Finally, after a long, cold, and snowy winter, baseball is back.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring camps yesterday, and exhibition games just around the corner, the 2013 MLB season is drawing closer and closer.
For Jays fans, obviously, this is the most anticipated season in years. A roster bolstered by offseason acquisitions, a new / old manager, and a division that seems – for the first time in a decade or more – winnable, have heightened expectations to a new level.
Single game tickets go on sale this Friday, so I thought I’d give fans a heads up on some of the key early season games on Toronto’s schedule. In a season that is 162 games long, often times games in April and May seem less important, but don’t forget – a win in April is worth just as much as a win in September.
So here are seven key early season games (five at home, two on the road) to keep an eye on:
April 2 – vs. Cleveland Indians
The most glorious words in the English language – Opening Day! The hype will already be through the roof for this one, what with Toronto getting a chance to finally see Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis, and R.A. Dickey on the field, as well as the chance to see Jose Bautista make his long anticipated return. But don’t forget the opposition – Cleveland was almost as busy as Toronto in the offseason. The Indians have a new manager (Terry Francona) and a host of new players, including Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer, Nick Swisher, and Mark Reynolds. They have improved and are potential Wild Card contenders.
April 5 – vs. Boston Red Sox
The return of John Farrell. Yes Boston has made a ton of changes of their own, adding Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew, and fomer Jay Lyle Overbay, but let’s be honest – this game is all about Farrell. The former manager comes back to Toronto as public enemy #1, and will likely be booed more than A.J. Burnett was upon his return. This game also offers fans the first chance to see Josh Johnson pitch for Toronto.
April 6 – vs. Boston Red Sox
The anger towards Farrell definitely won’t have dissapated overnight, so there will still be boo’s. But more than anything, this will be about Ricky Romero. Last year’s ace, and this year’s #5 guy, can answer the critics right away with a solid start against his arch-nemesis. With Brad Lincoln and J.A. Happ likely being stretched out as starters this spring, Romero won’t have as long of a leash in 2013, so a fast start is imperative for him.
April 9 – at Detroit Tigers
It’s a 1:05 start so you’ll have to skip work to catch it on TV (or better yet, make the drive man!), but it could be worth it as Toronto gets an early season litmus test against the defending American League champs. The Tigers, already armed with Verlander, Cabrera, and Fielder, added Torii Hunter over the winter, and will get Victor Martinez back after he missed all of 2012. Barring any weather issues, Verlander likely won’t be on the hill for Detroit, but it’s not much easier facing Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, or Doug Fister.
April 19 – vs. New York Yankees
The Evil Empire comes to town for the first time, but who will be on the field? A-Rod will be out, but will Jeter and Mariano Rivera be back? The Yankees look more vulnerable than ever heading into 2013, with an aging roster and with (gulp) payroll limitations preventing them from adding any high profile free agents. But the Yankees are still the Yankees. They are the defending AL East champions and are a major hurdle that Toronto will have to leapfrog.
May 6 – at Tampa Bay Rays
Tropicana Field has become Toronto’s house of horrors. The Jays have struggled against Tampa Bay over the past five seasons, but in Tampa? Forget about it. Since 2008 Toronto is a woeful 26-61 against the Rays, including a terrible 10-35 record in Tampa Bay. Last season was the worst yet, as the Jays sunk to an awful 4-14 record, with a 1-8 mark in Florida. Tampa Bay will once again be a force in the AL East, meaning Toronto has to start learning how to win down South.
May 14 – vs. San Francisco Giants
If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. What better early season test for a hopeful contender than a date against the defending champs? Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner and co. invade Toronto to face their old teammate Melky Cabrera. This is one to buy a ticket for.