Live from Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington, the Mariners will host the Cleveland Indians in the nightcap of Opening Day activity around the country as the 2018 Major League Baseball regular season schedule kicks off.
For the Indians (102-60 in 2017), they enter the year as the favorites in a depleted and rebuilding American League Central Division, but the underdogs in the race to the AL pennant. Their effort a season ago was one of the best in 117 years of junior circuit action for the Cleveland ball club, but despite the successful season, their postseason dreams were quickly squandered in a five-game American League Division Series loss to the New York Yankees. They will come in with a handful of new faces (and one old face) as another face, that of Chief Wahoo, begins his final year adorned on the team’s jerseys. It will also be the beginning of a new era for the Tribe as they play their first games without mainstays Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw on the roster, but the team is hoping that several players and other new additions can step up to fill their respective voids.
The Mariners (78-84) extended their playoff drought to 16 straight years, as they last appeared in and won a playoff series in 2001 (after setting the AL record for wins in a season with 116, they knocked out the Indians in the ALDS before falling to the Yankees in the ALCS). Seattle found itself 23 games off of the pace in the AL West with their third place finish a season ago. Second-year skipper Scott Servais will have a few new weapons in tow for the 2018 season, but much of the roster looks the same in what remains a tough division. They will have the tough task of trying to catch the world champion Houston Astros, who are favored by many to return to the Fall Classic in October.
PITCHING PROBABLES and NOTES
It will be a battle of reigning and former Cy Young Award winners on Thursday night in the series opener from Seattle. Kluber will make his second defense of the top pitching honor after claiming the award in 2017. Despite missing a month early in the season with back issues, Kluber was one of the top pitchers statistically in the game, leading all of baseball in wins (18), ERA (2.25), WHIP (0.87), complete games (5), and shutouts (3). He was also the top walk rate (1.6) and hit rate (6.2) per nine inning starter in the AL. He was named an All-Star for the second consecutive season and he finished seventh in the MVP voting. It will be his fourth straight Opening Day start for the Indians.
For the eleventh time in his career (and the tenth straight time), Hernandez will make the Opening Day start for the Mariners. It will come after a short spring, as a liner off of his arm limited him to just three games of Cactus League play. It comes on the heels of an injury-shortened 2017 campaign when he made his fewest number of starts (16) since his debut season in 2005. His numbers overall took a hit as well, as he went just 6-5 on the year with a 4.36 ERA (his worst since 2006) and a 1.29 WHIP while pitching the second-fewest innings (86 2/3) of his career. He has just a 7-6 record in 16 career starts against the Indians, but his overall numbers against them have been good, including a 2.95 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He has not, however, faced them recently – after facing them every year from 2006 to 2014, he has not faced them since.
Friday, 3/30 – no game
Carrasco took the step forward that he had long been expected to make, but injuries and some bad luck had prevented him from making the jump. Last season was the big breakout as he was tied for the Major League lead (with Kluber) with 18 wins while setting new personal bests with 32 starts, 200 innings pitched, and 226 batters struck out. It did not all come easily as there were some slight command issues along the way (he set new personal highs for hit batters and wild pitches with ten each), but he kept his walk rate at 2.1 per nine innings for the third straight season. The numbers and results led to a fourth place finish in the 2017 Cy Young voting.
With Hernandez hurt and ineffective last season, Paxton became the star of the staff for Seattle last year. He put together the best year of his five-year career, winning a staff-high 12 games while posting a strong 2.98 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. He struck out 156 batters in 136 innings of work (10.3 strikeouts per nine innings). If there was one blemish on his stat sheet (other than his limited workload after missing nearly all of May and another month later in the season), it was the left-hander’s league-leading 15 wild pitches. If the Mariners are able to compete in the AL West, it will be because of another strong showing from “Big Maple”.
Bauer gave the performance that many had been waiting for last year, when he made up for a slow start with a strong second half on the way to winning a career-best 17 games. He reached 10 strikeouts per nine innings for the first time in his career due in large part to some filthy breaking stuff that he has shown improved control over and he fell just four strikeouts away from 200 on the season. The Tribe’s number three starter was the top strikeout man in all of spring training over the last two months, racking up 39 in that span. He has generally had no luck against Seattle in his career, but he did perform better against them last season. He allowed just one run over seven innings of work with six strikeouts in a no-decision. In his career against the Mariners, he is 1-4 with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in seven games (six starts).
Leake came over to the Mariners in a bit of a surprising trade just before the August waivers trade deadline, when he was shipped to Seattle from St. Louis for a prospect. He had started his second season with the Cardinals by going 7-12 in 26 starts with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP, leading the club to create more room in their rotation for their bevy of younger arms. Seattle took on his contract and was rewarded with a 3-1 record, a 2.53 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP in his five starts. He faced the Indians once a season ago, taking a loss after allowing three runs on seven hits with five walks in six and two-thirds innings.
TV – Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio (all); ROOTNW (all); ESPN (3/29); MLB Network (out-of-market only, 4/1)
Radio (all) – Cleveland Indians Radio Network; 710 ESPN (Seattle)
TRANSACTIONS and INJURY NEWS
Abraham Almonte (OF) – designated for assignment (3/29)
Cody Anderson (SP) – 60-day disabled list – recovery from right elbow surgery
Matt Belisle (RP) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (3/29)
Michael Brantley (LF) – 10-day disabled list (8/9) – recovery from right ankle surgery
Rajai Davis (OF) – contract purchased from Triple-A Columbus (3/29)
Ryan Merritt (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – left knee sprain
Danny Salazar (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – right shoulder rotator cuff tendonitis
Ben Taylor (P) – designated for assignment (3/29)
Giovanny Urshela (IF) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – right hamstring strain
Ben Gamel (LF) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – right oblique strain
Casey Lawrence (P) – contract selected from Triple-A Tacoma (3/28)
Taylor Motter (SS) – optioned to Triple-A Tacoma (3/28)
David Phelps (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – right elbow UCL construction
Erasmo Ramirez (P) – 10-day disabled list (3/26) – right shoulder-latissimus dorsi strain
Mike Zunino (C) – day-to-day (3/29) – stiff right side
After the health issues that have haunted Hernandez over the last season and into this spring, the biggest storyline out of Seattle for this season may be the return of legend Ichiro Suzuki to the Pacific Northwest.
The 44-year-old 17-year MLB outfielder saw his career path come full circle with a return home to where the big league portion of his playing days began back in 2001. He spent parts of 12 years in Seattle before he was traded to the New York Yankees at the deadline in 2012. He spent the next two full seasons in the Bronx before heading to Miami for the 2015-17 seasons. He appeared in 136 games last season but made just 215 plate appearances on the year, hitting .255.
In an oddity of the era, Ichiro still has yet to play a single game at the minor league level. He played sparingly during spring training, appearing in five games and going hitless in ten at bats with a pair of walks
When Gordon was acquired by the Mariners, it seemed a surprising move, as the club already had one of the better second basemen in the game in Robinson Cano manning the position. Instead, the M’s looked to utilize Gordon’s athleticism and speed in a new role – center fielder. His presence will give Seattle a top of the order threat and speed in the lineup, something that was lacking with some of the heavier bulking bodies on the roster in years past.
Gordon’s transition to the outfield will be monitored by doubters closely. He is a two-time All-Star (2014, 2015) and a winner of both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award during his first season in Miami in 2015. His 2016 was marred by a PED suspension, but he bounced back last season to play in 158 games, hitting .308 while stealing an MLB-leading 60 bases (he was also caught a game-high 16 times on the year).
Gordon is 0-for-6 in seven trips against Bauer with three strikeouts.
Cano is a .286 hitter against Kluber with three doubles and one RBI. He has gone 7-for-20 in his career against Carrasco with two doubles, two homers, and six RBI.
Nelson Cruz is 6-for-22 (.273) in his career against Kluber with three doubles and a solo homer to his credit. He has struck out in five of his 15 career plate appearances against Carrasco with two doubles and three singles to his credit. He is a .583 hitter against Bauer with two doubles, a homer, and three RBI in his career. He was limited to eleven games in the spring while dealing with a quad strain hitting .200 with two homers and four RBI.
Kyle Seager has struck out in half of his 12 career plate appearances against Kluber. He is 7-for-18 against Bauer (.389) with three doubles, a homer, and five RBI. Five of his at bats against him have ended in strikeouts.
Ryon Healy is 4-for-8 against Carrasco with a solo home run. He was acquired by the Mariners in the middle of November from the Oakland A’s after hitting .271 with 29 doubles, 25 homers, and 78 RBI in 149 games in his first full year in the Majors and second overall. He got a late start to his spring after hand surgery and appeared in just seven Cactus League games.
Andrew Romine, the former Tigers utility man, is 1-for-11 in his career against Carrasco. He has not struck out against him and his one hit was a double.
Yonder Alonso will make his Cleveland Indians debut against his former club on Thursday night. He spent just two months with the Mariners after being acquired in an August trade with Oakland.
Alonso has the task of trying to replace some of the production lost when Santana exited Cleveland for Philadelphia via free agency. Alonso is coming off of the best year of his career and his first All-Star nod (earned during his strong first half of the season while playing for the Oakland Athletics). He was dealt by the A’s during the first week of August after playing in an even 100 games while slashing .266/.369/.527 with 22 homers and 49 RBI. He slashed .265/.353/.439 in his final 42 games while with the Mariners, adding five doubles, six homers, and 18 RBI.
His spring performance gave some hope that his numbers last season, which were well above his career norms, were no fluke – he hit .375 in 21 games with five doubles, seven homers (tops in all of baseball), and 14 RBI. He signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Indians in December.
Ramirez proved that his 2016 breakout numbers were no fluke with an even better performance last season. He got off to a hot start and stayed hot all year long and was named the starting third baseman on the AL All-Star team. He matched a career-best with 152 games played and led all MLBers with 56 doubles on the year. He added six triples, 29 homers, and 83 RBI while slashing .318/.374/.583. His season earned him a third place finish in the AL MVP voting and a Silver Slugger Award.
He sustained a lacerated finger in Arizona in the finale of the Cactus League schedule, but he will be in the starting lineup for the season opener.
Lindor, who had gone Gold and Platinum during his first full season in the Majors in 2016, got off to a quiet start in 2017 before kicking up the production. He, too, was an All-Star, named for the second time in his three-year career, and would appear in 159 games in total on the year while putting up a .273/.337/.505 line at the plate with 44 doubles, four triples, 33 homers (more than double his previous best), and 89 RBI. He was recognized after the season as the AL’s Silver Slugger winner at shortstop and he finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Just eight members of the Indians have faced Hernandez in his career, with seven of them holding .286 averages or better against him. Brandon Guyer is 2-for-5, Lonnie Chisenhall is 3-for-9 with two doubles, and both Alonso and Jason Kipnis have gone 6-for-20 off of him. Edwin Encarnacion has been the worst of the bunch (.214) in 31 plate appearances, but he has a double, two homers, and seven RBI to his credit against him.
Davis has hit .455 against Paxton with a triple and a solo homer to his credit.
Ramirez is 2-for-4 in his career against Leake with a solo homer and a walk.
Kipnis owns a .353 career average against Leake with a double and two RBI.
KEEP THAT COFFEE BREWING…
The Indians will continue their season opening six-game west coast trip with a trip down the Pacific coastline to Anaheim to face Mike Trout and the rebuilt Los Angeles Angels for three games beginning Monday night. The Mariners will take Monday off before starting an eight-game road trip in San Francisco, kicking off their interleague schedule with two games against the Giants before a pair of three-game series on the road against Minnesota and Kansas City.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images