Opening Day 2018: Today’s Matchups

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As I’ve written a hundred times, that there are over 2,000 baseball games every year means that no single one is terribly important. If our coverage here at HardballTalk has been informed by anything over the past nine years, it’s been informed by that fact. We don’t freak out about single game results and we try not to let hype outpace basic reality.

But dang it, Opening Day is exciting. If I had the ability to put some jacked up graphics of robots smashing into each other and could afford to get Jason Isbell to dress up like Hank Jr. and do some parody song called “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME BASEBALL??!!!” I’d do it in a heartbeat. This is our Christmas, friends, and at 7AM, I’m already deep into the baseball eggnog.

As such, allow me to be super excited about today’s matchups and to treat these games like they matter.

The Games (all times EDT; national TV where noted):

Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins, 12:30 PM, Marlins Park (ESPN)
Starters: Jon Lester vs Jose Urena
Analysis: The Marlins are currently a .500 team and, if they win this game, will have sole possession of first place in the NL East. This is likely the last time I’ll be able to say that all year.

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Detroit Tigers, 1:10 PM, Comerica Park
UPDATE:
The game has been postponed

St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets, 1:10 PM, Citi Field
Starters: Carlos Martinez vs Noah Syndergaard
Analysis: Wild Card preview? Eh, maybe not — someone on the Mets will come down with boneinitis or skin failure or something — but if the starting pitching is healthy, they could be fun. Syndergaard is fun as it is.

Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles, 3:05 PM, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Starters: Jake Odorizzi vs Dylan Bundy
Analysis: Given the names of my kids’ middle school friends, in about 10-15 years, 75% of all baseball games will be started by guys named “Jake” and “Dylan.”

Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers, 3:30 PM, Globe Life Park (ESPN)
Starters: Justin Verlander vs Cole Hamels
Analysis: I sort of went out on a limb and picked Verlander to be my Cy Young Award winner this year. I could totally see him pitching far worse, objectively speaking, than he did after coming over in the trade last year but still winning, like, 24 games because of all of the run support he’ll get. Sort of a late career Roger Clemens special, ya know?

New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 3:37 PM, Rogers Centre
Starters: Luis Severino vs J.A. Happ
Analysis: If I worked for a New York paper, and if Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge did anything less than go 3-for-4 with two homers and five driven in today, tomorrow’s column would read “what’s wrong with Judge and Stanton?” I’d do it totally straight, with no hint of sarcasm.

Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4:00 PM, Tropicana Field
Starters: Chris Sale vs Chris Archer
Analysis: Nothing like the smell of the fresh grass, the warm spring breezes and the blue, blue skies of Opening Day. Truly, it is a day of renewal.

Los Angeles Angels vs. Oakland Athletics, 4:05 PM, Oakland Coliseum
Starters: Garrett Richards vs Kendall Graveman
Analysis: In 10-15 years the other 25% of games will be started by dudes named Garrett and Kendall.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves, 4:10 PM, Sun Trust Park
Starters: Aaron Nola vs Julio Teheran
Analysis: The Phillies will likely start their rookie sensation, Scott Kingery. The Braves’ rookie sensation, Ronald Acuna, will be working out on a minor league field someplace. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it’ll be more fun to be a Phillies fan than a Braves fan this year, I suspect.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Diego Padres, 4:10 PM, Petco Park
Starters: Chase Anderson vs Clayton Richard
Analysis: I’ve been to a lot of games at Petco Park, some day games, some night games. The place is a totally different and far more fun for day games, both because of the atmosphere and because the ball flies way better. I know television and economics won’t allow it anymore, but if I were made Supreme Ruler of Baseball, I’d mandate that the Padres — and heck, maybe all California teams — play all of their home games during the day.

Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals, 4:15 PM, Kauffman Stadium
Starters: James Shields vs Danny Duffy
Analysis: I wish starting pitchers shook hands on the field before each game because if it happened here it’d be sorta like a time traveler, former Royals ace James Shields, coming to the present to warn current Royals ace Danny Duffy about all of the crap that’s gonna happen to him in the next five years.

San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 7:00 PM, Dodger Stadium (ESPN)
Starters: Ty Blach vs Clayton Kershaw
Analysis: This is gonna be a bit less exciting than it might’ve been if Madison Bumgarner hadn’t broken his hand. Still, it’s hard to beat Giants-Dodgers on Opening Day.

Cleveland Indians vs. Seattle Mariners, 10:00 PM, Safeco Field (ESPN)
Starters: Corey Kluber vs Felix Hernandez
Analysis: Indians fans are the only ones in all of baseball who have to deal with a fan-unfriendly, super late Opening Day game. On a weeknight no less. Be kind to them at work tomorrow morning.

Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, 10:10 PM, Chase Field
Starters: Jon Gray vs. Patrick Corbin
Analysis: Wild Card rematch from 2017. There’s a humidor in Phoenix now. I wonder if the balls will fail to fly as far.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).