The Texas Rangers will take on the Chicago Cubs this afternoon to begin the 2019 campaign. What must they do to earn an Opening Day victory?
We did it! We made it through yet another seemingly endless offseason! Today is MLB Opening Day, which means the Texas Rangers season will officially get underway. They’ll face the Chicago Cubs, first pitch at 3:05 CT. The lineups have not been released, but it is known that Mike Minor and Jon Lester will take the mound for their respective teams.
It’s a tough draw for the Rangers, as Lester will make his 8th Opening Day start. Minor will make his first. Of course, the Cubs in general are very talented, and are yet again among the favorites to represent the National League in this year’s World Series. They will look better than the Rangers on paper, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win.
Combating Jon Lester
If you’re a strong believer in trends, you’ll be happy to know that Lester is 2-5 over his seven career Opening Day starts. He’s not invincible at the beginning of seasons like he is at the end of them. That doesn’t he won’t dominate this afternoon, but maybe Texas can capitalize on the 13-year vet’s shaky early season form.
Lester being a left-handed thrower, you’d assume a left-handed dominant Rangers lineup would not matchup well. Though, the Cubs’ southpaw actually fared worse against left-handed hitters in 2018.
Right-handed hitters recorded 541 at-bats against Lester last year, compared to 140 for left-handed hitters. This reveals that opponents took the customary approach of stacking lineups with bats opposite to the side of which the pitcher throws the ball. Maybe they shouldn’t have.
Lester allowed a .250 batting average against righties and a .279 batting average against lefties. Lefties reached base 4% more often, slugged 140 points higher and hit home runs at a much higher rate.
The cutter is Lester’s best pitch. He goes to it frequently to jam hitters and to manipulate a hitter’s contact point from the barrel to the handle. The pitch will cut towards the handle of a bat being held by a right-hander, but towards the barrel of a bat being held by a left-hander. As such, it’s far more effective against righties.
If there’s a true weakness in Jon Lester’s game, it’s his inability to hold runners on. He literally has the yips, to where he’s afraid to pickoff. Watching him struggle with the issue is nothing short of gut-wrenching.
The Rangers have some speed. Delino DeShields is by far their fastest runner, but Elvis Andrus, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Odor are capable of swiping bags as well. Aggressive baserunning will without a doubt be part of Chris Woodward‘s game plan.
Slowing the Cubs’ offense
The Texas Rangers can execute their game plan to perfection against Lester, yet they probably still won’t score many runs. That means Mike Minor will have to do his part in minimizing the damage done by an explosive Cubs’ offense.
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Chicago will sport a mostly right-handed lineup vs. the left-handed Minor. The 2018 NL MVP runner-up, Javier Baez, will take part, along with 2016 NL MVP, Kris Bryant. We’ll see if they start switch-hitting Ben Zobrist in right field instead of left-handed hitting Jason Heyward. It will also be interesting to see who the Cubs plug-in at DH. My guess is David Bote.
The Cubs are a swing-and-miss team. Thus, it’s important that Minor benefit from a number of cheap outs via the strikeout. Strikeouts will come in handy in threatening innings, something he’ll surely run into at least a few times later today.
The North Siders do however bring a lot of power to the plate. Minor struggled in giving up the long ball a season ago, especially at Globe Life Park. Pristine pitch location will be key. He’ll need to keep his fastball down and he’ll need to command each of his offspeed pitches. The Cubs will make a pitcher pay for a mistake pitch as often as any team in baseball.
To recap, if Minor keeps the basepaths relatively clear, executes timely strikeouts, and commands all of his pitches, he should hand the game over to the bullpen with his team in winning position. Though, that’s a whole lot easier said than done.
Get ready for Rangers baseball! Skip work, sneak in the live feed while at work, or take a late and long lunch break. To quote the legendary Chuck Morgan, “it’s baseball time in Texas!”