MLB Opening Day: 15 Bold Predictions for the Season's First Week

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2012

MLB Opening Day: 15 Bold Predictions for the Season's First Week

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    Baseball season has arrived. A new season means new contenders, new players to watch and new predictions to make in every imaginable area.

    The MLB's 162-game season makes predicting anything substantial nearly impossible at this point. So, why not focus on the season's first week?

    Several prominent stories will dominate the headlines throughout the season's opening games. Several young players will turn heads while some veteran, household names continue doing what they do best. 

    The grass has been cut, the hot dogs are cooking and baseball season is finally here. Let's get right down to it and hash out this year's opening week.

    Here are 15 bold predictions for the season's opening stanza.

Adam Dunn Will Start Hot

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    Adam Dunn will start the 2012 season off on the right foot. Dunn hit just .159 last season, but has looked much better this spring.

    Dunn is batting .255 with five homers and 14 RBI. He has also drawn 14 walks compared to 10 strikeouts.

    He will never be mistaken for the world's greatest contact hitter, but his average must remain above .240 to be respectable.

    The White Sox need Dunn to have a bounce-back year. Chicago's lineup has holes across the board. Those only get worse if Dunn is not up to par.

    Dunn will take advantage of the Rangers and Indians' so-so starting pitching in the season's first week. He will have to face a few tough lefties in Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, but he can handle everyone else.

Stephen Strasburg Will Dominate in His First Start

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    Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Stephen Strasburg will dominate the Cubs in his first 2012 start. 

    The Nationals are set to surprise the NL East this season, and Strasburg is a major part of that effort.

    When healthy, Strasburg has elite stuff. His fastball touches triple digits and his breaking ball has great tilt. He is an intimidating presence because of his size, and has great poise for a young pitcher.

    Strasburg's hype was diminished slightly because of his injury in 2011, so he will want to show he is still the same pitcher.

    That is bad news for the Cubs on Opening Day. 

The Phillies Will Limp out of the Gate

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    The window is closing rapidly on the Phillies.

    They will face the Pirates to open the season, and the Marlins after that. Philadelphia will lose at least one game to their in-state foes before dropping the series to their NL East opponent.

    The Phillies must rely completely on their pitching staff to win games. Their bullpen is average despite the addition of Jonathan Papelbon, and their lineup is in shambles.

    Outside of Hunter Pence, the Phillies have no reliable presence in their batting order. In addition, they are an old team with a depleted farm system. Those are not the ingredients for long-term success.

    The team's pitching staff is still arguably the game's best, but they will not hit well in the season's first week. This will result in at least three first-week losses.

The Astros Will Not Win a Game

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    Houston has more flaws than anyone in baseball this season. They are a very young team with unproven commodities at important positions.

    The Astros start the season against Colorado. The Rockies are not an elite team, but they are much better than this dreadful Astros team.

    After Colorado, Houston must face Atlanta. The Braves are one of the best teams in the National League, and should demolish their youthful adversaries. 

    It is tough to say a team will go winless for any period of time in baseball. Luck and skill both play major roles, and Houston could get lucky enough to grab a win or two.

    That being said, it would be no surprise if Houston lost every game the first week.

    They are a bad team with dark days ahead.

The Braves Will Win Five Road Games

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    The Atlanta Braves start the season with six road contests, and will win five of those games.

    Granted, these matchups are against the Mets and Astros. That is not exactly stiff competition, but wins are wins nonetheless.

    The Braves pitching staff is outstanding. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor are all high-level talents. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are among the league's best bullpen arms as well.

    Atlanta's lineup will exploit weak pitching in their initial road trip. The Braves have solid hitters all over the place, with Jason Heyward primed for a breakthrough season.

    The Braves will not maintain their hot play, but they will start the season on a torrid pace. 

Clayton Kershaw Will Shut out the Padres on Opening Day

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    Clayton Kershaw has filthy stuff, and PETCO Park is a pitcher's dream. Combine those two factors, and you have an Opening Day shutout for Kershaw.

    The Padres' farm system is stacked, but those players are not on their major league squad. Kershaw will mow down their batting order without issue. 

    Kershaw is a truly powerful left-hander. He has a dazzling fastball with a biting breaking ball. He has polished his repertoire over the past few seasons, and his control is much better.

    Expect Kershaw to make another run at the NL Cy Young award in 2012. That begins with his Opening Day start in the cavernous PETCO Park.

The Rangers' Pitching Will Be Questioned

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    The Texas Rangers lineup is the best in the league, but their pitching is not. Questions about their pitching will pop up right away this season.

    Colby Lewis will take the ball on Opening Day, with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison to follow. Holland is the most talented of the three, but none should be considered aces at this point.

    After these three will be Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz. Darvish is a sensational talent, but it is still unknown if his game will translate onto the big stage. Feliz must transition from the bullpen, and that will not be easy.

    The Rangers have potential in their rotation. Holland, Darvish and Feliz are all talented enough to lead their rotation, but none have enough experience.  

    Texas will hit the ball with anyone. Their lineup is deep with power hitters and table-setters.

    Their starting pitching is a concern, however, and those concerns will pop up from day one.

Jonathan Sanchez Will Not Have a Smooth Transition to the AL

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    Jonathan Sanchez will not be the answer to Kansas City's pitching problems. The southpaw has had an awful spring, and that will continue into the season's first week.

    Sanchez has an ERA over 9.00 this spring. Opponents are hitting .351 against him, and he has walked five batters in 8.1 innings pitched.

    The Royals moved Melky Cabrera to gain Sanchez's services. Cabrera was underrated in the Royals lineup, and Sanchez will not be worth the price.

    Sanchez has always had control issues despite his intriguing array of pitches. He has the raw talent, but lacks the polish to be consistent.

    Sanchez was a solid No. 3 starter in the NL West for the Giants. The transition to the hitter-friendly American League will not be a smooth one.

Chris Sale Will Show Why He Is in the Rotation

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    Sale will face the Cleveland Indians in his first start of 2012, and should turn some heads. 

    He has extremely raw, powerful stuff. His fastball has a ton of life and gets on batters in a hurry. Sale's breaking stuff has sharp, late bite and offsets his fastball.

    Sale has had control issues in the past, but he is ready to start. He will always be a solid bullpen option because of his power stuff, but the White Sox need a solid lefty in their rotation.

    Moving from the pen to the rotation is not always easy. It requires a different approach, mentality and level of endurance.

    Sale is ready to make the transition.

Yu Darvish Will Electrify in His First Start

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    Yu Darvish has been excellent in spring training, and he will continue that excellence into the season's first week.

    Darvish is the most hyped player in baseball this year. The Japanese phenom has a wide array of pitches, arm slots and nuances to his pitching. He will be a treat to watch develop this season.

    In four starts this spring, Darvish has a 3.60 ERA, has struck out 21 batters and opponents are hitting a paltry .226 against him so far.

    The Rangers need Darvish to emerge as their ace. He has dominant stuff and MLB hitters have never faced a pitcher quite like him. This will give Darvish an advantage early in the season.

    The right-hander will face the anemic Mariner offense in his first start this season. This is a perfect situation for Darvish, and he will not disappoint.

The Red Sox Will Start Slow

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    The Boston Red Sox are under new management, but their struggles will continue early on as they did not address their needs this offseason.

    Their starting pitching is lackluster, and their bullpen is a question mark with the departure of Jonathan Papelbon. 

    To make matters worse, Josh Beckett is having his thumb checked in San Antonio, according to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. A Beckett injury is no surprise at this point, but it is a major blow to the Red Sox rotation if it is serious.

    Boston has the lineup to win a slugfest against anyone, but their sub-par starting pitching could be their Achilles' Heel throughout the season.

    The Red Sox start the season against Detroit before going north of the border to play Toronto. Both are formidable teams and have the lineups to exploit Boston's pitching concerns. 

    Expect Boston to lose both series. 

Brett Lawrie Will Create an Early Buzz

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    Lawrie is a rising star, but does not get the hype he deserves outside of Toronto.

    He was impressive in his Major League stint with the Blue Jays last season, and is batting .538 this spring. Lawrie does not have any home runs this spring, but he does have nine RBI and five stolen bases. 

    Lawrie hits for power and average and is an above-average fielder in the hot corner. 

    He may not make headlines like a Bryce Harper or a Mike Trout, but Lawrie will thump opposing pitchers this season.

    His assault will start in the season's opening week.

Prince Fielder Will Struggle

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    Facing two tough AL East opponents in the season's first week, Prince Fielder will struggle for his new team. 

    Fielder will face Jon Lester in the first game of the season, one of the game's best southpaws with a filthy cut fastball. 

    The Tampa Bay Rays come to Detroit next, and while the Tigers will avoid seeing David Price, lefty Matt Moore is not a favorable alternative. 

    Moore is arguably the best prospect in baseball. He has dominant, power stuff from the left side and shows tremendous poise for his limited experience. 

    Players can experience lag following a new, blockbuster contract.

    Fielder will get better, but it will take him some time to adjust to his new city, team and expectations.

Ryan Braun Will Hit More Than One Home Run

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    Braun faced a positive drug test this offseason and a 50-game suspension. Unexpectedly, Braun won his appeal and will be in the lineup for Milwaukee on Opening Day.

    The hoopla surrounding Braun's questionable situation will put a chip on his shoulder. Giving a legitimate five-tool player a reason to play better is never a good idea.

    Braun will be out to prove something this season. He wants to show his MVP season was based on his talent, and his talent alone. 

    Ryan Braun will smack the ball in the season's first week regardless of who he faces, beginning his MVP defense early and often.  

Adrian Gonzalez Will Get an Early AL MVP Jump

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    Taking advantage of Detroit's so-so starting pitching and a homer-happy Rogers Centre in Toronto, Adrian Gonzalez will take an early lead in the AL MVP race.

    Gonzalez will need to solve Justin Verlander on Opening Day. That will not be an easy task, but it gets much easier from there. 

    The Tigers will likely start Doug Fister and Max Scherzer after Verlander. Gonzalez will have no trouble seeing the ball against these two right-handers.

    Toronto is an interesting team this season, but Rogers Centre is a hitter's heaven. Gonzalez will not face Ricky Romero until the third game of the series, and the rest of Toronto's rotation is questionable. 

    Gonzalez is one of the league's elite hitters. He hits for average and power to all fields. Expect him to continue earning his paycheck in Beantown.