Happy Opening Day!
A day that is almost as sweet as Christmas has finally arrived with Major League teams, aside from the Cardinals and Cubs who played last night, getting their season underway on this brisk Monday. The Blue Jays will open in Yankee Stadium trying to get their season off on the right foot after losing to the same Yankees in the team's home opener last year at the Rogers Centre.
The pitching matchup is an intriguing one with youngster Drew Hutchison taking on Masahiro Tanaka who is aging as a pitcher a lot faster than the Yankees brass would have liked. The 26-year-old Japanese import has a small tear in the UCL of his right pitching arm and is attempting to avoid surgery in the hopes that it will not become even worse. As we know, the surgery he's trying to avoid is the same Tommy John surgery that opposing Opening Day hurler Hutchison had a couple of years ago on a very similar injury.
Tanaka recently made waves by admitting that he'd have less velocity this season (and likely the rest of his career) and that he was changing his pitching style to essentially accommodate the injury. The Yankees rotation is quite fragile as it is and if Tanaka is forced to miss as much time as he did last year then the team would find itself in a real bind.
On the plus side for Tanaka is that the righty looked dominant at times last year when he was healthy and ended the season with a 2.77 ERA and 3.04 FIP which brought him some Rookie of the Year consideration. His 9.3 K/9 rate will likely go down this year with the chopped velocity but he should still be a solid starter assuming his arm doesn't fly off on the first pitch of the game this afternoon.
Considering his pitch mix is expected to change, last year's data isn't as relevant as it usually is but in 2014 Tanka threw 40% fastballs (split between four-seamers and sinker) plus a steady dose of sliders and splitters. If you watched him dominate the Blue Jays in their home opener last season then you know Tanaka can be unhittable when the splitter and slider are working against hitters from either side of the plate.
Tanka and his pinpoint command pound the bottom of the zone and if the Jays want to have any success today it will come in fastball counts taking advantage of his hittable heater (regardless of how much velocity it has).
On the other side of the ledger is Drew Hutchison, who has been tagged for a breakout season by everyone and their grandma. A new slider has people believing that the Floridian is poised to take a big step forward this year as the third-oldest member of the rotation, although establishing his changeup against lefties is just as important to his success.
One key thing to look out for with Hutchison during the game is if he is able to locate his slider down and off the plate against righties (and inside against lefties to a lesser extent), making the pitch nearly impossible to make solid contact with. If he is unable to run the ball out of the strike zone it will be feasted on by the veteran lineup that the Yankees are trotting out:
The starters have already been posted for this game and the hype train has fully left the station so let's take a look:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Happy Opening Day!!! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bluejays?src=hash">#Bluejays</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Jays?src=hash">#Jays</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yankees?src=hash">#Yankees</a> <a href="http://t.co/CaaxxWUm0T">pic.twitter.com/CaaxxWUm0T</a></p>— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) <a href="https://twitter.com/Wilnerness590/status/585082907984793600">April 6, 2015</a></blockquote>
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On the Blue Jay side of the ball, perhaps the only surprise is Dioner Navarro getting the start at DH over a combination of Justin Smoak at first and Edwin Encarnacion as the designated hitter. I know there was some people suggesting that Navarro would get the Opening Day start as a sign of respect towards him hitting well last year, but I certainly hope that isn't why. The obvious uncertainty that every Blue Jays fan is aware of is after the first five hitters in the lineup as two true rookies plus one unexperienced player round out spots seven through nine.
For the Yankees, their lineup may boast star power in terms of recognizable names but they feature equally as many question marks as their counterparts today. Will the aging veterans like Teixeira and McCann rebound from relatively quiet 2014 seasons and will Alex Rodriguez make a complete fool of himself in his first official game since September 5, 2013?
The team's have similar bullpen issues as the top two guys on each squad are fairly known quantities, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the Yankees, but after that the question marks increase as a mishmash of guys who had rough 2014 seasons make up the rest of the relievers. Old friend Esmil Rogers should also make an appearance during this series which should be good news for the Blue Jays.
As everyone knows, Opening Day is a day of overreaction, either good or bad, so enjoy the game today and let your irrational emotion take over! Come game two on Wednesday the regular season will be comfortably underway but today is always something special and it certainly is an occasion you don't want to miss. Enjoy!