Game #1 – Toronto Blue Jays (0-0) vs. Cleveland Indians (0-0)
By Matthew Van Wormer
It’s Opening Day. The best day of the year in the opinion of many. It’s a clean slate, a 0-0 record, ERA’s and batting averages haven’t been calculated yet. Hope springs eternal for each and every team, all of them with one goal in mind; a World Series title. On Opening Day, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays have the same shot at reaching that goal.
After a surprisingly hot start to the 2011 campaign, the Indians will be looking to duplicate that and take the next step, hopefully resulting in a playoff birth when the calendar flips to October. Justin Masterson (12-10, 3.21 in 2011) will make the first pitch of the year for the Tribe while the Blue Jays counter with Ricky Romero (15-11, 2.92 in 2011).
Masterson earned the Opening Day nod with a spectacular spring that saw him throw 33 innings with a 2.13 ERA while posting a 2-1 Strikeout/Walk ratio. Masterson will have to have an even better year than last year if this Cleveland team is going to make waves in the Central Division. With the Tigers adding Prince Fielder to their lineup and the Royals looking more and more like contenders, the Indians will have to perform much better than they did in the spring if they want a shot at the Central Division crown.
Michael Brantley, Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo are going to have to be the leaders; in the clubhouse and on the field. With Grady Sizemore starting the season on the disabled list and not much else in the way of veteran leadership on the team, those three players are going to be the key to Cleveland’s season. Choo has made it very clear that he is embarrassed and disappointed in himself about the way 2011 went. A hot start could go a long way to help Choo feel at ease in the batter’s box once again. His defense is just as important but his bat was missing last year and will need to be back in 2012.
Hafner will hope to bring a bit of Arizona back to the 216 as his spring was as hot as the desert. Nine of his 26 hits went for extra bases, including four home runs. Brantley would probably like to leave the injury bug that nipped him out west in its place while holding on to the patience that saw him earn a .440 on-base percentage in 91 at bats.
The biggest concern for the Indians going into Opening Day is left field. Some might say the Indians were better off last year when they were working with the platoon of Travis Buck and Austin Kearns. That statement doesn’t bode well for the Tribe if we are wishing we had a guy that couldn’t even hit his weight last year on the Opening Day roster. Someone is going to have to step up and make the left field spot as scary as it was for pitchers when Albert Belle was roaming those grounds.
Then, there is the Bullpen Mafia. With just a couple fresh faces, the Mafia is intact and ready to duplicate the dirty work they performed in 2011, when they were arguably the best bullpen the majors had to offer. With Chris Perez locked, loaded and feeling better than ever, the back-end of the bullpen is set. While back-to-back seasons of great bullpen performances are a little rare, the Indians look to be very content with what they’ve got coming in from center field when needed.
We will learn a lot about the 2012 Indians on Thursday but remember, the season is a marathon and one bad day doesn’t spell doom for the season. Just think, the Indians lost their first two games of 2011 by a combined score of 23-13. After that, they spent a good portion of the year in first place. This year, the Indians think things will be different. They feel like they have a shot to make something happen right now. Here’s to hoping they are right and a smile for tomorrow morning!
Cleveland Indians Starting Lineup
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Shelley Duncan, LF
7. Casey Kotchman, 1B
8. Jason Kipnis, 2B
9. Jack Hannahan, 3B
Toronto Blue Jays Starting Lineup
1. Yunel Escobar, SS
2. Kelly Johnson, 2B
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Adam Lind, 1B
5. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
6. Brett Lawrie, 3B
7. Eric Thames, LF
8. J.P. Arencibia, C
9. Colby Rasmus, CF
Photo: Associated Press