And it begins anew. Baseball is back as the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Here is the lineup crafted by Joe Maddon for the first game of the season.
1. David DeJesus, LF
2. Wil Myers, RF
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Desmond Jennings, CF
7. Matt Joyce, DH
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Yunel Escobar, SS
Starting Pitcher: David Price, LHP
This is a big season for Price. Coming off an injury plagued year, Price returned as an entirely different pitcher, commanding the strike zone better than anybody else in baseball on his way to a staggering 102-13 strikeout to walk ratio in his final 18 starts. Is this how Price is going to be forever? If it is, will the league adjust? David Price hopes to return to the form that made him the 2012 AL Cy Young award winner, and if he does that as a pitcher more focused on throwing strikes than blowing away, no one will have an issue.
Why DeJesus at the top of the lineup instead of Jennings? One thing we have noticed the past couple of years has been Jennings’ struggles against right-handed pitching, and while they are not extreme enough to take him out of the lineup, he does deserve to bat farther down. The other positive of the switch: Jennings will more opportunities to steal bases with weaker hitters behind him.
Matt Joyce starts at DH, the first of many for him. Joyce has the ability to be arguably the best DH the Rays have ever had, at least against right-handed pitching, but it will be up to him not to let the mental aspect of spending more time on the bench get to him.
Interesting to see Molina get the call on Opening Day. With Ryan Hanigan excellent against left-handed pitching, we should see him get almost all the starts against them, but against right-handers it could be quite even. Worth noting: Hanigan has started more than 75 games in a season just once–Molina has three times. While Hanigan may be the best all-around catcher the Rays have ever had, expect more like 85 to 90 starts from him than the 110 to 120 that a true starting backstop would have.
Then of course, we have Myers, Zobrist, Longoria, and Loney primed to give the Rays their best middle of the order ever. Even better: they are righty-lefty-right-lefty (Zobrist is a switch-hitter), so good luck to opposing teams matching up against them.
The game starts at 4:05 PM EST. Enjoy and we will have a recap after the game.