Opening Day is here! Spring has sprung, the sun is out, and baseball begins today. All 30 teams are in action today, including two teams beginning a three-game inter-league series. Jon Lester and the Chicago Cubs (-130) are in Texas to take on Mike Minor and the Rangers (+120).
The 2018 Cubs technically made the playoffs, although not many people would call it a successful season. Injuries to Yu Darvish, Kris Bryant, and Brandon Morrow, along with an inconsistent offense that scored one run or less over 40 times, forced the Cubs into a tie with the Brewers for the NL Central title. The Cubs lost to Milwaukee in Game 163 to finish the year 95-68, then lost in extra-innings to the Rockies in the Wild Card game to officially end their season.
They did however have an MVP-caliber season from Javier Baez. After several up-and-down years, Baez broke out last season, hitting .290 with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs, finishing second in National League MVP voting to Christian Yelich.
It was a tough year in Texas for the Rangers. A poor pitching staff, made even worse after the trade of Cole Hamels to the Cubs, led to a 67-95 record, last in the AL West and 36 games back of the first place Astros. Manager Jeff Banister was relieved of his duties on September 21st, a few days before the season cam to a close.
The Cubs made very few upgrades this offseason. They picked up Cole Hamels’ team option for 2019, and added veterans Daniel Descalso and Brad Brach. Chicago is going to hope bounce-back seasons from Bryant, Darvish, Willson Contreras and more will be just as effective as any free agent signings.
The other story to watch will be Joe Maddon. Maddon, who has led the Cubs to the postseason in all four years at the helm, is in the final year of his current deal. President Theo Epstein has already ended any talk of extensions prior to season’s end, so the job Maddon does as a “lame duck” manager will be an interesting development.
The Rangers are a team in need of a rebuild, but currently without any prospects ready to contribute right away. So in the interim, Texas filled out their rotation with veterans Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Drew Smyly on cheap, short-term deals. Texas’ offense still has Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara, with their latest addition being the veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera.
The two biggest stories for the Rangers this season will revolve around the arrival of a manager, and the departure of a legend. Chris Woodward, who spent 12 years as a player and the last three years as an assistant coach with the Dodgers, was hired in November to take over for Banister as Texas’ manager. He will be tasked with leading this last-place team, who is without future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Beltre. Beltre, who spent eight years with the Rangers, announced his retirement a couple weeks after Woodward was hired.
Jon Lester will get the start for the Cubs this afternoon. The lefty is making his fourth Opening Day start for the Cubs and his eighth overall. Last year, Lester went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA, making his fifth All-Star team.
The Rangers will counter with Mike Minor. Minor, also a lefty, has battled injuries and underwent major shoulder surgery to miss 2015 and 2016. Last season with Texas, Minor returned to the rotation after a year in the bullpen and pitched to the tune of a 12-8 record with a 4.18 ERA.
Both teams come in with a clean slate and limitless possibilities. For the final Opening Day ever at Globe Life Park in Arlington, I will take Jon Lester to shut down the power-hitting, strikeout-prone lefties Texas has in their lineup, and lead the Cubs (-130) to another Opening Day victory.