The first pitch of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays season is mere hours away, with the home town Blue Jays hosting the Cleveland Indians for a three-game set at Rogers Centre, starting at 7:07pm ET.
Like the Blue Jays, the Indians saw an opportunity to compete in 2013, and made a myriad of changes to their roster and management.
First, the team brought aboard former Red Sox manager Terry Francona to replace interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. While Alomar was seen as a solid managerial prospect, the club wanted a breath of fresh air to help reinvigorate a team that finished 68-94 in 2012. Francona will likely operate a looser clubhouse that managers past in Cleveland, and that may be what this team needs.
Then the team set forth on reconstructing a roster that needed to have some leadership instilled. They added outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, who will likely prove to be the unofficial captain of the new look Indians. They also brought in Michael Bourn to provide the team with a lead-off hitter, Mark Reynolds as some well-needed pop in the line-up, Brett Myers and Scott Kazmir as veterans in the rotation, and Drew Stubbs as a versatile outfielder.
Needless to say, this is not the same Indians team that took the field in 2012, so let’s see how they stack up in this series with the Blue Jays.
Right out of the gate, the pitching match-ups appear to favor the Blue Jays, but we shouldn’t sell the Indians short either. Masterson, despite his struggles last season, did have a 1-0 record in two starts against Toronto in 2012 with a 0.60 ERA and 15 strike-outs in 15 innings pitched.
The same cannot be said for Jimenez who was 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA against Toronto in two starts last season. His struggles continue to mystify the Indians, who were obviously looking for more from their investment when they acquired him in 2011.
Myers will be the enigma. After years of relief work, he is transitioning back to a starting role. He struggled a bit in spring training, but the Indians were confident enough to keep him slotted in the 3-hole.
Toronto will throw their top three starters, with Dickey’s debut being one of the most heavily watched outings in Toronto in a long time. Coming off a Cy Young season in New York, perhaps the expectations are a bit high for him, but fans will settle for 2011 Dickey form as well. He will have the element of surprise, as Dickey has never faced the Indians during his career.
Dickey will be followed by Brandon Morrow, who did get a few looks at Cleveland last season. Last year’s top starter for the Blue Jays, Morrow threw 7-innings last season against the Indians in 2012, taking a no-decision while shutting the Indians out during the outing.
Then the veteran takes the mound. No member of the Blue Jays pitching staff has as much exposure to the Cleveland Indians as does Mark Buehrle. The 34-year-old former White Sox ace has made 47 appearances against the Indians, accumulating a 15-17 record with a 4.77 ERA over 277.1 innings of work.
These are just the projected line-ups for Opening Day, as at the time of this writing they have not yet been released for Tuesday’s game.
1. CF: Michael Bourn
2. SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3. 2B: Jason Kipnis
4. 1B: Nick Swisher
5. LF: Michael Brantley
6. C: Carlos Santana
7. DH: Mark Reynolds
8. 3B: Lonnie Chisenhall
9. RF: Drew Stubbs
Toronto Blue Jays:
1. SS: Jose Reyes
2. LF: Melky Cabrera
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
5. DH: Adam Lind
6. C: J.P. Arencibia
7. CF: Colby Rasmus
8. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio
9. 3B: Maicer Izturis
Right out of the gate, it appears that the Blue Jays have a bit more fire-power in their line-up, especially through the middle of the order. The bottom half of the order seems to trail off a bit for Cleveland, but if Chisenhall can make the jump the Indians need him to, that could change.
This will also be the rare match-up where the Blue Jays will see a lead-off man, in Michael Bourn, along the same caliber of Jose Reyes, so they’ll seek to keep him off the base paths as much as possible. Otherwise, the Toronto pitching staff can find some holes in which to exploit and work around if needed.
With three consecutive nights with right-handers on the mound for the Indians, Toronto’s line-up is not likely to change, with Maicer Izturis likely to draw the starts at third against right-handers while Brett Lawrie is on the disabled list. Mark DeRosa may make an appearance, but more likely as a pinch hitter during this series.
In the Indians, the Blue Jays get a fairly good match-up to start the season. Cleveland may hit the ball fairly well, but outside of Masterson their pitching staff remains suspect. Toronto should take at least two games in this series, if not all three, giving them a nice head of steam going into a weekend series with the Red Sox.
A Few Words With A Guest:
As part of the preview for this series, I had a moment to sit down with Lewie Pollis, the editor of our FanSided Indians Site, Wahoos On First. As another team that made some major changes this season, I wanted to get Lewie’s input on how he felt about those changes and what we can expect from Cleveland in this series.
KF – Cleveland was very aggressive in their own right this winter, bringing in some solid acquisitions. What got into the Indians this winter and made them opt to buy instead of rebuild?
LP – Simply put, opportunity knocked and ownership let the front office open the door. The Indians weren’t nearly as bad as they looked at the end of last season; despite the injuries and slumps and lackluster supporting cast the team had an impressive core of young players. So given that the Dolans were willing to increase payroll and Chris Antonetti made a number of shrewd trades and minor-league signings to fill in the rest of the roster, it absolutely made sense to bring in talented players who can improve the Tribe’s standing both for 2013 and beyond.
KF – With the acquisitions of Swisher, Reynolds, and Bourn, this Indians team just feels different to watch, almost as if the organization has received a well-needed injection of energy. Is there a new vibe floating around Cleveland this summer?
LP – Absolutely. Even before he did any sort of managing the energy Terry Francona brought to the team stood in stark contrast with the torpor and frustration that had taken hold in the Cleveland clubhouse under Manny Acta. (I’d highly recommend checking out the Harlem Shake and TERRi videos the team has made.) There’s been a revival of excitement among the fans, too. The Trevor Bauer trade and Nick Swisher signing got Northeast Ohioans interested in baseball again, but the Michael Bourn signing put them over the top. It’s been years since this city has been this excited about the start of the baseball season.
KF – The big story coming out of Cleveland’s camp this spring is the return/revival of Scott Kazmir. How much can we expect to see from the once-talented lefty in his renaissance tour?
LP – With a question mark as big as Kazmir it’s hard to make a projection for how he’ll fare in 2013, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he surprises people this year. Based on what we saw this spring he’s got some velocity back, he’s seen improvement in his slider, and he seems to have his control problems under control. A month of exhibition games is hardly enough to feel confident about a flameout who has pitched exactly one MLB game in the last two years, but he certainly looks like he’s turned over a new leaf.
I should add that Kazmir won’t be around very long if it turns out he isn’t up to the job. The Indians have at least three or four solid rotation options waiting in Triple-A, so they won’t be too hesitant to pull the plug on the experiment if Kazmir turns back into a pumpkin once the season starts.
KF – It goes without saying that the Indians will only go as far as Justin Masterson can go. Can we expect the Indians ace to put a tough 2012 behind him and return to his 2011 form?
LP – There’s a pretty big difference between 2011 Masterson and 2012 Masterson, and no reasonable fan would put him at either pole. Masterson’s biggest weaknesses last year were his lack of confidence against left-handed hitters and his pitch-to-contract approach in front of a subpar defense. A more supportive manager could help the former and a greatly improved defense will definitely ameliorate the latter. Another 3.21 ERA is probably out of the question and he’d be unlikely to match up well against another team’s ace in the first game of a playoff series, but he’ll be better than he was last year for sure.
KF – What are you predicting from the Indians in this series and how many games do they take?
LP – I don’t think the Indians match up particularly well in any of the three games this series, but after this offseason it feels heretical not to be optimistic. I say the Tribe takes two of three.