And the season begins…
There’s no doubt the bureaucrats “got it right” on this one – pairing the league’s biggest rivals in the 2010 MLB opener. All signs point to a classic, fit with a marquee pitching matchup, palpable hatred on both sides, and the two best teams from the past decade kicking off the new one.
Josh Beckett takes the hill against C.C. Sabathia as the two AL East juggernaughts begin their annual battle for divisional supremacy. Get to your TV at 8:00 pm sharp – or 6 pm if you’re like me in the Mountain Time Zone – and prepare to watch baseball at its finest.
Keys of the Game
Coming off a strong spring, striking out 22 in 19.1 innings while walking just 5, Beckett certainly has the edge over Sabathia, who has looked sluggish in 18.2 IP thus far (15 K, 8 BB). Though spring stats are rarely an indication of long-term success, they are a good indicator of a hurler’s readiness at the season’s onset. If C.C. continues to struggle with his command, he could be in for a long night. Expect Beckett to be sharp as the team gets off to an early lead in the first few innings.
One of the more interesting “matchups” of the opener is that of each team’s respective designated hitter – and prepare to hear a lot more about these two over the course of the season.
Papi seems to have brushed off the February rust reasonably well, slugging three homers in 62 spring at-bats, though turning in a concerning 5:14 K:BB ratio. Still, he seems likely to have shaken the boogie-man from early 2009, looking poised for a rebound season. It’s hard to say how much confidence the Fenway Faithful will have in Papi after last season’s disappointment, but still, like any other year, the team’s chances will hinge on the success or failures of their hulking DH.
Returning from whence he came, Yankees’ DH Nick Johnson begins his second tour in the Bronx, having played for New York between 2001-2003. Putting forth a surprising display of power this spring, Johnson mashed three homers in just 39 at-bats. Having hit just 8 longballs all of last year, Johnson is a strong breakout candidate who could find himself launching plenty of homers into the short, wind-aided right field porch of new Yankee Stadium. As for tomorrow’s matchup, however, Fenway’s spacious right-center may make for a few loud, albeit harmless, outs.
C.C. Sabathia v. David Ortiz
In many ways, this matchup will be a measuring stick for Ortiz’ prospects this season. Ortiz had visible struggles against good fastballs last season, and will be given no favors against Sabathia’s 94 mph heat.
To make matters worse, Sabathia brings a tight, low-80s slider to the mix, which doesn’t seem fair considering the lefty-on-lefty matchup.
If Ortiz can find a way to hang in and make good at-bats, it will be a welcome sight. Watch Papi’s balance, especially after seeing a slider after a couple fastballs. If he can maintain good positioning in the box while putting good cuts on the ball, it’s a victory in itself and a great sign for the remainder of the season.
Josh Beckett v. Mark Teixeira
Another prime pitcher-hitter matchup, we should all consider ourselves blessed that we can watch baseball at this level, with this talent, in this context.
This battle will be a tough one for Beckett. The hurler’s arsenal has always pivoted off his fastball, which can be a problem when your opponent has been known to tattoo the pitch. Instead, Beckett will have to rely on his changeup, a solid pitch – some would say his best offering last season – but one he has fought command of in recent years.
If the change is working, Beckett will have success. However, Teixeira clubs the offspeed stuff too. Hey, he isn’t one of the best in the game for nothing. If Beckett can upset Tex’ timing, then anything goes.
Look for Beckett to try to sneak a couple strikes by Tex early in the count, then drop the hammer out of the zone for strike three. Teixeira has been known to chase at times, so getting ahead is particularly valuable in this matchup.
C.C. Sabathia v. Kevin Youkilis
This is a great one for Youk. Though it’s hard to peg anyone for success against a perennial Cy Young candidate, Youk’s talents match up perfectly against Sabathia. Mashing fastballs and changeups, Youk’s relative struggles against good sliders should be somewhat negated by the fact that he swings from the right side.
In the end, Sabathia has nowhere to hide and Youk goes yard on a hanging breaking ball. I’ll call my shot with two down in the third inning, after Youk has had a chance to see his stuff once and refresh his memory.
“For Entertainment Purposes Only”
The Sox shake a few runs out of Sabathia in the early innings, who continues to battle the leftover rust from March. Cameron (.326/.436/.558 in 43 spring ABs) endears himself to the fans from the onset, while Hermida campaigns to become a favorite with a key pinch-hit (.450/.500/.650 in 40 spring ABs). Beckett rolls, the bullpen holds, and the Yankees fade quietly into the April night. The Sox begin the season with a bang, on their way to a season sweep of the Yanks, 19 games to none.
Red Sox 4.7, Yankees 2.1
WP: Beckett (1-0)
LP: Sabathia (0-1)
SV: Papelbon (1)
HR: Youkilis (1)