Story by: Kyle Graham
After what seemed like a very quick offseason, Major League Baseball’s opening day is finally upon us. What makes opening day so great is that every team has a fresh new start and an equal opportunity to make an early impact. Whether you’re a rebuilding team on the rise like the Atlanta Braves looking to prove that they will be a prominent threat in the future, or if you’re the Chicago Cubs looking to make it back to the World Series and repeat as champions, every single team has set goals that they are free to conquer.
Now, it’s understandable that you can’t watch every single game. However, if you need help picking a specific game to watch I have you covered my friends. Here are my top three matchups for Opening Day:
Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers
This first matchup features two of the premiere starting pitchers in the game, Corey Kluber (CLE) and Yu Darvish (TEX). These are two teams that won their respective division in 2016.
Kluber is coming off a stellar postseason run and although he has struggled so far during spring ball, but, I fully expect him to return to his ace form and pitch a gem of a game. Yu Darvish on the other hand will get his first career opening day start and he becomes the Rangers ninth opening day starter in the past nine years.
Darvish came into last year after he missed the entire season in 2015 due to Tommy John surgery and showed flashes of his previous greatness throughout the season, but he did not seem to completely be his normal self. However, this spring he has posted a 2.84 ERA through 12.2 innings of work it looks to be as strong as ever, so this matchup will be a doozy.
Another thing to zero in on in this matchup is the newly acquired slugger Edwin Encarnacion and the possible return of Michael Brantley who is looking to recapture the title as Cleveland’s best hitter.
Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles
Last season the Orioles shocked the world when they elected to not bring in their shut down closer Zach Britton in the 11th inning of the AL Wild Card game. The end result? Edwin Encarncaion hitting a walk-off three-run blast to send the Jays to the ALDS.
The Orioles certainly have a bad taste in their mouth after that bitter defeat and are out for redemption. Adam Jones (BAL) is coming off a scorching hot performance in the World Baseball Classic for team USA and is looking to continue his stellar production throughout the season.
What’s important to watch in this matchup is how the Jays will respond to the departure of Edwin Encarncion and if José Bautista can prove that he is worth receiving a contract extension for next season and beyond. This offseason Bautista signed a one-year “prove it deal” worth $18.5 million. At age 36, is he really worth all that money? I guess only time will tell.
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
What makes this matchup so interesting is not that this is the first game in 108 years that the Cubs are playing a game as the reigning champs (although I can’t wait to feel that confusion/excitement), but some people forget that this is one of the greatest rivalries throughout all of baseball.
Not only that, but how will Dexter Fowler play against a team that he helped become World Champs last year? Will he still be embraced by Cubs fans even though he entered enemy territory? Will Jason Heyward’s “new and improved” swing actually show up?
I’m expecting this opening game to have a playoff type intensity as it is the first Sunday night matchup of the season. Jon Lester will get his third straight opening day start for the Cubs and Carlos Martinez will take the mound for the Cards. Everyone get your popcorn ready, baseball is finally back!
Featured image for this post courtesy of MLB.com