The Marlins and Braves both underwent major roster overhauls during the offseason, with the hopes that last year's battle for second place in the National League East might turn into a battle for first in 2015.
Miami and Atlanta start the new season in earnest at Marlins Park on Monday afternoon, with a pitching matchup boasting two young right-handers on the rise. Julio Teheran will make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Braves, while Henderson Alvarez gets the nod in the opener for Miami for the first time. First pitch is set for 4:10 p.m. ET.
"He brings a lot to the table," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of Alvarez, whose 2.65 ERA was tops among Marlins pitchers with more than 10 starts last season. "He brings a flare, an excitement. It's really a perfect fit for Opening Day."
The Marlins were the NL East's busiest team during the offseason, bringing in Mat Latos to help stabilize the rotation, Dee Gordon to infuse speed at the top of the order and Michael Morse, Ichiro Suzuki and Martin Prado to add veteran presence to a young ballclub.
But the biggest move Miami made this offseason was signing superstar right fielder Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract. Opening Day will mark Stanton's first official at-bat since his 2014 campaign was cut short when he was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball on Sept. 11. For protection, Stanton will wear a face mask on his helmet (in the shape of the letter G).
It'll be Stanton's fifth Opening Day appearance for Miami, which is the most among players on the active roster and ties him with his manager for sixth in franchise history.
"We improved from '13 to '14, so we've just got to keep stepping up, keep getting better and let these young guys develop into the players they're going to be," Stanton said.
Stanton and the Marlins have a tall task ahead of them in facing Teheran, who is 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA in eight career starts against Miami. The 24-year-old Teheran joins Pat Jarvis, Phil Niekro, Rick Mahler, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe as the only pitchers to make make back-to-back Opening Day starts for Atlanta.
"It's something I've been working for, and it's paid off," Teheran said. "That is a place you want to be and you don't want anybody to take it from you. ... That's the place I want to be the rest of my career."
Teheran is coming off the best season of his young career, when he posted a 2.89 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 33 starts, though he hasn't been especially sharp this spring.
As far as new faces are concerned, the Braves have their fair share as well. Gone are Jason Heyward (Cardinals), Justin Upton (Padres) and Evan Gattis (Astros). Entering the fold are right fielder Nick Markakis, backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski and right-hander Shelby Miller, among others.
Markakis, the Braves' prized free-agent acquisition, has battled a herniated disk in his neck since signing a four-year deal in November. He appears to have fully recovered, and he's eager for a fresh start in Atlanta after spending the first nine years of his career with Baltimore.
"It's going to be different, but it's also going to be exciting at the same time," Markakis said. "National League and American League are two different styles of play, and I'm looking forward to it."