The Week Ahead: Hot matchups, big debuts, and a new ace in Philly

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halladay-100404.standard[1].jpgThe 2010 season started beautifully on Sunday night with a thriller between the Red Sox and Yankees. If you could ignore the dog-and-pony show that comes with an ESPN Sunday night telecast, you were able to enjoy quite the treat – even if you don’t have a horse in the Yankees-Red Sox race.

But believe it or not, there are more than two teams in Major League Baseball, and there are a lot of juicy tidbits to watch for in this first week. We have new faces in new places. We have some stellar pitching matchups. And we have some teams trying to live up to early high expectations as the season begins.

Let’s start with who won’t be around as the action heats up. In Texas, Ian Kinsler will not be suiting up. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the Mets are not yet ready to take the field. The Mariners will have to wait at least a couple weeks to see new ace Cliff Lee take the mound, and the Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb), Astros (Lance Berkman) and Rockies (Huston Street) are also among the teams that will be without key players as the season begins.

But even with the injuries, there is plenty of fun to look forward to this week. Phillies fans, enjoying two straight World Series appearances, will unveal their new ace Roy Halladay on Monday as he faces the Washington Nationals. They’re giddy about Halladay in Philly, and rightly so, and he is a big reason some are picking the Phillies to win it all in 2010.

Among other debuts to watch for are Chone Figgins (Mariners), Ben Sheets (A’s, pitching Monday), Orlando Hudson (Twins), John Lackey (Red Sox, Wednesday), Rich Harden and Vlad Guerrero (Rangers), and Hideki Matsui and Joel Pineiro (Angels).

There are some nice pitching matchups in the first week. The Marlins start their young ace Josh Johnson on Monday against the Mets’ Johan Santana, and two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants faces off against the Astros’ Roy Oswalt. But the top matchup comes Monday morning when Kansas City’s reigning Cy Young winner Zack Greinke squares off against a man who could easily win it in 2010, Detroit fire-baller Justin Verlander. I pity the hitters in that one.

So settle in and buckle your safety belts. It’s going to be a fun week.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at Red Sox, April 4, 6-7:
There are only 17 more games between these rivals this season, so enjoy them while you can. Yes, these series get overhyped by ESPN. So what? They’re still fun to watch.

Twins at Angels, April 5-8: A couple of likely playoff teams square off in Los Angeles. And the Twins get one last chance to stay warm before returning home to open their new outdoor ballpark.

Cubs at Braves, April 5, 7-8: Both of these teams are expecting to contend in 2010, so there’s a nice bit of pressure to start fast in this season-opening series.

Yankees at Rays, April 9-11: The Rays think they can make it a three-team race in the AL East. Here’s they’re chance to prove it.

Cardinals at Brewers, April 9-11: Pujols, Holliday and company will test the Brewers’ revamped pitching staff. And Milwaukee gets an early look at whether it can get back into contention in 2010.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 1:10 p.m. ET:
Cardinals at Reds (ESPN)
Monday, 2:05 p.m.: Indians at White Sox (ESPN2)
Monday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Braves (ESPN)
Monday, 7:05 p.m.: Giants at Astros (ESPN2)
Monday, 10:05 p.m.: Twins at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Yankees at Rays (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Cardinals at Brewers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.: Yankees at Rays (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cardinals at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.

Orioles acquire Alec Asher from the Phillies

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The Phillies announced on Tuesday that the club traded pitcher Alec Asher to the Orioles for a player to be named later.

Asher, 25, was the victim of a roster crunch. He was not going to make the 25-man roster and the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley was already full. The Phillies acquired him from the Rangers in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade.

Asher had good results in 27 2/3 innings in the big leagues last year, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 13/4 K/BB ratio. While it didn’t show in those stats, the right-hander sometimes struggles with command and he doesn’t miss bats often enough to make up for it. The Orioles, however, are happy to add some pitching depth.