All is right again in the world. Baseball is back and two of the top teams in the American League last season will meet up to open the 2017 regular season as the Texas Rangers host the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians (94-67 in 2016) will look to defend their title as the kings of the American League. A roster that already proved to be one of the very best in the game of baseball got even better in the offseason, as the Tribe upgraded at the first base/designated hitter position with the free agent signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. What was already a dominating bullpen in the second half of the season last year got presumably better as well when the team inked lefty reliever Boone Logan to join an already intimidating collection of arms. While the dreams of a second world’s championship in one year for the city of Cleveland came to a heartbreaking close in extra innings of the seventh and final game of the World Series last year, the young club will undoubtedly come back even more hungry for a return to postseason glory, bonus baseball in October, and a fall championship parade.
The Rangers (95-67) will look to make up for a disappointing end to an otherwise strong season in which the club claimed the American League West and the best overall record in the league. Despite hosting the wild card Toronto Blue Jays, they were swept in three straight games in the American League Division Series to spell an early end to their season. They will look to hold down the top spot in the AL West once again, but are already dealing with a slew of injuries that could slow the team down in the early going.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
Monday, 4/3, 7:05 PM ET – RHP Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA in 2016) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (7-5, 3.41)
Kluber’s performance last season earned him a third place finish in the AL Cy Young award voting and plenty of attention throughout the playoffs, when he carried an Indians rotation decimated by injuries to the final day of the 2016 season. His heroics in the postseason, which included unfamiliar starts on short rest, came up just short, but without him, the World Series would have just been a dream for the Tribe. Darvish dealt with injuries throughout the 2016 campaign after missing all of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Neck stiffness landed him on the DL to start the year before he could complete his return from the elbow surgery, and a shoulder issue just three starts back returned him to the shelf for another month. While Darvish has posted a 3.12 ERA against the Indians in his career, he has had little to show for it in the win column. He is 1-2 in four outings with 38 strikeouts in 26 innings, but a 1.35 WHIP
Tuesday, 4/4, 8:05 PM ET – RHP Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32) vs. LHP Martin Perez (10-11, 4.39)
High hopes will ride on the shoulder of Carrasco, who will look to stay healthy and provide the numbers that he can give the rotation with a full body of work. Last season was shortened by a hamstring injury early and a broken hand late, keeping him off of the postseason roster. He is just 1-3 against the Rangers in seven career appearances (five starts) with a 5.73 ERA. That mark includes two losses at Globe Life Park with a 6.23 ERA, but one complete game. The Venezuelan left-hander Perez will get the honor of taking the mound on his 26th birthday. He has faced the Indians three times in his career (two starts) with no luck, going 0-1 with a 12.46 ERA and a 2.42 WHIP. He allowed six runs on ten hits in five and two-thirds innings against them last season.
Wednesday, 4/5, 8:05 PM ET – RHP Danny Salazar (11-6, ,3.87) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.32)
The 27-year-old Salazar will look to start the year strong as he did last season. A dominant first half led to his first career All-Star nod, but injuries piled up and cut his season short as he missed much of September and October before a couple of relief appearances in the World Series. Salazar has faced the Rangers four times in his career, posting a 1-1 record with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP. The 33-year-old eleven-year veteran Hamels was an All-Star in 2016 in his first full season with the Rangers after his 2015 deadline deal that sent him from his longtime Philadelphia home to the heart of Texas. He has had little luck in four career starts against Cleveland, posting a 1-2 record with a 5.04 ERA.
TV (all games) – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio; Fox Sports Southwest; ESPN (Monday); MLB Network (Tuesday)
Radio (all games) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 105.3 The Fan (Dallas)
The Rangers got the better of the Indians last season, taking five of the seven season games from the Tribe. Cleveland was outscored 20-10 while dropping two of three at Progressive Field, with Josh Tomlin and Kluber taking losses in the series before an eleven-inning win to avoid the sweep. The Rangers put up 19 runs and allowed 13 in the four-game set in Texas, throwing two shutouts along the way. The Indians’ lone win was a 12-1 victory in Kluber’s credit, while Tomlin, Carrasco, and Salazar took losses.
Texas now leads the season series between the two clubs, 340-315. Those numbers include the Rangers’ time as the Washington Senators from 1961 to 1971.
TRANSACTIONS AND INJURIES
Cody Anderson (SP) – 60-day disabled list (4/2) – right elbow surgery
Lonnie Chisenhall (RF) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – right shoulder sprain
Tim Cooney (P) – released (4/2)
Yandy Diaz (3B) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (4/2)
Jason Kipnis (2B) – 10-day disabled list (4/2) – right shoulder inflammation
Michael Martinez (UTL) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (4/2)
Hanser Alberto (UTL) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – right shoulder tightness
Adrian Beltre (3B) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – right calf tightness
Andrew Cashner (SP) – 10-day disabled list 4/1) – right biceps soreness
Jake Diekman (RP) – 60-day disabled list (2/14) – recovery from January 2017 colon surgery
Dillon Gee (P) – signed to MLB contract and optioned to Triple-A Round Rock
Chi Chi Gonzalez (SP) – 60-day disabled list (4/2) – partial tear of right UCL
Brett Nicholas (C) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – left knee surgery
Tyson Ross (SP) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – thoracic outlet surgery
Tanner Scheppers (RP) – 10-day disabled list (3/30) – left abdominal discomfort
PARTYING WITH AN OLD FRIEND
The Indians waste little time making the acquaintance of old friend Mike Napoli, who signed late in the free agency period with the Rangers in his third trip to the Texas organization. A crowded first base market led to a slow development of a need for the services of the 35-year-old slugger who is coming off of a career year with the Indians in 2016.
Napoli’s power surge in the middle of the Tribe lineup helped generate plenty of offense for the club throughout the year, despite a cold spell late in the season and on into postseason play. He appeared in a career-high 150 games with the Indians with 22 doubles, 34 homers, and 101 RBI, the latter two of which were personal bests.
YOU CHOO CHOO CHOOSE ME?
This week’s series with the Rangers will also reunite the Tribe with another former friend as Shin-Soo Choo suits up for Texas again this season. The 34-year-old vet of a dozen big league seasons spent the bulk of his 2016 looking on from the dugout as he was limited to just 48 games over the course of the year. In his brief action, he slashed .242/.357/.399 with seven doubles, seven homers, and 17 RBI.
Choo spent some of his best years in the Majors in the Indians lineup from 2006 through the completion of the 2012 season, hitting as many as 22 homers and driving in 90 in 2010. With his free agency coming up after the 2013 season, the Indians shopped him early and turned him into Drew Stubbs, Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, and Bryan Shaw as part of a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The latter two have contributed to the Tribe’s successes over the course of the last four years, while Choo spent just a season with the Cincinnati Reds before signing a massive seven-year, $130 million deal that will pay him through the 2020 season.
The money may not feel well spent for the Rangers thus far.
THE DOCTOR IS IN
Michael Brantley lost all but eleven games last season due to ongoing shoulder and biceps issues that kept him off of the field. But the team’s slow and cautious approach with him during the spring paid off as he was able to make it back into action late in camp and he was able to avoid a return to the disabled list and has made his way onto the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.
Brantley appeared in eight Major League games from Arizona this spring, hitting .385 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .692 slugging mark. He hit two doubles and two homers while driving in five over his 26 at bats.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
It was a big spring for infielder Jose Ramirez and catcher Roberto Perez. The pair both agreed to contract extensions, giving the Indians a total of ten players on the 25-man roster who are playing on long-term commitments from the organization.
Ramirez could see as much as $50 million come his way over the course of his five-year extension. The deal bought out all three of his arbitration years and included a pair of club options that could keep the utility man in an Indians uniform into the 2023 season.
Perez, whose deal was announced on Sunday, saw his arbitration years taken care of on a shorter, lesser expensive deal for the Tribe. The backup catcher received a $500,000 bonus and will see his contract increase by $1 million over each of the next three seasons following the 2017 campaign. Another $12.5 million is possible for Perez in his 2021 and 2022 option years, with a $450,000 buyout.
DOING THE MATH
Both teams had some addition and subtraction going on in the offseason.
The Rangers saw several midseason additions depart after the postseason ended. Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez both hit free agency, with Gomez re-signing with the club and Beltran moving back to Houston. Ian Desmond, who moved from the infield to the outfield when he signed a one-year tender with the club last offseason, relocated to Colorado. Long-time Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland signed a free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox and starting pitcher Derek Holland is now a member of the Chicago White Sox.
For the Tribe, the big additions were Encarnacion and Logan. Napoli signed with the Rangers, while outfielder Rajai Davis left to return to the west coast with a one-year deal with Oakland Athletics. Coco Crisp, who came to the Indians on the final day of August last year, remains unsigned, while reliever Jeff Manship was not offered salary arbitration in January and is set to pitch overseas for 2017.
Both clubs will take Thursday off before getting back to action, a cruel tease after waiting five months for regular season baseball to return.
The Indians will continue their season opening road trip with an early bout of interleague play as the club heads back to the desert to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks for three straight beginning on Friday. The Rangers will continue their homestand from Globe Life Park in Arlington as they host the division rival Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
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