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Game #1 Preview: Zimmermann vs Stroman

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Tigers (0-0) vs Blue Jays (0-0)

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations! You have made it successfully through the offseason, and have officially landed on Opening Day 2019! It was a long and rather boring offseason, but here we are, ready to kick off another season of Blue Jays’ baseball. The offseason officially ends with today’s first pitch, coming some time after 3:30 pm ET today.

Blue Jays’ Starter

Marcus Stroman makes his second career Opening Day start, previously getting the ball to kick off the 2016 season. Stroman battled shoulder and finger issues last year, which really added some very ugly bookends on a strong few months in the middle of the season. On the whole, he went just 4-9 with a 5.54 ERA over just 19 starts, drawing the ire of many “fans”, although Fangraphs does credit him with a much nicer looking 3.91 FIP.

If there was a silver lining in his season last year, he did put up a 3.34 ERA with a 3.26 FIP over the 10 starts between coming back from shoulder injury and facing the finger issues that ultimately ended his season prematurely. So that, coupled with his 3.91 FIP on the entire season, does at least give reason for optimism in 2019.

Tigers’ Starter

Veteran right hander Jordan Zimmermann gets the Opening Day nod for the Tigers for the second consecutive season, having taken over the mantle from Justin Verlander, who started 9 of the previous 10 opening days for the Tigers. Zimmermann allowed 4 runs over 6 innings a year ago.

At 32, Zimmermann is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, having gone 7-8 with a 4.52 ERA over 25 starts. His FIP was worse, at 4.88, while his batted ball profile pegs him as one of the hardest hit pitchers of 2018. But it wasn’t all bad news in 2018, as Zimmermann posted his highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate since 2014.

Zimmermann faced the Blue Jays just once in 2018, July 1 at the Rogers Centre. He earned the win over 7 strong innings, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, in the middle of a very impressive 3 start run. In those 3 starts, he went 20 innings, allowing just 2 runs, strikings out 20 and walking just 1. So there is certainly still the potential for big games from Zimmermann, but they may be few and far between this season.

Blue Jays’ Lineup

With the departure of Kendrys Morales yesterday, and barring any further trades prior to first pitch, the Blue Jays will have just 4 of the same position players on the roster as a year ago - Smoak, Pillar and Grichuk in the starting lineup, and Luke Maile on the bench (the pitching side has seen even more turnover, as I believe only Stroman and Sanchez are the holdovers from Opening Day 2018, depending on whether Danny Barnes also makes the final, yet to be announced roster).

But it’s a younger, faster and potentially more exciting group this time around. And with the addition of Alford over the departed Morales, there is the potential that this could be an overall plus defensive unit, something that was in serious doubt entering the offseason.

With Stroman on the mound, I would expect one of McKinney or Hernandez in LF, with the other at DH. Pillar and Grichuk will fill out the rest of the outfield, while the infield for the next few weeks will pretty much always be Drury-Galvis-Gurriel-Smoak, with Jansen behind the plate.

This isn’t a lineup with a lot of thump, but strong showings from Smoak, Teoscar, McKinney and Grichuk could buoy this offense as the kids gets acclimated.

Tigers’ Lineup

This was once a very talented and scary lineup, centered around future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, and supplemented with strong veterans and the breakout potential of Nicholas Castellanos.

Castellanos has broken out, punishing baseballs to the tune of a .298/.354/.500 line, good enough for a 130 wRC+ in 2018. However, Niko Goodrum (103 wRC+) was the only other player that played even half a season with the club and put up a league average offensive line.

Miguel Cabrera looked a bit more like the Miguel Cabrera of old, until he looked like an old Miguel Cabrera and ruptured a biceps tendon on a swing. He’s healthy now again, and had a fantastic Spring, so his potent bat should once again be a threat in the lineup.

Outside of those 3, there isn’t really much to get excited about. Jeimer Candelario brings solid defense and an intriguing bat to 3B, while the ex-Pirate middle infield of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison leaves a lot to be desired, and will likely have fans wondering why they couldn’t retain Jose Iglesias.

Find the Link

Find the link between Zimmermann and Mike Witt.

Other Clickable Links

If you haven’t checked out Baseball Savant’s new Daily Matchup feature, I recommend you do so. Daren Willman and crew have done an excellent job rolling out new features on that site, and it is fantastic.

Most of my data for this is mined from Fangraphs, while Roster Resource provides other fine information about lineups.