New York Yankees -125 @ Tampa Bay Rays +115 (Total: 7)
CC Sabathia vs. James Shields
Baseball is treating us with yet another packed day of “openers” and the delightful pitching matchups that ensue along with teams all trotting out their number one hurlers. Thursday didn’t disappoint, with nearly every teams ace living up to their advance billing. No starter went the distance, but many threw seven or even eight scoreless innings; Justin Verlander, Roy Halliday and Johnny Cueto all strung up zeros, while Johan Santana was spotless through five, and Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, John Lester and Eric Bedard all allowed just a single run.
Pitching ruled the day, and I would expect more of the same for the opener this afternoon in The Trop, when C.C. Sabathia and “Big Game” James Shields square off. C.C. has more notoriety and acclaim, but Shield was right with him in Cy Young balloting last year, and deservedly so. Shield led the majors in innings pitched and complete games, and posted a tidy 2.82 ERA – microscopic in the American League. Meanwhile C.C, despite winning seven more games (19 wins), his ERA was higher (3.00) recorded less complete games (11 to 3) and less shutouts (4 to 1) than Shields.
That is a major reason why I like the value of getting the Rays at plus-money, at home, with a bonafide ace on the mound in Shields. Granted the Tampa influx of Yankee fans who just haven’t gone home yet (the Yankees train in a beautiful facility in Tampa), the Rays are expecting a near-record regular season crowd to be in attendance. Just the sort of environment when Big Game James tends to be at his best.
If you just look at lineups, it is hard to see the Rays as a legit threat to the Yanks. However, the Tampa lineup is upgraded from last season with the return of slugger Carlos Pena and the addition of free agent Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger is one of the best contact hitters in the business and should benefit from the roomy and fast outfield at Tropicana Field. However, seeing him penciled in as your cleanup hitter on Opening Day has to send a little chill down your spine if you are a Ray fan. Keppinger is a lifetime .300 hitter, but has just 25 homeruns in six full seasons in the majors. Meanwhile the Yanks have five players who hit more than that LAST SEASON, and A-Rod, who missed significant time with injury last isn’t one of them. That, is one heckuva lineup discrepancy.
All that said, I am banking on Shields to come up big, and the Rays to scratch out enough small-ball runs to get the win.
Free Pick: Tampa Bay Rays to WIN +115