Full Preview of 2014 MLB Opening Day with Top Matchups, Predictions and More

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMarch 30, 2014

Full Preview of 2014 MLB Opening Day with Top Matchups, Predictions and More

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    Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

    After a month's worth of games where pitchers were working on their stuff and batters were trying to find their swings, MLB's 2014 Opening Day has finally arrived. 

    Technically, the 2014 MLB season got underway March 22 when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks took part in a two-game series in Australia. However, those games are long since over, so this article will focus on the stateside edition of Opening Day.

    What follows is a rundown of when and where all 30 MLB clubs will begin their 2014 seasons, along with in-depth looks at some of the top matchups from around the league.

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Opening Night and Day Schedules

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    Alex Brandon

    The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres opened up the 2014 MLB season March 30, but the New York Yankees and Houston Astros won't take the field until the night of April 1. Here is the complete rundown of the schedule for the U.S. openers for all 30 MLB clubs (all times Eastern).

    Opening Night: Sunday, March 30

    • Los Angeles Dodgers lose 3-1 to San Diego Padres

    Opening Day: Monday, March 31

    • Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates; 1:05 p.m.; Jeff Samardzija vs. Francisco Liriano
    • Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers; 1:08 p.m.; James Shields vs. Justin Verlander
    • Washington Nationals at New York Mets; 1:10 p.m.; Stephen Strasburg vs. Dillon Gee
    • Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers; 2:05 p.m.; Cliff Lee vs. Tanner Scheppers
    • Atlanta Braves at Milwaukee Brewers; 2:10 p.m.; Julio Teheran vs. Yovani Gallardo
    • Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles; 3:05 p.m.; Jon Lester vs. Chris Tillman
    • Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox; 4;10 p.m.; Ricky Nolasco vs. Chris Sale
    • St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds; 4:10 p.m.; Adam Wainwright vs. Johnny Cueto
    • Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays; 4:10 p.m.; R.A. Dickey vs. David Price
    • Colorado Rockies at Miami Marlins; 7:05 p.m.; Jorge De La Rosa vs. Jose Fernandez
    • San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks; 9:40 p.m.; Madison Bumgarner vs. Brandon McCarthy
    • Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics; 10:05 p.m.; Justin Masterson vs. Sonny Gray
    • Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels; 10:05 p.m.; Felix Hernandez vs. Jered Weaver

    Opening Day (Part II): Tuesday, April 1

    • New York Yankees at Houston Astros; 7:10 p.m.; CC Sabathia vs. Scott Feldman

    Now that we're up to speed on the schedule for Opening Night and Day, let's take a look at some of the can't-miss matchups from around the league.

Battle of the Aces, Part I: Felix Hernandez vs. Jered Weaver

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    When: March 31 at 10:05 p.m. ET

    Where: Angel Stadium of Anaheim

    The Matchup: Felix Hernandez vs. Jered Weaver

    There will be plenty of history made in Game 1 of the season between the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels. 

    For Felix Hernandez, 2014 will mark the right-hander's sixth straight Opening Day assignment and his seventh overall. Both of those achievements will break club records, which were previously held by Randy Johnson, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com.

    As Johns notes, the 27-year-old has been incredibly effective in his first six Opening Day outings, posting a 4-0 record with a 1.33 ERA. 

    The pitcher opposite Hernandez will also be writing his name into the record books. For Jered Weaver, the Opening Day assignment will be his sixth with the Los Angeles Angels, which sets a new club record, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com

Battle of the Aces, Part II: James Shields vs. Justin Verlander

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    Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

    When: March 31 at 1:08 p.m. ET

    Where: Comerica Park

    The Matchup: James Shields vs. Justin Verlander

    Getting the Opening Day start is nothing new for James Shields.

    When the right-hander takes the mound for the Kansas City Royals in Game 1, it will be the sixth time in an eight-year career that he's received the call to be the Opening Day starter. 

    Of course, Shields will be facing off against anther veteran right-hander who has made even more Opening Day starts. For Justin Verlander, this will be his seventh straight Opening Day assignment for the Detroit Tigers. 

    The 2011 American League Cy Young and MVP award winner is coming off "core surgery" in the offseason, per Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. However, the 6'5" righty showed no ill effects in spring training, as he ripped off 20 scoreless innings of work. 

    For rookie manager Brad Ausmus, this will be his first official game as the skipper for the Tigers. Of course, this matchup between the 2013 AL Central champs and the Royals—one of the trendy picks to grab a postseason spot—also falls into the category of divisional-rivalry game.

    That brings us to our next can't-miss matchup. 

Divisional-Rivalry Game, Part I: Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    When: March 31 at 3:05 p.m. ET

    Where: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

    On paper, the AL East is the most loaded division in all of baseball.

    The Boston Red Sox are the reigning World Series champions, and the Baltimore Orioles have made some key additions to a club that finished 85-77 a season ago and earned a wild-card berth back in 2012.

    Manager Buck Showalter likes his team's odds of returning to the postseason, as he explained via Richard Justice of MLB.com: "These guys have had their noses bloodied for a long time, and they got tired of it. They had a taste of what it can be like two years ago, and they want more of that."

    Meanwhile, Red Sox manager John Farrell is focused on keeping his squad on an even keel, per Justice: "Some of those words—defend, repeat—look back. Our mindset is we have to go out and win. Whatever happens after that, if it ends up being something even more unique than a year ago, so be it."

Divisional-Rivalry Game, Part II: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds

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    David Goldman

    When: March 31 at 4:10 p.m. ET

    Where: Great American Ball Park

    A season ago, the National League Central's St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds both claimed playoff spots by winning 97 and 90 games, respectively. In 2014, both clubs figure to once again be in the mix for October baseball. 

    As for the Reds, the dynamic Billy Hamilton will definitely be a player to keep an eye on. It should only be a matter of time before the team's new center fielder swipes his first bag of 2014. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will trot out a brand-new double-play duo with Jhonny Peralta taking over at shortstop and rookie Kolten Wong stepping in at second base. 

    The pitching matchup should be highly entertaining as well. Last year, Adam Wainwright landed second in NL Cy Young Award voting. Johnny Cueto missed much of the 2013 campaign due to injury, but the right-hander sports a 2.61 ERA going back to the start of 2011, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports

Rising Aces, AL Edition

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    Gregory Bull

    The following two matchups both include young pitchers who are among the most promising starters in all of baseball. 

    Matchup No. 1: Minnesota Twins vs. Chicago White Sox

    When: March 31 at 4:10 p.m. ET

    Where: U.S. Cellular Field

    The Matchup: Ricky Nolasco vs. Chris Sale

    Chris Sale has already established himself as one of the top left-handed starters in the entire AL.

    In 2012, the lefty finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting, and a season ago, he landed in the No. 5 spot. After Sale surged past the 200-innings mark for the first time in his career in 2013, there's no reason to think he won't continue his upward trend in the upcoming campaign.  

    Matchup No. 2: Cleveland Indians vs. Oakland Athletics

    When: March 31 at 10:05 p.m. ET

    Where: O.co Coliseum

    The Matchup: Justin Masterson vs. Sonny Gray

    Sonny Gray was absolutely explosive last season as he broke into the Oakland Athletics starting rotation.

    The No. 18 overall selection from the 2011 MLB draft went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 games, including 10 starts. It will be fun to see what kind of numbers Gray posts in a full season of work. 

    Justin Masterson isn't exactly young at 29, but he is an excellent pitcher nonetheless. The six-year veteran earned his first All-Star selection in 2013, as he went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts. 

Rising Aces, NL Edition

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Now, let's take a look at some of the rising aces in the NL. 

    Matchup No. 1: Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets

    When: March 31 at 1:10 p.m. ET

    Where: Citi Field

    The Matchup: Stephen Strasburg vs. Dillon Gee

    As remarkable as it may seem, Stephen Strasburg is still just 25 years old.

    Last year, the right-hander for the Washington Nationals went 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA and 191 strikeouts in a career-high 183 innings of work.

    I expect 2014 to be the year that the former No. 1 overall pick from the 2009 MLB draft finally eclipses the 200-strikeout plateau and forces his way into the NL Cy Young Award discussion.

    Matchup No. 2: Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers

    When: March 31 at 2:10 p.m. ET

    Where: Miller Park

    The Matchup: Julio Teheran vs. Yovani Gallardo 

    At the outset of spring training, Julio Teheran definitely wasn't supposed to be the Opening Day starter for the Atlanta Braves. However, that's not to say the right-hander from Colombia isn't more than ready to step in for the injured Kris Medlen.

    In 2013, Teheran went 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA during his age-22 campaign. He also got better as the season wore on, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 7-3 record in 12 starts after the All-Star break. 

    Matchup No. 3: Colorado Rockies vs. Miami Marlins

    When: March 31 at 7:10 p.m. ET

    Where: Marlins Park

    The Matchup: Jorge De La Rosa vs. Jose Fernandez

    Anytime Jose Fernandez is pitching, it's can't-miss baseball. 

    Last year, the rookie went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and a 9.7 K/9 ratio, as he landed in the No. 3 spot on the NL Cy Young Award ballot. I expect the 21-year-old to put up equally strong, if not better, numbers in 2014. 

    Matchup No. 4: San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

    When: March 31 at 9:40 p.m. ET

    Where: Chase Field

    The Matchup: Madison Bumgarner vs. Brandon McCarthy

    Like Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner has been around for so long that it's easy to forget just how young the left-hander is. 

    Despite the fact that he's already pitched in parts of five seasons for the San Francisco Giants, Bumgarner won't turn 25 until August. Last year, he went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA and 199 punchouts.

    That impressive showing earned him the Opening Day nod over veteran ace Matt Cain. 

Breakout Star: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

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    Mark Duncan

    Jose Abreu's Debut: March 31 at 4:10 p.m. ET when the Chicago White Sox host the Minnesota Twins.

    Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, there is no more enigmatic player in all of baseball than Jose Abreu. 

    The new first baseman for the Chicago White Sox posted outlandish power numbers in his native Cuba, which prompted the White Sox to ink him to a six-year, $68 million megadeal in the offseason.

    Back in the 2011-12 campaign in the Serie Nacional, Abreu launched 35 home runs in just 71 games, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America

    The $68 million question, of course, is whether that power will transfer to the major leagues. During the spring, Abreu hit .286 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 18 games.

    I expect the slugger to get off to a strong start before slowing down a bit in the second half once the league becomes more familiar with his swing. Still, 25 home runs is a more-than-manageable output for the 27-year-old rookie.

    Add your pick for the breakout star (or bust) of 2014 in the comments section below.