In only two days, the first Opening Day game will arrive. Spring is in the air, and another MLB season will soon begin. For the fans, this will be a site for longing eyes. But for the players and managers, the real fight is only getting started. The coming 162 games will determine the most improved, the most in need of improvement and the future All-Stars of baseball.
As spring training reaches its last few days, the world will watch as the best hit the diamond once again. For some teams, the mountain is steeper to climb. For others, last season’s success should set the goals for the regular season. Regardless, the pressure to succeed is always high. When the lights are on and the training wheels are off, all 30 teams will need to firmly plant their cleats in the dirt as they fight for those 10 coveted spots in October.
The first Opening Day game on March 29 will showcase the very beginning of things to come.
Opening Day game: Miami Marlins
The National League has the honor of the very first regular season game of 2018. The rebuilding Miami Marlins will host the Chicago Cubs at 12:30 p.m. this Thursday. Jose Urena will start on the mound for Miami, as will Jon Lester for Chicago.
Urena had a solid season last year, finishing with a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA. Those are not quite All-Star numbers, but his improvements over the years have been substantial for someone entering his fourth year in the big leagues. Not to mention his .238 opposing batting average was his career best and among the lowest in the entire league.
The Marlins no doubt still have a ton of areas in need of improvement, one being their pitching rotation. The rotation as a whole recorded a 4.82 ERA (26th out of 30 teams) and only 34 saves out of 61 opportunities.
To be fair, this past offseason was anything but sunny for Miami. It was like a full season of “The Apprentice” with everyone being told, “You’re fired.” This time, even the winner got the boot.
Names ranged from each of their All-Stars, to the guy who played Billy the Marlin. No one was safe from the never-ending cycle of staff changes. Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter will have a lot to answer for, seemingly perpetuating Jeffrey Loria’s ownership tactics. But with Don Mattingly managing a lineup of kids hungry for a shot at the big leagues, the eagerness and youth of the team can stand as a bright spot for the new season.
Opening Day game: Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs, on the other hand, will look to continue their reign over the NL Central. Chicago ended last season with a 92-70 record and an NLCS appearance. The Cub contending against Urena for the first win, as previously mentioned, is 34-year old Jon Lester.
Lester did not have the most electrifying season in 2017. He posted a 13-8 record with 4.33 ERA. However, the four-time All Star has proven he could quiet the critics and batting lineups over the course of his career. He has been a part of three World Series titles, the last one being with the 2016 Cubs.
After all, he is 34 years old, so no need to throw so much dirt on him.
Last season, Chicago’s batting lineup recorded a .255 average, while the pitching crew tallied a 3.95 ERA. Although these numbers are solid, there is always room for improvement.
If manager Joe Maddon has proved anything in his short tenure with the Cubs, it is his ability to utilize what he has and adjust. More often than not, this brought victory to Chicago, including a World Series trophy in 2016. His managerial record with the Cubs stands at 292-193 in three seasons.
The Cubs have appeared in each of the last three NLCS matchups. With a lineup full of familiar weapons, it is not hard to say they will be back in that ring in 2018. But if they are to exceed that feat, they will need new faces to rise up and further expand the firepower of the lineup.
The tale of the tape between these two teams boasts opposites of each other. Miami is rebuilding its franchise, while Chicago continues to build on its solid foundation. The Marlins have not felt October fun since 2003, while Chicago cannot get enough of it.
Understandably, the rebuilding process is not supposed to be easy. It must get worse before it gets better. Mattingly and Jeter seem ready for the up-hill battle ahead.
Now, let’s see if the new faces can carry the Marlins for a long-awaited return to the playoffs.
Featured image from Paul Howe Illustration
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