Rangers to Edge Indians in Matchup of Reigning Division Champs

corey kluber

Matthew Jordan

Sunday, April 2, 2017 5:36 PM GMT

Sunday, Apr. 2, 2017 5:36 PM GMT

Just one game to open the 2017 baseball season Monday features teams that each won a division title last year: Cleveland at Texas (ESPN). It would surprise few if both returned to the postseason this October. The Rangers are slight home favorites.

Painful Endings To 2016 For Tribe, Rangers

I’m sure both these clubs can’t wait to put an otherwise successful 2016 season behind them.

The Indians finished 94-67 and won their first Central Division title since 2007. Thanks in large part to their pitching, especially midseason trade acquisition Andrew Miller, who might have changed how top relievers are used forever, the Tribe upset the favored Boston Red Sox in an ALDS sweep and then knocked out the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS.

Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in the World Series over the favored Chicago Cubs but couldn’t finish the job. That Game 7 at Progressive Field might have been the greatest World Series Game 7 ever. The Indians shockingly rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth on an epic homer by Rajai Davis off former Cubs fire-balling closer Aroldis Chapman. We all know what happened next: a short rain delay likely saved the game for the shell-shocked Cubs. They scored two runs in the top of the 10th and held on for an 8-7 win, with Cleveland’s Michael Martinez grounding out to third with a runner on to end it. The Cubs ended the majors’ longest World Series drought dating to 1908. Now that monkey shifts to Cleveland, which hasn’t won it all since 1948. Cleveland is -375 on BetOnline MLB odds to repeat in the AL Central, +340 for another pennant and +650 to win it all.

These Indians look better on paper than last year’s because they have a full season of the unhittable Miller, should have a healthy Michael Brantley and added big-money free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, formerly of Toronto. If there was one issue with the 2016 Indians, it was a lack of power. Encarnacion hit 42 bombs last year and has launched at least 34 every year since 2012.

The Tribe will start the season with a few starters injured, however. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who nearly hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 vs. the Cubs, could miss the first month with shoulder inflammation. He hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last year. Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall also will start on the DL with a sprained joint in his shoulder. Chisenhall hit .286 with eight HRs and 57 RBIs.

Texas finished 95-67 in winning the AL West for a second straight year. But the Rangers were eliminated in the ALDS by Toronto for the second straight year as well, this time in a 3-0 sweep. The Game 3 7-6 loss was an especially painful ending for Rangers fans as Toronto’s Josh Donaldson raced home from second base with the winning run after Rougned Odor bounced a double-play relay in the 10th inning. Texas has lost six straight postseason games, all to Toronto.

The Rangers look a little weaker on paper than the 2016 club. They lost outfielder Ian Desmond, first baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran, a midseason trade acquisition. Then again, the Rangers will have their other big trade acquisition from last summer, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, for the entire season. The big offseason addition was former Indians 1B/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers open the season without future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is dealing with a right calf strain. Joey Gallo will start in his spot.

Texas is +350 on MLB odds to win the AL West, +1100 for the pennant and +2500 to win the first World Series in franchise history.

 

Probable Pitchers

Great matchup of Cy Young contenders to get things started.

The Indians go with ace Corey Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young winner. He’s a +350 second-favorite on MLB picks for this year. Kluber was 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 215 innings last year with three complete games. Kluber also was spectacular in the postseason, going 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA. That said, the team kept using him on short rest and Kluber was clearly out of gas in Game 7 of the World Series, allowing four runs and six hits over four innings without a strikeout vs. the Cubs.

Kluber was 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in two starts vs. Texas last year. He allowed 13 hits (three homers) in 13 innings with 13 strikeouts. Jurickson Profar is 3-for-5 with a dinger career off him. Napoli is 2-for-7 with a double against his former teammate.

It’s right-hander Yu Darvish for Texas. It could be his final season there as Darvish is set for free agency. It’s the first-ever Opening Day assignment for Darvish in MLB, and he’s the ninth different Opening Day starter for the Rangers in the past nine years. Darvish was one of the AL’s best pitchers from 2012-14 but missed all of 2015 following Tommy John surgery. He got a late start to 2016 and was 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 100.1 innings. He didn’t face Cleveland. Darvish is +900 to win the Cy Young.

Encarnacion is 5-for-16 career off Darvish with two homers and four RBIs. Brantley is 1-for-12 with three strikeouts. Carlos Santana is 2-for-11 with four strikeouts.

Free MLB Pick: Rangers -112Best Line Offered: Heritage

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