Archer, Bumgarner, Greinke, Lester, Martinez, Tanaka all in action in three-game slate
By Daniel Kramer
After a lengthy, six-week stretch highlighted by ambition and anticipation, Spring Training is over. Today begins a 183-day stretch of games that matter. It's Opening Day, and there is a trio of matchups on the docket to start the 2017 season.
Chris Archer takes the national stage on the heels of a remarkable World Baseball Classic performance for a Rays club that could surprise with one of the game's best outfields and an above-average pitching staff. They'll take on a Yankees club that hopes to take a significant leap with a young roster and the No. 2 farm system in waiting, per MLBPipeline.com
Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke will duel in the desert in front of a Chase Field crowd that has already sold out. And in St. Louis, the Cubs begin defending their first World Series title in 108 years when they take on the Cardinals, renewing one of the game's greatest rivalries.
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Here's a preview of Sunday's Opening Day action (all times ET):
Archer looks to build on strong spring: NYY@TB, 1:10 p.m., ESPN
The Yankees' transition began in 2016, when general manager Brian Cashman unloaded Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Aroldis Chapman (since re-signed via free agency) and began calling up touted prospects -- notably sluggers Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. In their brief MLB stints this past year, Sanchez hit 19 homers in his first 45 games, a Modern Era record, and Judge ranked second overall with a 95.5 mph average exit velocity, according to Statcast™.
This spring, the Yankees ranked among the top in most major statistical categories: wins (24, first), home runs (49, third), OPS (.805, sixth) and total bases (564, sixth).
"I know Spring Training is Spring Training, but we swung the bats a lot better than we have in the past Spring Trainings, and I think there's a lot of potential in this lineup," manager Joe Giradi said.
By statistical measures, Archer admittedly took a step back in 2016. He posted his worst career ERA (4.02) since becoming a full-time starter to go with an American League-worst 19 losses. However, he did show glimpses of his former self towards the end of the season. He logged 200 innings for the second straight season, and from July 20 on, he posted a 3.11 ERA with 97 strikeouts, tied for fifth-most in MLB in that span, with a .605 OPS against, ranking sixth. Over the past two seasons, his 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings trailed only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.
This is Archer's third consecutive Opening Day start; same goes for the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka.
Continuing in Arizona: SF@ARI, 4:10 p.m., ESPN
Bumgarner struck out nine in his final tuneup against the Reds on Tuesday, and he looked sharp doing it. The Giants' ace was efficient with his pitch count, allowing him to throw seven full innings. The Giants have won each of Bumgarner's three consecutive Opening Day starts, and in those games, the lefty has posted a 2.25 ERA.
"I feel like I'm as ready as I can be to start the season," Bumgarner said after his Cactus League finale. "Granted, they call it 'midseason form' for a reason. You don't get to it until about that time. But I'm definitely happy with the way I'm leaving the spring, for sure."
The Giants had a productive spring, going 19-16, and this offseason, they addressed their key need in the bullpen by signing bluechip closer Mark Melancon. They're seeking their fifth postseason berth since 2010.
Believe it or not, before his D-backs debut in 2016, Greinke had made just one career Opening Day start -- in '10 with the Royals. Entering the second year of a then-record $206.5 million deal, Greinke made just three starts in Spring Training and compiled just 10 2/3 innings.
"As ready as I'm going to be," Greinke said after his final spring start Tuesday. "Executed all my pitches in just about all spots, so you can't ask for much more than that. I was throwing the ball kind of pretty close to where I wanted it to end up. Starting to feel comfortable with guys on base, how to make pitches when guys are on base. Sometimes you're a little rusty that early in camp, but I feel more comfortable in that situation, holding runners."
Title defense: CHC@STL, 8:35 p.m., ESPN
A 100-win season is no simple feat -- it's been done just 16 times since 2000 -- yet these rivals have each achieved the feat in the past two years. The Cardinals won 100 games in '15 before falling to the Cubs in the National League Division Series, the first postseason matchup between these two. The Cubs, of course, were victorious in 103 games in '16 en route to their first World Series championship since 1908.
Jon Lester is making his second Opening Day start as he enters the third year of a six-year contract. Lester, who has logged more than 200 innings each of the past five seasons, finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2016.
The Cardinals' streak of five straight postseason berths snapped this past year, as St. Louis missed reaching the NL Wild Card Game by one game. Over the past 17 years, they've had just one losing season (2007).
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.