Houston, TX – The 2020 version of MLB’s Opening Day will look extremely different than in year’s past. With no fans in the stands, the Seattle Mariners will visit the Astros tonight in Minute Maid Park to embark on a shortened 60-game the season.
The rebuilding Mariners, who shot off to a 13-2 start last year, figure to stay in contention at least for half the season in a deep American League West. The Astros, despite losing pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees and some other key free agents, are still the team to beat in a division they’ve won three years in a row.
Seattle’s youth movement will be in full bloom with three rookie starters — Evan White, Kyle Lewis and José Marmolejos — as well as Shed Long Jr., who has played in just 42 MLB games. Kyle Seager, as a nine-year starter, is the only real veteran in the group. White will be making his Major League debut after getting the jump from Double-A and Marmolejos is another first-timer after impressing as a non-roster invitee. Lewis has played just 18 MLB games as a late-season callup last year.
None of Seattle’s position starters were in last year’s Opening Day lineup, as Seager and Mallex Smith were on the injured list, Daniel Vogelbach was on the bench and the other six were in the Minors. Manager Scott Servais wants to give Long a look in the leadoff role, but the lineup figures to be flexible as the young group establishes itself in the coming weeks.
Under new manager Dusty Baker, Houston has the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Justin Verlander, who will start Friday, and the reigning AL Rookie of the Year in Yordan Alvarez, who will begin the year on the injured list. A deep and potent offense is led by Alex Bregman, who finished a close second to Mike Trout in last year’s AL MVP race, as well as ’17 AL MVP José Altuve and ’17 World Series MVP George Springer.
Even without Alvarez, who hit 27 homers and drove in 78 runs in 87 games in a bang-up rookie season last year, Houston’s offense is dangerous. Last year, the Astros set a Major League record with a .495 slugging percentage and led the Majors in walks (645), batting average (.274) and on-base percentage (.352). And that was with shortstop Carlos Correa and Altuve spending a substantial amount of time on the injured list. When healthy, it’s arguably the best lineup in baseball.
Baker doesn’t figure to change much in the lineup, short of flip-flopping Bregman and Michael Brantley in the three and four sports from how they ended the playoffs. Aledmys Díaz figures to start at designated hitter against a lefty. That’s a spot that will be assumed by Kyle Tucker against righties until Alvarez comes back.
In the two exhibition games on Monday and Tuesday, Springer reached base in all seven plate appearances, including: four walks, a double, and a hit by pitch. He’s a dangerous weapon at the top of the order who had 39 homers in only 122 games last year. Reddick also swung the bat very well during intrasquad games, as well as hitting a homer Monday in Kansas City. Brantley, Gurriel and Bregman were among those who also homered in intrasquad games, while Díaz swung the bat well in the past week.
|Projected Starting Lineups|
|1) Shed Long Jr., 2B
2) Evan White, 1B
3) Kyle Seager, 3B
4) Kyle Lewis, RF
5) José Marmolejos, LF
6) Austin Nola, C
7) Daniel Vogelbach, DH
8) J.P. Crawford, SS
9) Mallex Smith, CF
|1) George Springer, CF
2) Jose Altuve, 2B
3) Alex Bregman, 3B
4) Michael Brantley, LF
5) Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6) Carlos Correa, SS
7) Josh Reddick, RF
8) Aledmys Díaz, DH
9) Martín Maldonado, C
ON THE MOUND
For the Mariners – Marco Gonzales makes his second straight Opening Day start after ending Félix Hernández’s streak of 10 straight last year. The 28-year-old lefty beat the A’s in the Opening Series in Tokyo and went on to a 16-13 season with a 3.99 ERA in 34 starts. None of that success came against the Astros, however, as Gonzales went 0-2 with a 5.66 ERA in four starts against the AL West champs in 2019, and he is 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in seven career outings vs. Houston, including six starts.
The biggest unknown for Seattle is a bullpen that will carry 11 pitchers to open the season on the expanded rosters. The Mariners don’t have an established closer and will likely use right-handers Matt Magill and Dan Altavilla in late-inning situations. Magill saved five games in the final weeks of 2019, but Altavilla has not notched an MLB save. Free-agent signee Yoshihisa Hirano would have been in that mix as well, but he just joined camp this week after previously testing positive for COVID-19, while Austin Adams is another who’ll open the season on the injured list after not fully recovering yet from left knee surgery. Former Cubs right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. is among the rest of a group made up largely of promising but unproven youngsters.
For the Astros – Verlander will be making his 12th career Opening Day start and third with the Astros. Verlander’s first Opening Day start came for the Tigers in 2008, when he was 24 years old. He started seven openers in a row and nine of 10 for Detroit before being dealt to the Astros in ’17. Since then, he’s won another Cy Young Award, thrown his third no-hitter and won a World Series ring. Verlander, 37, had one of the best seasons of his career last year, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings. He underwent groin surgery in mid-March that sidelined him a couple of months, but the pandemic shutdown gave him plenty of time to heal.
Having lost key reliever Will Harris in free agency, and with veterans Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt on the injured list, and Joe Smith on the restricted list, the Astros’ bullpen is facing some depth issues entering the season. Houston has two relievers who have never pitched above Double-A (Enoli Paredes and Brandon Bailey), and two who have a combined five games at Triple-A (Blake Taylor and Cristian Javier). Taylor is the lone lefty in the bullpen. There’s experienced depth at the end of the bullpen, with All-Star setup man Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna. Chris Devenski, Bryan Abreu and Joe Biagini could assume larger roles to start the season.
The first pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m., and will be televised on AT&T SportsNet, along with MLB.TV. This is first of a three-game stand against Seattle.
- The Mariners went 1-18 against the Astros last year and 0-10 at Minute Maid Park. Their last win in Houston came on Sept, 19, 2018. They were 7-2 at MMP that season.
- The Astros haven’t lost an Opening Day game since moving to the AL in 2013, going 7-0 in that span to start the season.
- Springer has homered on Opening Day in three consecutive seasons, joining Khris Davis as the only players to do that in the last three years.
- The Astros went 60-21 at home last year, becoming just the 13th team in franchise history to win 60 home games in a single season and first since the 1998 Yankees.
Other Opening Day Games:
Atlanta Braves at New York Mets, 4:10 p.m. ET
Detroit Tigers at Cincinnati Reds, 6:10 p.m. ET
Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays, 6:40 p.m. ET
Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m. ET
Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians, 7:10 p.m. ET
Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs, 7:10 p.m. ET
Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox, 7:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rockies at Texas Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET
Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox, 8:10 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET
Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres, 9:10 p.m. ET
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers, 9:40 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics, 10:10 p.m. ET