Play Ball! Loaded Cubs, Stripped-Down Marlins Open 2018 Season

opening day

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 3:19 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 28, 2018 3:19 PM UTC

The first pitch of the 2018 MLB season comes from Marlins Park in Miami on Thursday (12:40 p.m. ET) as the World Series hopeful Chicago Cubs visit the bare-bones Marlins.

Chicago Cubs at Miami MarlinsFree MLB Pick: Marlins RLBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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It’s an expected 12:40 p.m. ET first pitch to start the 2018 baseball season Thursday at Marlins Park between the Cubs and Marlins, two teams with polar opposite agendas this year.

If it seems like March 29 is an awfully early start to a baseball season, that would be correct. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the MLBPA negotiated 3-4 extra days off for teams during the season. The owners weren’t going to shorten the 162-game schedule, so MLB had to move up Opening Day to its earliest spot on the calendar ever (not counting overseas openers).

Thursday is also the first time since 1968 that every team will open the same day. In recent years, a few clubs would open on a Sunday and then pretty much everyone else Monday. If you are wondering, the final day of the regular season is Sept. 30.

The Cubs open on a 10-game road trip, but in a way that works out well. The Marlins are going to be MLB’s worst team and there are no weather worries in south Florida. Then, the Cubs go to the Reds for two and Brewers for four. Cincinnati stinks, and while Milwaukee is good there is no risk of weather postponement at Miller Park that could necessitate later makeup games which could take away a Cubs off day. Plus, obviously the weather in Chicago is dicey this time of year.

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We knew Giancarlo Stanton pulled some power moves with Derek Jeter and Michael Hill over the offseason, but this is bold stuff. #Yankees #Marlins

Great piece from @BenReiter on how Stanton wound up in NY.

— Gary Phillips (@GaryHPhillips) March 20, 2018

Marlins Full Of No-Names

Not much positive to say about the 2018 Marlins, who were gutted this offseason -- the departed quartet of outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Dee Gordon combined for a Baseball-Reference WAR of 20.3 in 2017, the most traded WAR in an offseason by any team in modern history -- in a blatant fire sale so new ownership could make more money. It’s a full-blown tank mode, and it would be an upset if the Marlins aren’t picking first overall in the 2019 amateur draft. The two best Miami players left might be in the front office (GM/part-owner Derek Jeter) and in the dugout (Manager Don Mattingly).

Honestly, can you name me five Marlins without looking at a roster? Two of the most notable, second baseman Starlin Castro (came over from Yankees in Stanton deal) and catcher J.T. Realmuto, figure to be gone by the July 31 trade deadline. Realmuto is starting the season on the 10-day DL with a bone bruise in his back.

The Cubs look poised for another World Series run after losing in last season’s NLCS – their third straight trip there – to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Chicago’s stacked lineup is the same as the 2017 version, but the rotation (Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood) and bullpen (new closer Brandon Morrow, few others) have undergone major changes. The bullpen was the biggest reason the Cubs lost to the Dodgers. Closer Wade Davis, now in Colorado, was good but not much else was.

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Chicago goes with lefty Jon Lester, who is no longer thought of as the ace but more a No. 3 or 4 at age 34. Lester’s numbers sagged to 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 2017 (after finishing runner-up for 2016 Cy Young), and he still can’t throw to first base, either in a pick-off move or fielding the ball. Expect the Marlins, and every team, to take advantage of that whenever possible. Lester won his lone start vs. the Marlins last year, allowing three runs and four hits over seven.

The Marlins’ most accomplished starting pitcher is Dan Straily, but he has been shut down with forearm inflammation and opens on the DL. Jose Urena gets his first Opening Day call. He was one of the hardest-throwing starters in the majors last year and was 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. Those numbers are solid. These aren’t: a 5.20 FIP and a 1.77 K/BB rate. Urena was 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA vs. the Cubs, allowing only eight hits over 11 innings. Ian Happ is 3-for-5 off him with a homer.

Are the Cubs vastly better than the Marlins? No question. However, those Marlins players are not going to be fired up much this season, much less get a sellout crowd to play in front of at home. Both should happen Thursday. Chicago is also just 3-7 in its past 10 in Miami. Take the Marlins on the run line for a Thursday MLB pick.

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