There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding the Baltimore Orioles at the beginning of the season for years. They have a big name manager in Buck Showalter and made big name acquisitions like Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee. Orioles fans have been counting down the days until they get to see their team back on the field, but more specifically, to see if Andy MacPhail has put together a winning ball club that can contend in the AL East. Opening day is finally here and as Kevin Gregg put it, “it’s go time, boys!”
The Orioles open their season in Tampa Bay with a three game series for the second year in a row. After losing multiple key pieces of their lineup this off season to free agency, the Rays went out and signed both Damon and Ramirez to one year contracts while their farm system continues to mature. Damon will take over in left field, a spot vacated by Carl Crawford, and Ramirez will DH for the club. These two look to bring some pop to the Rays lineup that Crawford and Carlos Pena left behind.
Game 1: Friday, April 1st at 7:10 pm – RHP Jeremy Guthrie vs. LHP David Price
After taking the mound on opening day in both 2008 and 2009, Jeremy Guthrie returns as the Orioles opening day starter after Kevin Millwood received the honor last year.
Coming off yet another good year, Guthrie (3.83 ERA, 209.1 IP) looks to carry the load for the Orioles as he’s the only pitcher in the rotation with more than two years of experience. Guthrie held the Rays to just 8 runs in 26.1 IP and will be making his 3rd opening day start.
The Rays will send their fire balling lefty and 2010 Cy Young runner up David Price to the mound. Price posted a .60 ERA against the Orioles over two starts last season.
The Orioles 2010 opener couldn’t have ended worse, as Mike Gonzalez gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Rays a 4-3 walk off victory. They’ll look to avoid a similar situation this year and build up some momentum out of the gates.
Game 2: Saturday, April 2nd at 7:10 pm – LHP Brian Matusz vs. RHP James Shields
Brian Matusz will take the mound for the Orioles in game two, and in just his second season in the rotation he’ll take over as the team’s #2 starter. His 2010 season ERA was 4.30, but it was after Buck Showalter when Matusz turned into the #2 starter everyone envisioned him to be, going 7-1 with a 2.18 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 16 walks in 62 innings over 11 starts. He’ll try to carry that momentum into 2011.
The Rays will send James Shields to the mound who will try to rebound from a miserable 2010 where he posted a career-high 15 losses, 5.18 ERA and an AL-most and team-record 34 home runs allowed.
Game 3: Sunday, April 3rd at 1:40 pm – RHP Chris Tillman vs. RHP Wade Davis
Chris Tillman will take the ball for the Orioles in the series’ final game. With Justin Duchscherer expected to be ready in a few weeks and Zach Britton pushing for a big league job, Tillman will be fighting for his job every time he steps on the mound. A strong first game would go a long way towards solidifying himself in as the #3 starter.
Tillman struggled through 11 starts in the majors last year, posting 5.87 ERA over 53.2 innings. The Orioles have yet to give him an extended stay in Baltimore, and this could finally be Tillman’s chance to prove he belongs in Baltimore’s rotation.
The Rays will send Wade Davis — who finished 4th in 2010 AL rookie of the year voting — to the mound in game three. He put up a 3.72 ERA in 19.2 innings against the Orioles in 2010. He’s a well rounded pitcher with three above-average pitches, which could prove to be trouble for the Orioles if he’s on his game.