The Yankees and Blue Jays, division rivals looking to write different endings to their seasons, will meet on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Monday.
Last year, New York didn't make the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time since 1993, which was also the last time Toronto appeared in the postseason. Both franchises have legitimate hopes of taking an American League East that has no obvious favorite.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will start for the Yankees against fellow righty Drew Hutchison. Both pitchers will make their first Opening Day starts, although Tanaka started one Opening Day game in Japan in 2012.
Tanaka was a logical choice once he demonstrated in Spring Training that he could pitch effectively with the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that interrupted his first season after signing a seven-year, $155 million contract to leave Japan.
He made his big league debut against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre last April. On Tanaka's third pitch, Melky Cabrera homered, but the Yankees went on to win the game. Cabrera is now with the White Sox.
"He's gone, so I wouldn't have that sort of negative image from last year. Yes, obviously I'd like to have a different outcome for the first batter this season," Tanaka said.
"I think the biggest difference is that I'll be pitching at home this season. I'm really happy about that. Last year obviously was over in Toronto and being away from home. Definitely being able to pitch at home this season, I'm really happy about that."
Hutchison gets the nod over veteran ace Mark Buehrle, who isn't expected to pitch in the Opening Series, because he's 1-14 with a 6.21 ERA against the Bombers in his stellar career. Hutchison went 6 2/3 innings against the Yankees last July, helping Toronto end its 17-game losing streak in the Bronx.
The Blue Jays' optimism is based in part on a lineup that was revamped by the trade with Oakland for third baseman Josh Donaldson, the acquisition of left fielder Michael Saunders from Seattle and the free-agent signing of catcher Russell Martin. Saunders, however, will open the season on the disabled list after tearing the meniscus in his left knee while shagging flies early in camp.
The loss of right-hander Marcus Stroman for the entire season with a torn ACL in his left knee was also a major setback. And there are still question marks at second base, center field and an unproven bullpen, which includes closer Brett Cecil, who has six career saves.
The Yankees are counting on Tanaka to stay healthy, hoping CC Sabathia, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, bounces back and that oft-injured Michael Pineda remains available.
Other storylines that will begin to unfold on Opening Day include Didi Gregorius replacing the legendary Derek Jeter at shortstop, whether Dellin Betances is ready to step in as the closer and the spotlight that is certain to follow Alex Rodriguez in his comeback from a yearlong suspension.