It has been a long winter without baseball, it's Easter Sunday and baseball is back. A day filled with family and faith is sharing the spotlight with "Opening Night". Last year's installment opened Marlins Park, this year the Astros usher in a new age of baseball in the American League. Bud Selig must have given Jim Crane a Hallmark card with a gift card for opening night, "Sorry for having to move you to AL, hope this makes up for it".
New owner. New Manager. New Logo. New jersey. New League. After 50 years of National League baseball, the Astros open up the new season with the "new" rival, Texas Rangers. The Battle for the Silver Boot will add a new chapter as both teams now play in the same division.
Game 1: RHP Bud Norris (2012: 7-13 / 4.65 ERA / 1.37 WHIP) vs. LHP Matt Harrison (2012: 18-11 / 3.29 ERA / 1.26 WHIP)
Game 2: RHP Lucas Harrell (2012: 11-11 / 3.76 ERA / 1.36 WHIP) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (2012: 16-9 / 3.90 / 1.28 WHIP)
Game 3: RHP Philip Humber (2012: 5-5 / 6.44 ERA / 1.54 WHIP) vs. Alexi Ogando (2012: 2-0 / 3.27 / 1.10 WHIP)
The top of the Rangers' rotation still lacks a true number one, but Matt Harrison has worked his solid fastball/changeup combo to take the helm for now. Yu Darvish closed out the 2012 season with 8 straight quality starts and a 5-1 record with a 2.35 ERA. Alexi Ogando returned to the rotation this year as a result of injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliez. Ogando will work a fastball/slider combo exclusively, which makes Ogando's return to the bullpen inevitable.
Bud Norris takes the honor of the opening day start after a solid Spring Training (2-0 / 3.92 ERA / 1.11). Norris will work his four-seam fastball and slider to get ahead in the count and an occasional sinker to keep the ball in the ballpark. After the 2012 season, Lucas Harrell looked like the ace of the staff. Harrell has been solid against the lefties and needs to keep the ball down to continue to successful in the Juice Box. The Texas native and former Rice Owl, Philip Humber finds himself as the number three starter on opening day after an impressive Spring Training. Humber was 2-2 and 1.73 ERA / 0.77 WHIP in 26 inning of work.
The Rangers have added very few new faces to the roster this offseason. The biggest changes came as three major faces of the team left for greener pastures, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young. These three critical pieces to the lineup and the identity of the Ranges are now gone. That said many of the same faces that took the Rangers to two World Series are still around. One through five in the batter order is one the best in baseball, anchored by Kinsler, Andrus, and Beltre. The biggest change is the Puma, Lance Berkman will return to Houston this time as a Ranger. Frankly, I'm numb to Berkman. Will Astros fans cheer or boo Berkman when his name is announced today?
The Astros return three players from the 2012 opening day lineup - Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, and Marwin Gonzalez. The only lock for this year's opening day is Altuve. The open competition in Spring Training has yielded an aggressive, scrappy team. Chris Carter may not be a household name now, but he soon will be. Jason Castro looks primped for a breakout after having a full healthy offseason.
Boys and girls, baseball is back! I won't bring out the chestnut that every team is in first place. It's painfully obvious, the Astros are at the beginning of a long journey to the top. So just enjoy it, I hope I see you at the ballpark.