? Too often we don’t consider games in April and May to be important, but these first three will be just as important as any in August and September.
It won’t be easy, though. Regardless of how you may feel about Spring Training records and statistics, keep this in mind: At 24-7, Toronto had the best record in baseball this spring. That performance has helped put the Blue Jays on the map in terms of teams who could rock the boat this season and crash the playoff party.
Series Trivia: This marks the fourth straight year in which Shin-Soo Choo will be the Opening Day starting right fielder. Since 2000 only one other player has made consecutive Opening Day starts in right field for the Indians. Who is it? (answer at the end)
The Pitching Matchups:
- 4/12: Ricky Romero (2011: 15-11, 2.92 ERA, 3.78 SIERA) vs. Justin Masterson (12-10, 3.21 ERA, 3.68 SIERA)
- 4/14: Brandon Morrow (11-11, 4.37 ERA, 3.31 SIERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (10-13, 4.68 ERA, 3.74 SIERA)
- 4/15: Brett Cecil (4-11, 4.73 ERA, 1.33 SIERA) vs. Derek Lowe (2011: 9-17, 5.05 ERA, 3.75 SIERA)
Looking at the pitching matchups for the opening series of the 2012 season, things could go either very well or very badly for the Indians.
Justin Masterson proved last season that he is a true workhorse and he very much deserves the title of ace of the staff. However, his adversary for Opening Day, Ricky Romero, is coming off a spectacular 2011 in which he posted career lows in ERA and WHIP as well as career highs in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. Could he be the fly in the ointment that ruins Opening Day for the Indians and sends fans angrily towards the turnstiles? It’s possible, but not likely.
The trouble for the Indians will start in second game the Indians as the Tribe will throw Ubaldo Jimenez. Question abound surrounding Jimenez’ ability to throw strikes and dominate hitters the way he did back in 2010. Which version we’ll see in 2012 is anyone’s guess. He’ll be going up against hard-throwing righty Brandon Morrow. Many feel that Morrow has the arsenal of pitches to eventually become an ace, but so far his career has been a model of inconsistency. Like Jimenez, Morrow could last four innings and give up eight runs, or he could go all nine and strike out 12.
Game three starter Derek Lowe is coming off of one of the worst years of his 15-year career. Will he be able to bounce back at the age of 38? Can he find the form that made him one of the most reliable pitchers in all of baseball over the past decade? Better yet, can he continue his remarkable string of never being placed on the DL? His counterpart will be Brett Cecil, a very young and raw pitcher who showed promise in 2010 but followed it up with a horrendous 2011 that saw him make fewer starts, pitch fewer innings, and turn in all-around worse numbers.
Players to Watch: Toronto
Brandon Morrow: Morrow has the ability to dominate opposing hitters, and when he’s on it’s truly something special to watch. Will the Indians have an answer for him if he’s on top of his game?
Colby Rasmus: Rasmus has the talent and athletic ability to be a star. The real question is whether or not he has what it takes between the ears. Rasmus clashed with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis and was eventually dealt to the Blue Jays. Can he get his head on straight and become an All-Star with a fresh start in Toronto?
Brett Lawrie: Lawrie has had just 171 career plate appearances, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the darling of the fantasy baseball world in 2012. He hit .293 with nine homers, 25 RBI, and an OPS of .953 in his MLB debut, and fantasy owners and the Blue Jays are lovin’ them some Lawrie as a legit Major League third baseman. But is he worth all the hype? Was his great first impression an anomaly or is Lawrie the next big star?
Players to Watch: Cleveland
Ubaldo Jimenez: We have no idea which Jimenez the Indians are going to get this season. A solid performance on Saturday could go a long way in helping relieve some of those worries. A bad outing could have him walking off the mound to a chorus of boos.
Shin-Soo Choo: Choo is coming off a disappointing season in which he struggled to stay healthy and live up to lofty expectations. A refocused and reinvigorated Choo could be poised for a big year. Getting off to a good start over these first three games could help him get comfortable and be the player we saw in 2009 and 2010.
Jason Kipnis: This will be Kipnis’ first Opening Day in the not-always-so-great weather conditions of Progressive Field in April. How will he respond? Will nerves play any sort of factor in how he begins the year? More importantly, can he place a chokehold on the second base position and make it his own? Hopefully, this turns out to be the first of many Opening Days to come with Kipnis in the lineup.
Trivia Answer: Casey Blake. Blake was the Opening Day starting right fielder in both 2005 and 2006. Other players to make Opening Day starts in right field since 2000: Manny Ramirez (2000), Juan Gonzalez (2001), Matt Lawton (2002), Karim Garcia (2003), Jody Gerut (2004), Trot Nixon (2007), Franklin Gutierrez (2008), and Choo (2009-12).