It’s here, ladies and gentlemen! After a fairly uneventful offseason and a refreshing yet monotonous spring training, Opening Day 2018 has arrived. The Cleveland Indians begin their quest for a championship out west in Washington as the Seattle Mariners host the Tribe for the first series of the season.
The Indians will have three games in Seattle before heading south to Anaheim to face off against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a three game set. They’ll then use next Thursday to travel back to Cleveland, where they will host the Kansas City Royals in their first home series of the season. The Mariners will also travel south after the opening series and meet the San Francisco Giants in the bay before heading to Target Field to visit the Minnesota Twins.
Thursday, March 29 10:10 p.m. ET: Corey Kluber (RHP) v. Felix Hernandez (RHP)
These two aces are just two days apart in terms of age (both will turn 32 in early April), but their career paths have been dramatically different. In 2010, for example, Felix Hernandez was having his best season that ultimately ended in him winning the AL Cy Young Award; Corey Kluber was pitching for the San Antonio Missions (the AA affiliate for the San Diego Padres) before being traded to the Cleveland Indians and ending his year with the Columbus Clippers. Fast forward eight years and things look dramatically different for both pitchers.
Kluber is coming off of a season that netted him his second Cy Young Award in four years. Despite missing some time last season, Kluber was even better than his 2014 season and looks to lead another elite Cleveland rotation in 2018. His numbers in 2017 were laughably unreal: 203.2 innings, 51 earned runs, 36 walks, and 265 strikeouts (which translates to an unreal ERA+ of 202). Kluber will be another year older this season, but he seems to be aging like the finest wine. Still have doubts? If you believe in spring training stats, he’s already kicking ass and taking names.
On the other hand, Hernandez will try to bounce back from an injury-riddled worst season of his career. Prior to last season, you had to go all the way back to 2005, Felix’s rookie year, to find the last time that he pitched fewer than 100 innings (he threw 84.1); in 2017, injuries limited his playing time to just 86.2 innings. During those innings, Hernandez allowed 42 earned runs while walking 26 and striking out 78 (which translates to an ERA+ of 98). As of six days ago, Felix was dealing with an upper-right forearm contusion, but he was still slated to be well enough to start his tenth consecutive Opening Day for the Seattle Mariners. His spring stats have been rather pedestrian, so it’s unclear as to whether or not Felix Hernandez is in for a return to form or if 2017 was the beginning of a slow decline for the former king.
Saturday, March 31 4:10 p.m. ET: Carlos Carrasco (RHP) v. James Paxton (LHP)
Much to the delight of Cleveland fans everywhere, the game following a Corey Kluber start will typically be a Carlos Carrasco start, which has the chance to be equally as dominant as the day prior. Similar to Kluber, Carrasco is coming off of his best season to date. 2017 saw Carlos Carrasco finally hit the 200 inning benchmark; in those innings, Cookie allowed 73 earned runs while walking 46 and striking out 226 (which translates to an ERA+ of 139). His spring has been absolutely ugly (16 earned runs in 18.2 innings), but he’s still striking out just over 11 batters per 9 innings, so expect things to normalize over the course of the season.
If it weren’t for Felix’s history of excellence and him being (relatively) healthy, James Paxton would be the ace for the Mariners, and some may even argue that he is the staff ace now regardless of what Felix has done in the past. Paxton had arguably his best season in 2017, throwing 136.0 innings and allowing 45 earned runs while walking 37 and striking out 156 (which translates to an ERA+ of 143). His ERA last season was 2.98, but his FIP was 2.61, which may indicate that he could have been even better had it not been for some flukey bad luck. The issue facing Paxton since 2015 has been his health. He’s had injuries all up and down his left (throwing) arm as well as his left pectoral muscle over the past three seasons. If he can put together a complete, healthy season, expect Paxton to be a force to be reckoned with all season long.
Sunday, April 1 4:10 p.m. ET: Trevor Bauer (RHP) v. Mike Leake (RHP)
Trevor Bauer has had quite the busy few months. From launching his own website to working tirelessly to be the best to throwing a baseball 117mph and starting a giveaway campaign with the surplus money from his arbitration hearing, he’s kept himself occupied. He’s also coming off his best season in the majors; in 2017, Bauer threw 176.1 innings and allowed 82 earned runs while walking 60 and striking out 196 (which translated to an ERA+ of 109). The former first round pick is starting to look like the pitcher that Cleveland fans dreamed of when he came over from Arizona in 2013, and he looks to build on his successful 2017 campaign with his first start this Sunday.
Mike Leake shined for the Mariners when he arrived from St. Louis late last season, and his overall 2017 numbers were solid. Across both teams, Leake threw 186.0 innings and allowed 81 earned runs while walking 37 and striking out 130 (which translates to an ERA+ of 109). He won’t strike many batters out, so expect the Cleveland hitters to put the ball in play a bunch against him.
Players to watch
As always, Robinson Cano is a name that should stick out to anyone watching the Mariners. The aging second baseman just turned 34 last October, but that didn’t stop him from putting up a wRC+ of 112 in 2017 and making his eighth All-Star game. The Mariners will also deploy SS Jean Segura (22 steals in 2017) and the recently acquired Dee Gordon (60 steals in 2017) at the top of their lineup, so they should provide an early challenge for the arms of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. And Kyle Seager will continue to hit bombs left and right as he’s done for the past...all of the seasons.
Oh, and Ichiro is back in Seattle for his swan song. Unless he has anything to say about it.
Slow to start in April
The Indians have been notoriously slow starters in recent years, often having difficulty finding their groove in April and not kicking things into gear until into May or June. With games against the Mariners, Tigers, Royals, and Rangers (to name a few) in the first month, there’s really no reason why Cleveland can’t get off to a hot start before the calendar flips to May.
Whether it’s been Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar (among others), injuries have been a major obstacle for the Indians. Every team deals with injuries over the course of a season, but it will be important for key contributors to stay healthy for Cleveland to compete. The outfield is already shaky as is; too many injuries and we will be fielding the Colin Cowgill-esque players on a daily basis, and that is not a recipe for success.
New in Town
Yonder Alonso had a terrific spring. He had an OPS of 1.284, which was literally more than double that of LGFT Carlos Santana’s .622. That being said, spring stats mean virtually nothing (despite the fact that I referenced them a bunch in this article) good or bad. Historically, Carlos Santana has been much better than Yonder Alonso, so it will be a challenge for Alonso to replicate the production that Lando used to bring. However, if he can tap into whatever he was doing in the first half of 2017, the Tribe may just have an awesome new first baseman after all.
Seattle Mariners roster
How many games will the Indians win against the Mariners?
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