Flashy new Marlins set to open new ballpark with defending champs in town

Posted: April 4, 2012 in General, MLB
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Opening night in Major League Baseball actually took place last week in Tokyo, Japan – our national pastime opens up in other countries, yes – but Wednesday night in the spotlight, on national television, the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals open up against the new look Miami Marlins, who have a new coach, some new arms and a new attitude.

They’re still the Marlins, but now they’re the ‘Miami’ Marlins, and they have new uniforms. Ozzie Guillen is now the skipper, and there’s a wealth of talent he has on a roster many are projecting will challenge for a spot in the National League Championship Series.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t just bring in Guillen to lead the show, he spent dollars on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, while the city is about to be introduced to a new 37,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark in downtown Miami.

Thus you can imagine the excitement for tonight’s opener, as the Marlins welcome the champs for an isolated, nationally televised game. It’s no wonder the Marlins are laying a big price – anywhere from $1.70 to $1.90 – across the board.

On the bump, right-handed Kyle Lohse is going for the Redbirds, while righty Josh Johnson is up for the Marlins.

Lohse steps into the role of team-ace, as Chris Carpenter opens the season on the 15-day disabled list. Lohse led the rotation in wins and ERA in 2011. Now he’ll hope to carry the rotation in the season-opener against a 15-year-old team with two World Series titles and splashy new paint job.

Lohse is a guy who has smooth arm action from over the top, and highlights his arsenal with an 88-92-mph fastball with late sink. He also promotes a downer breaking ball, a quick slider and a change-up he’s not afraid to throw on any count, or to any hitter. Originally thought to be maybe the No.4 or 5 starter for St. Louis, this might be a bit much to ask of him.

The one consolation Lohse can take into this, while looking for some run support, is the Cardinals are on a 16-5 run against teams out of the National League East, and have won 20 of the last 27 meetings on South Beach – including the last four of 2011, as the Redbirds outscored the Marlins by a combined final of 20-11. Lohse started the opener of that four-game set, but didn’t get the win after lasting just three innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs. Plus, keep in mind that included a lineup that had Albert Pujols, and dugout that had manager Tony LaRussa. Both are gone now, and it remains to be seen how the Cardinals will respond without them.

Meanwhile, Johnson is set to make his third-straight Opening Day start, and will be looking to show everyone he is fine after suffering a shoulder injury that limited him to nine starts in 2011.

When he is healthy, Johnson is a dominant No.1 in the rotation. He has an excellent angle to the plate from over the top and uses three superior pitches in his repertoire, including an overpowering 97-mph fastball. He has steadily gotten better, evidenced by an ERA that has dropped four straight seasons. Fact is, when he’s healthy he’s as good as any pitcher in the game, with a bulldog mentality that could guide this team and earn him Cy Young chatter by mid-season.

He lost his lone start against St. Louis last season, allowing five earned runs on eight hits and four walks over 7-1/3 innings, despite striking out seven.

So while Miami has lost nine of its last 13 against National League Central teams, and closed its 2011 campaign on a 17-35 slide, it’s likely going to be looking for the win in this game.

Personally, I think we’re going to see some tentativeness on the part of tonight’s starters – Lohse is stepping into the ace’s role, and Johnson in trying to not tweak that shoulder – and any mistakes are going to be taken advantage of by a pair of aggressive lineups.

I’ll open the season by giving you a free play on the Over in this game, as I see a 7 posted at most books.

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