Opening Day is here. It was delayed by a week because of the lockout, but nevertheless it is here. The Rays get to host the festivities instead of going on the road, so maybe that is a win for local fans.
Last year the Rays cruised to their second consecutive American League East division title thanks to taking care of business against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. They went 18-1 while the New York Yankees went 11-8, the Boston Red Sox went 13-6, and the Toronto Blue Jays went 14-5. Any team able to get 15+ victories against the overmatched club from Baltimore will have a big advantage. Despite having a major advantage in on field talent it is very difficult to defeat a Major League team that frequently, so we shouldn’t count wins before they hatch.
Friday 3:10 PM: John Means vs Shane McClanahan
Saturday 1:10 PM: Jordan Lyles vs Drew Rasmussen
Sunday 1:10 PM: Tyler Wells vs Corey Kluber
John Means has been the only thing resembling a good Major League starting pitcher over the last several years. Last year he put up 146.2 quality innings with a 3.62 ERA/4.62 FIP/4.36 xFIP. He struck out 22.7% of batters faced while limiting walks to 4.4%. Right handers were much successful at the plate against the southpaw hitting .223/.261/.446 compared to lefties putting up a .229/.272/.356 line. The big difference comes in the power department where righties put up an ISO .096 higher. Means works off a 92.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws nearly half the time. Against right-handed bats he’ll sprinkle in a 83.4 mph changeup and 78.0 mph curveball. Against lefties he throws a 86.3 mph slider and becomes nearly a two pitch pitcher.
Jordan Lyles ate innings for the Texas Rangers in 2021. He put up a 5.15 ERA/5.34 FIP/4.73 xFIP that led him to being a replacement level pitcher, but he was able to throw 180.0 innings. He has a below average strikeout rate (17.4%), and a near league average walk rate (7.8%). Lyles throws six pitches though none of them are exactly good. He works off a 93.0 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch coming it at nearly 40%. He’s willing to throw all his secondaries against batters of both hands with only a minor pitch usage change. He throws a 83.3 mph slider, 80.3 mph curveball, 91.6 mph sinker, 86.4 mph changeup, and 86.3 mph cutter.
Last year Tyler Wells broke into the Orioles staff as a one to two inning reliever. He’s expected to get the bulk of the innings, but will piggyback with a multi-inning reliever. Over 57.0 innings he was quite good. He put up a 4.11 ERA/3.63 FIP/4.11 xFIP. He posted a 29.0% strikeout rate and 5.4% walk rate. He primarily throws three pitches led by a 95.2 mph four-seam fastball. He adds a 88.6 mph slider and 88.4 mph changeup as his secondary weapons of choice. He will throw these secondaries against batters of both hands, but will throw the slider more to righties and the changeup to lefties. He will occasionally throw in a 78.8 mph curveball. It’s mostly used as a pitch early in the count in the attempt to steal a strike.
Will the Baltimore offense take a step forward?
The Baltimore offense was anemic in 2021. They only outscored four teams and three of them didn’t have the benefit of using a designated hitter.
The good news is they didn’t trade their two best veteran bats in Cedric Mullins (136 wRC+ in 2021) and Trey Mancini (105 wRC+).
Ryan Mountcastle (111 wRC+) was the best young bat that took a step forward. Austin Hays (106 wRC+) wasn’t far behind.
Orioles fans are waiting for the promotion of one of the game’s top prospects, Adley Rutschman. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to play during Spring Training due to injury.
Not an exciting matchup but it’s still Opening Day.
Initially the Rays were scheduled to open last Friday at Fenway Park in a rematch of the 2021 American League Division Series. Instead they get to host a far less exciting matchup. However none of that matters because it’s Opening Day. They could be playing a local softball team and the optimism of a new season would still make this a can’t miss event.
The Rays start the season against two of the weaker opponents in the American League with the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics. Getting off to a fast start isn’t required, but it would help in a division that is sure to be one of the most competitive in all of baseball.