Cubs (0-0) at Pirates (0-0)
1:35 PM–PNC Park, Pittsburgh
TV: ROOT Sports, WGN
OPENING DAY! We’ve finally made it through a very strange offseason and a long, boring spring training. Today, there’s real baseball at PNC Park. The Bucs host the Chicago Cubs at 1:35. It’s good to be back.
With the season about to begin, it’s kind of hard to describe how I feel about the Bucs’ chances this year. I’m certainly not super-optimistic after last season’s historic collapse and an offseason that didn’t bring too many big changes. That said, the expectations for this year’s club are higher than the norm. Most reasonable projections have them in the 75-80 win range, which isn’t where the Bucs want to be but is still a higher bar than I can remember in quite a while. It’s honestly not a significant stretch to say this team can get over .500 and compete for a playoff spot. There’s lots of room for upside….but as always with the Pirates, there’s lots of room for disaster. I’m excited for the former and terrified of the latter. It’s going to be a wild ride…but as usual, I’m fired up to get it started.
Here’s your Opening Day lineup:
Starling Marte, LF
Garrett Jones, RF
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Pedro Alvarez, 3B
Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Neil Walker, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Clint Barmes, SS
A.J. Burnett, P
There are a couple of things to note here. First, Sanchez getting the nod over Travis Snider against a RHP is somewhat unexpected (plus it moves Jones to the outfield). Sanchez had a much better spring than Snider, so I’m assuming that’s why he’s in there. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a regular thing–I think most had assumed Snider would play against righties. It’s also strange to see Jones in the #2 spot. This doesn’t bother me too much–I like to see him separated from Alvarez (and even Walker) to avoid making it easy for opposing managers to bring in tough lefty relievers for one part of the order. That said, he isn’t exactly a good contact or on-base guy that you’d like to see hitting second–Walker would probably be a better fit for that role.
Brandon Inge, Charlie Morton, and Francisco Liriano were placed on the 15-day DL, finalizing the 25-man roster. Morton and Liriano will be out for at least another month, but Inge will likely be back somewhat soon. Josh Harrison is the last man on the squad.
The forecast isn’t promising. It’s going to be cold (around 40 degrees) and possibly wet. Not ideal, but we’re talking about April in Pittsburgh here. It would make more sense for MLB to have all the early matchups in warmer or domed locations, but I like that the Pirates get to open up at home once in a while. Hopefully they get the game in.
Now that the Astros are gone, most prognosticators have the Cubs pegged for last place in the Central. Don’t take it as a guarantee that they’ll be worse than the Bucs, but that SHOULD be the case. Their lineup isn’t too different from last year’s 100-loss team, but the rotation has improved with the additions of Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva. The Pirates dominated the Cubs early on last season but struggled with them during the collapse, and ended up just 8-8 against them with a -14 run differential. If the Bucs are going to have a winning season, they’re going to need to put together a strong record against the Cubbies–the rest of the division figures to be much more competitive, and they won’t get to beat up on Houston all the time.
This is an awesome feature by the P-G about Andrew McCutchen.
Today will be the first Opening Day start of A.J. Burnett’s career.
The Trib’s Joe Starkey predicts 82 wins.
Here’s a feature on Jason Grilli as he enters his first season as a closer.
This awesome Bucs Dugout post counts down 50 memorable Pirates home openers.
Here’s all the info on the pregame festivities, along with details on the rest of the homestand.
Parking for the game will probably be difficult.
Jeff Samardzija (2012: 9-13, 3.81) vs. A.J. Burnett (2012: 16-10, 3.51)
This matchup won’t turn many heads nationally before the game, but there’s some serious potential for a ton of K’s on both sides this afternoon–especially when you take in to account what both these pitchers did against these teams last year.
Samardzija made his final start of 2012 at PNC and tossed a dominant complete game in a 4-3 Cub victory. “The Shark” (who was once a standout WR for Notre Dame’s football team) shut out the Bucs for 8 innings in his only other appearance at PNC last year. In those two games, he allowed 5 hits and 2 walks combined while striking out 14. He has emerged as a top young pitcher for the Cubs and could be a force this season.
Burnett, of course, came oh-so-close to no-hitting the Cubbies at Wrigley last summer. He faced them two other times, winning once and losing once in a couple of fairly short outings. It will be an emotional day for the Pirates’ fearless leader as he makes his first Opening Day start in front of thousands of adoring fans, but the Pirates will need him to be on his game. One of the big questions coming in to the year is whether or not he can repeat his 2012 success. I think he can, as long as you factor in his semi-struggles at the end of the season.
Pirates vs Samardzija // Cubs vs Burnett
LET’S GO BUCS!
Photo: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports