Sunday, April 3, 2016

Cy matchup for Papi's last Opening Day

Facing a Cy Young winner in the first week of April already qualifies as unfair. Throw in the potential for rain or snow and temperatures just north of freezing, and that classifies as cruel.
But for the hitters on the Red Sox and Indians, that's how the 2016 season -- and the last hurrah for the legendary David Ortiz -- will begin. And for the rest of us, David Price vs. Corey Kluber is an unmistakable Opening Day attraction.
The Price-Kluber matchup will be just the seventh time on Opening Day where both starting pitchers won a Cy Young Award sometime over the previous four seasons. The other matchups occurred between R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays) and Price (Rays) on March 31, 2014; Randy Johnson (Yankees) vs. Barry Zito (A's) on April 3, 2006; Johan Santana (Twins) vs. Roy Halladay (Blue Jays) on April 4, 2006; and Steve Carlton (Phillies) vs. Tom Seaver (Mets) on April 8, 1975, April 6, 1974, and April 6, 1973.
Price is the key acquisition for a Red Sox club many are -- once again -- projecting to go from worst to first in the deep American League East, and Kluber is the leader of an Indians rotation getting widespread industry acclaim as good enough to lead the Tribe to the top of the deep AL Central. They'll oppose each other at 4:10 p.m. ET Monday in Progressive Field conditions expected to be idyllic… for pitching prominence.
Such prominence is what the Red Sox expect in the front end of their rotation from Price and the back end of their bullpen from Craig Kimbrel. A 4.31 staff ERA that was the sixth-highest in the Majors last season masked many of the strides the Red Sox saw from young position players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw (who beat out handsomely Pablo Sandoval for the starting third-base job) and prompted aggressive action from president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Now, the Red Sox feel they have something more closely resembling a total package. And they'll need it if they're going to rise from the rut of consecutive seasons with win totals in the 70s and give Ortiz a victory lap on the World Series stage.
"We return most everyone from the fifth-most productive offense in baseball last year," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, "and there's no reason we can't continue to improve upon it."
One of Farrell's closest friends in baseball is Tribe manager Terry Francona. When Farrell was diagnosed with Stage 1 lymphoma last summer, Francona accompanied him to his first chemotherapy treatment.
Thankfully, Farrell has come out cancer-free, and now the focus is on the field. And both Farrell and Francona have teams not to be taken lightly, even if the latter's club does not come equipped with much payroll power.
For the Indians, runs might be difficult to come by not just on Opening Day against Price, but in general. Their most consistent offensive presence, Michael Brantley, will be absent from the opener as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery, and their outfield has been further rattled by the suspension of Abraham Almonte and the wrist impingement holding back Lonnie Chisenhall.
But as the 2015 season evolved, the Indians had a remarkable turnaround in their defensive play, thanks in large measure to the arrival of Rookie of the Year runner-up Francisco Lindor, and their starting staff beyond Kluber made major strides with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar developing into legitimate ace types all their own.
Of course, the Indians would still like to sprinkle in some runs, and they're counting on another big year from Jason Kipnis and bounce-back seasons from Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and the newly added Mike Napoli to make it happen.
"I hope we're not just a pitching and defense team, because I don't know if that's good enough," Francona told reporters. "But I do know that doing that, you're going to stay in most games."
The first game is a doozy -- the AL's 2012 Cy Young Award winner Price opposing the 2014 winner Kluber. The temperature will be low, and so might the run totals. But these are two clubs with the capability to be playing in similarly cold climates come October.
Red Sox's projected Opening Day lineup
Mookie Betts, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
David Ortiz, DH
Hanley Ramirez, 1B
Travis Shaw, 3B
Brock Holt, LF
Blake Swihart, C
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
David Price, LHP
Indians' projected Opening Day lineup
Rajai Davis, LF
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Francisco Lindor, SS
Mike Napoli, 1B
Carlos Santana, DH
Yan Gomes, C
Marlon Byrd, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Collin Cowgill, CF
Corey Kluber, RHP

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