It’s Opening Day! Cleveland will open their 2021 season against a division rival they should be able to beat handily.
Calm down before you quote this and send it back to me if Shane Bieber gets off to a slow start — they should beat the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean they will. Detroit will counter the reigning Cy Young winner with a soft-tossing lefty, which has historically been a death sentence for Cleveland’s lineup. But it’s Opening Day, and that means there is no room for anything but unbridled optimism. For that reason, I am predicting a 22-0 victory for Cleveland.
The season opens in Detroit, with temperatures not expected to stay much higher than freezing, and below freezing with the wind chill. It’s going to be cold and miserable for the players out there and the 8,200 fans permitted to attend. But it’s still baseball. Live, in April, on our TV, and it will be glorious.
Team in a box
2021 Detroit Tigers
Thursday, April 1, 1:10 p.m. ET, LHP Matthew Boyd vs. Shane Bieber
You can still squint and find the potential in 30-year-old Matthew Boyd. The left-hander pumps low-90s fastballs with an occasional slider and changeup, and in 2019 he struck out a career-high 30.2% of the batters he faced. He’s not going to blow anyone away with overpowering stuff, but he’s showed an ability to limit hard contact in the past, with a hard-hit rate against in the 73rd percentile back in 2018.
His awful 2020, in which he allowed 45 earned runs and 22 batters in 60.1 innings, can at least partially be attributed to a hamstring that slowed him down in summer camp and forced him to make last-minute adjustments to his delivery. The result was his worst season to date and a complete cratering from his peak in his late-20s. Projections see him getting his ERA back down to the mid-4.00’s and not walking nearly as many batters as he did in the pandemic-shortened season.
Saturday, April 3, 1:10 p.m. ET: RHP Julio Teheran vs. Zach Plesac
Julio Teheran was once thought to be the next ace for the Atlanta Braves, but after a stretch of solid seasons in Atlanta his walk and home run issues overcame his pedestrian strikeout numbers and he eventually settled as a back-of-the-rotation starter. The two-time All-Star played for the Angels in 2020, where he pitched in an abysmal 10 games (nine starts), allowing 35 runs in just 31.1 innings. He gave up 12 home runs and walked 16 batters in that span, and did not even remotely solve Los Angeles’ prolonged pitching problems.
He’ll look to rebound in Detroit after signing a $3 million deal to play with the Tigers. Last year, Teheran began throwing his sinker (34.4%), more than his four-seamer (25.9%), and based on the results I’m not sure we’ll see that again.
Sunday, April 4, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP Tarik Skubal vs. Aaron Civale
A ninth-round pick in the 2018 draft, 24-year-old Tarik Skubal made his debut with the Tigers last year to mixed results. Out of the gate, he allowed four earned runs in 2.0 innings, but he settled down through his next couple starts before allowing six runs in another 2.0-inning outing. There is still plenty of reason to fear Skubal, despite the poor results of his rookie season. He has the underlying metrics to be something special, let’s just hope he takes a few days or weeks (months, years, decades) to figure it out.
SS, Willi Castro - Trading Willi Castro for Leonys Martin in 2018 was a sound move at the time. Cleveland needed a center fielder, they had plenty of shortstops, bing bang boom. Unfortunately, Martin ended up contributing basically nothing to Cleveland, got yelled at Francisco Lindor, and eventually left without solving any issues. Meanwhile, Castro had a wRC+ of 150 in the pandemic-shortened season and hit six home runs. Now, of course, that’s buoyed by a .448 BABIP and isn’t likely to continue over a full 162-game season. But still, it would be nice to have his projected 97 wRC+ somewhere, or at least traded for someone better.
DH, Nomar Mazara - Even though he’s only 25, Nomar Mazara has gone through a full career’s worth of expectations and struggles. He “peaked” in 2018 with a 0.9-fWAR season in which he slashed .258/.317/.436 for a 95 wRC+, and he homered exactly 20 times in each of his first three seasons. He only managed 19 in 2019, which would end up being his final year in Texas. With the White Sox in 2020, he hit worse than ever with a strikeout rate approaching 30%. He still hits the ball harder than just about anybody in baseball, but his struggles identifying pitches and getting the ball in the air have absolutely killed his offense. The Tigers will hope they have the magic formula to unlock his potential once and for all.
How many games will Cleveland win against the Tigers?
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