1-0! We're tied for first place! Wire-to-wire! World f***ing champions, here we come! After playing only one game, we have matched the win total we accrued through twelve games last year. That speaks for itself, doesn't it? It's a new year, and thank goodness for that. I think the biggest reminder of that we got last night was the performance of one J.J. Hardy. We were already prepared to embrace him because he isn't Cesar Izturis, and in one game he showed us why he isn't, both offensively and defensively. Hats off to you, new JJ.
A week ago, it looked like we were going to get a Brian Matusz start tonight. Instead, it turns out we are getting a Chris Tillman start, with Matusz ticketed for the DL. This, in theory, is finally going to be the season where Tillman gets to learn in the big leagues. So there's that. It's fair to say that Tillman probably has nothing left to learn in the minor leagues. What Tillman needs to figure out is how to control his pitches with major league hitters not necessarily swinging as much at balls out of the strike zone. In his time in AAA in 2009 and 2010, Tillman walked only 2.3 batters per nine innings. In the majors in those same two years, he walked 4.2 batters per nine innings - including 5.2 last season. After Jeremy Guthrie left them flailing away last night, it'd be great to see Tillman pick up where Guthrie left off.
Starting for the Rays tonight is James Shields, who had a bad year last year with a 5.18 ERA. That's worse than the Mentor for ERA, although he did notch his fourth-straight 200+ IP season. Looking at Shields' numbers on a site like Fangraphs, you can guess at the reason for his bad year: his % of ground balls was down, % of fly balls that were home runs was up, LOB% was down, and batting average on balls in play was up significantly (.341 to a career average of .308). Instead of Carl Crawford in left field, he now has Johnny Damon, so that's kind of a bummer for him. Will Shields start a turnaround for this year with a solid opening start or will hungry Orioles power hitters be launching home runs off him in all directions? Keep an eye out for Adam Jones, who has five doubles, a triple and a home run against Shields in 25 PAs.
The Rays lineup consists of Evan Longoria, two old guys, and a bunch of guys you couldn't pick out of a crowd. You may think that after being held mostly quiet last night, the law of averages holds that the Rays must be due. The Law of Birdland agrees that the Rays are due... to be mercilessly power-bombed through the roof, crashing through every floor on the way into the cellar of the AL East. Don't worry, Rays: we kept it warm for you down there. There may have been a lot of flatulation involved in preserving that warmth. At least you can let it air out or something. Oh, right, you play in an ugly eyesore of a dome, so I guess there won't be any fresh air. Too bad!