Astros vs. Yankees (1pm ET Monday, ESPN)
It’s a rematch of the 2015 AL Wild Card game where the upstart Houston Astros beat the mighty New York Yankees 3-0, behind six shutout innings from Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. An offense that was fifth in runs scored in the AL should be even better with full seasons from Rookie of The Year super-stud Carlos Correa, a return to form from mid-season acquisition Carlow Gomez, and the demotion to the bench of John Marisinick, who had a .665 OPS in 372 plate appearances. The bad news for the Bombers is Houston’s Opening Day starter is Keuchel, who shut the Yankees down three times last year, including the playoffs, spinning 22 scoreless innings during which he allowed just 12 hits and two walks while striking out 28 – no one else threw as many as 10 shutout innings against the Yankees. This is the last guy New York wants to see.
The Yankees bring back essentially the same team as last season, though they’ve replaced Stephen Drew at 2B with Starling Castro and added Aroldis Chapman to their already formidable bullpen. Taking the hill for the Bombers is Masahiro Tanaka, the man who took the loss against Keuchel in the Wild Card game, as he allowed just two runs over five innings that day, but struggled as he allowed four hits and three walks. Tanaka has had a few rough starts this spring, raising concerns about his health following offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow, but on Tuesday he allowed just one run over four innings against the Phillies, though he did surrender seven hits. Nonetheless, both he and pitch coach Larry Rothschild felt good enough about the outing that manager Joe Girardi is giving him the ball.
Watch the Houston Astros vs. the New York Yankees at 1pm ET Monday on ESPN NOTE: This game was rained out, and was rescheduled for 1pm Tuesday on ESPN.
Mariners vs. Rangers (4:05pm ET Monday, ESPN)
Last season, general manager Jack Zduriencik’s tenure came to an end as the Mariners endured their fifth losing season in six years, causing new GM Jerry Dipoto to waste no time overhauling the starting lineup. The Mariners will feature newly minted starters: catcher Chris Iannetta, first baseman Adam Lind, shortstop Ketel Marte, and new outfielders of Nori Aoki and Leonis Martin, as well as starting pitchers Nate Karns and Wade Miley – this has to be the greatest injection of fresh blood since Keith Richards’ Swiss vacation. But it’s a relatively ancient Mariner, Felix Hernandez, who gets the start. Hernandez was 18-9 last year with a 3.53 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 201.2 innings – pretty good numbers for most folks, but not for the King. Hernandez’s big problem last season was the long ball as his home run percentage jumped to 2.8% after having been just 1.8% over the previous seven seasons.
It seems impossible that the Rangers won the AL West last year, but it’s true. The big change in the everyday lineup is the addition of Ian Desmond, who’s coming off a down year in Washington, for a mere $8 million. Desmond will take over in left while Josh Hamilton rehabilitates a bum knee. Desmond’s had a good spring, but once Hamilton comes back, he could see time at short, his natural position, or as a backup to future Hall-of-Famer third basemen Adrian Beltre (yes, really). Don’t be stunned to see Desmond get a lot of time at short if Elvis Andrus can’t find his stroke, having posted an OPS of just .657 over the past three seasons. Lurking in the weeds ready to pounce at another shot in the bigs is budding slugger Joey Gallo, who last season came up for 123 plate appearances, during which he struck out 57 times, but still managed a .717 OPS. The Rangers starting rotation is a bit of a mess with the loss of Yovani Gallardo and the injury to Yu Darvish. The Rangers will try to address most of the lost innings internally with some combination of Derek Holland and Martin Perez among others. A full season of Cole Hamels, brought over in a stretch drive trade last season will help immensely, starting today. Hamels last season was instrumental in the Rangers capturing the division, going 7-1 in 12 starts with a 3.66 ERA.
Dodgers vs. Padres (7:05pm ET Monday, ESPN)
How stacked were the Dodgers last year? They let one of the five best pitchers in baseball, Zack Greinke, walk and replaced him with a 30-something journeyman coming off a 7-11 season, and their fourth outfielder is gonna make $21 million, and they’re still projected by Baseball Prospectus to be the second-best team in baseball. Andre Ethier appears poised to relegate Carl Crawford to the bench, which has to be an upgrade psychically, if nothing else, but Scott Kazmir is a definite downgrade from erstwhile starter Zack Greinke. The only other big change to the Dodgers’ lineup is the promotion of soon-to-be-22-year-old Corey Seager, little brother of the Mariners All-Star 3B Kyle Seager, to the role of starting shortstop, where he takes over from Jimmy Rollins. Seager played just 27 games last year, but hit .337/.425/.561; LA hopes he’ll keep raking and playing SS for years to come. On the hill for the Dodgers will be one of the few men on Earth who can reasonably claim to be better than Greinke: Clayton Kershaw. Last season, Kershaw had his worst showing in the Cy Young balloting in five years, finishing third – what’s a “down” year for a man like Kershaw? A 2.13 ERA, 301 strikeouts (yes, 301) in 232.2 innings with only 42 walks.
What to make of the Padres? They made a ton of mid-season moves last year, retooled this off-season, and have a bunch of guys taking new full time jobs. They traded away Jedd Gyorko for John Jay, who will play center; gone via trade is Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox, who brought back a nice haul of young talent that isn’t quite MLB-ready and so Fernando Rodney takes over as closer; Alexei Ramirez was signed to play short, replacing Alexi Amarista, who may have proven once and for all that he cannot hit major league pitching and has got to be the first ballplayer named Alexi to be replaced by a guy with the same name, but spelled differently; The Upton Brothers were again broken up with Justin’s signing with the Tigers; and they wisely let Ian Kennedy go. After posting a .661 OPS in the first 87 games, the Padres OPS was .713, so the retooling appears headed in the right direction. The Padres’ opening day starter will be Tyson Ross, who pitched better than his 10-12 record would suggest as he struck out 212 in 196 innings and had an ERA of 3.26, despite leading the league in walks with 84 and wild pitches with 14. On second thought, maybe he didn’t pitch a lot better than his record would indicate.
Cubs vs. Angels (10:05pm ET Monday, ESPN2)
The last time a team looked this loaded coming into a season was probably the 2015 Washington Nationals and we all remember how well that went. But seriously, a year after winning 97 games, this Cubs team looks ridiculous, having brought in free agents Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, and re-signing Dexter Fowler. Heyward takes over in right from Jorge Soler, which, according to WAR, represents a six-win upgrade; Zobrist takes over 2B from Starling Castro, which could bring a couple more wins; and Lackey will take up most of the starts that were wasted on the likes of Dan Haren, Travis Wood and Tsuyoshi Wada. Add to this the likely improvement from 22-year-old Addison Russell and a full season from masher Kyle Schwarber, there’s every reason to believe the Cubs will be even better in 2016 than in 2015, even if reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta turns back into a mortal human being. In return for his soul, Arrieta last year went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings.
Last year at 85-77, the Angels were the winningest AL team to not make the playoffs. Since then, Carlos Perez has been annointed full time catcher after taking over the spot in late July of 2015; C.J. Cron moved to first, while former 1B Albert Pujols moved to DH, a switch that will cost them a little on defense, but will go a long way toward saving wear and tear on Pujols; Andrelton Simmons should prove to be a big upgrade over departed shortstop Erik Aybar; and Yunel Escobar will play third in place of David Freese, which is a kinda expensive move sideways. Then, there’s Mike Trout, who has by any sensible measure been historically great since the start of the 2012 season and has easily been the best everyday player in baseball during that span. It’s possible that Bryce Harper was better last year, but Harper’s going to have to do it two years in a row to take the Best Player in Baseball crown from Trout. The Angels’ rotation is largely unchanged, featuring the same collection of better-than-average, but not quite good enough starters as last year. Garrett Richards takes the ball in the Halos inaugural tilt, he of the 15-12 record, the 3.65 ERA and the 1.24 WHIP.