Major League Baseball will open its season with a battle of Texan teams, as the perennially contending Texas Rangers travel to face the perennially cellar-dwelling Houston Astros on Sunday night.
Both teams come into 2013 with a lot of questions. Can the Rangers overcome major losses in their lineup in the tough AL West with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics nipping at their heels?
Can the Astros win 60 games? Or will the young talent flounder in the tough AL West?
It's time for some baseball, folks! Let's break down the first game of the 2013 season.
When: Sunday, March 31, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Minute Maid Park, Houston
Watch: ESPN; WatchESPN; MLB At Bat
Listen: Rangers' radio affiliates; KBME 790 (Houston)
Rangers Injuries (via MLB.com)
P Yu Darvish, Neck Stiffness, Probable
P Neftali Feliz, Elbow, 60-Day DL
P Colby Lewis, Elbow, Out
P Kyle McClellan, Strained Ribcage Muscle, Out
P Martin Perez, Fractured Left Forearm, Out
P Joakim Soria, Elbow, Out
Astros Injuries (via MLB.com)
None to Report
What They're Saying
Jurickson Profar is arguably the best prospect in baseball, and Rangers' fans would love to see the exciting middle infielder inserted into the lineup at some point this season. But not surprisingly, the youngster won't be starting the season on the Opening Day roster.
From Ron Matejko of ESPN:
Texas Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar was one of four players who were told Tuesday that they will not make the big league club out of spring training.
Leury Garcia will fill the back-up infielder role with Texas—general manager Jon Daniels said he could play second base, shortstop and center field—and Nick Tepesch was chosen to be the No. 5 starter in the rotation.
Profar, a shortstop, will be sent down along with outfielder Jim Adduci, catcher Eli Whiteside and left-hander Nate Robertson.
"They all played well enough to make the team but there was no room for them," Daniels said Tuesday.
You'll see Profar in the big leagues at some point this season. It may take the team trading shortstop Elvis Andrus, but I have a feeling Profar will be making noise for the Rangers by the summer.
Rangers Player to Watch: Lance Berkman, DH
This was not an easy offseason for the Rangers, who lost power hitters Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli in free agency and traded Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies.
That will put some pressure on newcomer Lance Berkman, who will take over Hamilton's spot in the order and man the designated hitter position for the Rangers this season. For the 37-year-old Berkman, staying healthy will be key.
Berkman had a major career resurgence in 2011 for the St. Louis Cardinals after a disappointing 2010 season, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI. But last year, he only managed to play 32 games and it looked as though he was going to retire.
Now, he'll look to fill at least partially fill the void left by Hamilton in the Rangers lineup. If he can stay healthy, he'll at least replace some of the power numbers the Rangers lost this offseason.
Astros Player to Watch: Jose Altuve, 2B
There is one player fantasy owners should want from the Astros and one guy who legitimately has the chops to make another All-Star Game, and that is second basemen Jose Altuve.
The 22-year-old was excellent last season, hitting .290 with seven home runs, 37 RBI, 80 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. He'll be the Astros' leadoff hitter this year, and his numbers should only improve as he gains more experience.
Will runs be hard to come by for him hitting atop a weak Astros lineup? Absolutely. But Altuve should hit .280 or better and could potentially steal 40 bases this season. On a young Astros roster, Altuve looks like the one player who will contribute solid numbers this season.
Rangers Projected Lineup
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
DH Lance Berkman
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
LF Daniel Murphy
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland
CF Leonys Martin
SP Matt Harrison
Astros Projected Lineup
2B Jose Altuve
1B Brett Wallace
LF Chris Carter
DH Carlos Pena
CF Justin Maxwell
RF Rick Ankiel
C Jason Castro
3B Matt Dominguez
SS Ronny Cedeno
SP Bud Norris
If you own them, Kinsler, Andrus, Berkman, Beltre, Cruz, Harrison and closer Joe Nathan should be in your lineup for the Rangers.
For the Astros, I'd only recommend starting Altuve, at least until we see if younger players like Carter or Maxwell flash some power this season or which pitcher will ultimately solidify himself in the closer role.
Which team wins?
You have to feel for the Astros. Not only will they be dealing with a whole new travel schedule this season after making the switch to the American League, they have to face teams like the Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics a whole lot this season.
The Rangers will be most unwelcome in the Astros' American League debut, winning, 4-1.