Monday's games to watch

Baseball is back in full force after the Mets and Cardinals opened things up on Sunday night. Monday marks the season opener for 26 of the 30 teams (the Padres and Giants will play on Tuesday) and a chance for some folks to make a good first impression. There are some really good matchups to keep an eye on, though the best thing about Opening Day is, since everyone is 0-0, every matchup can potentially be great.

Here's a closer look at some of the games we'll be watching attentively Monday on "Baseball Tonight," which will warm you up to baseball season with shows at noon, 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

Devil Rays (Scott Kazmir) at Yankees (Carl Pavano), 1:05 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Yankees haven't lost an Opening Day game at Yankee Stadium since 1982 (they've won eight straight home openers) and they will give the ball to Pavano, who has one career win at Yankee Stadium. There's no one pursuing Joe DiMaggio's hit streak record this season, but Robinson Cano is playing the role of Jimmy Rollins this season. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Cano enters the game on a 13-game hitting streak. Derek Jeter also enters with hits in 11 straight regular-season games.
Blue Jays (Roy Halladay) at Tigers (Jeremy Bonderman), 1:05 p.m. ET
The Tigers open defense of their American League title at home, having won their last three Opening Day games by a margin of 21-3. The Blue Jays are an even 15-15 all time on Opening Day. Two hitters will make debuts for their new clubs with each pursuing the 500 home run mark. New Tiger Gary Sheffield needs 45 to reach that plateau, but has never hit more than 43 in a single season. Newest Blue Jay Frank Thomas is a little closer, needing only 13, which should be reachable for him within two or three months.
Indians (C.C. Sabathia) at White Sox (Jose Contreras), 2:05 p.m. ET
The Indians have lost four straight Opening Day games, tied with the Diamondbacks for the longest current streak in the majors (the Orioles have the longest winning streak, with six). Both pitchers enter this game having had significant success against the opposition. Sabathia is 12-3 in his career against the White Sox, including 4-0 last season. Contreras is 2-0 with a 2.98 ERA in seven career starts against the Indians -- and remember, he started 2006 with a 9-0 mark.
Cubs (Carlos Zambrano) at Reds (Aaron Harang), 2:10 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The National League's top five pitchers in strikeouts in 2006 are all starting on Opening Day, and this game features two of them. Harang led the group with 216 K's, while Zambrano ranked fourth with 210, including 36 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings against the Reds last season. Newest Cub Alfonso Soriano makes his Chicago debut in Great American Ball Park, where he went just 1-for-11 last season.
Braves (John Smoltz) at Phillies (Brett Myers), 1:05 p.m. ET
Smoltz and Myers are also among that top five group (Jake Peavy, who will pitch Tuesday, is the other). Smoltz has a couple of statistical contradictions working for him Monday. He won his last four starts of 2006, but is 0-3 in his career on Opening Day. Myers gets a chance this season to erase one of the knocks against him: he isn't great against teams in his own division. He's 22-23 in his career against National League East teams (4-5 against the Braves), and 32-17 against all other teams.

Monday's complete list of probable starters


One team that needs to get off to a fast start is the Cleveland Indians.

In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of optimism in Cleveland with the Indians being a young team trying to compete in the competitive AL Central. But in 2005, the White Sox were outstanding and Detroit emerged as a power last year. Then there's Minnesota, which always is in the mix. In 2005 and 2006, the Indians failed to capitalize on their early-season optimism; so you can feel the pressure building for Cleveland to get it done now.

There were good reasons in the past why things didn't come together for Cleveland. The Indians had plenty of injuries and the bullpen was blown apart last season. GM Mark Shapiro has done great job in bolstering a couple of areas -- the bullpen and veteran leadership -- to try and get this young core of players (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Casey Blake and Josh Barfield) over the top. New closer Joe Borowski has a chance to really make an impact and Roberto Hernandez can help solidify the bullpen. And the addition of outfielder David Dellucci will be a key one. I had experience with him when I was the pitching coach in Texas. Not only am I a fan of Dellucci's abilities on the field, but his leadership presence in the clubhouse and on the bench are among the top 10 that I've seen in the big leagues.

The Indians need to get off to a solid start, if for no other reason than the fact they are playing in such a tough division. In terms of confidence they could get written off or even buried if they start slow, especially because I believe the White Sox will rebound from a so-so season in 2006. Detroit and Minnesota, meanwhile, should continue to be very good.

One team I would not be concerned about if it got off to a slow start is the Boston Red Sox. I know they are in the tough AL East with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, but in the long run the Red Sox are going to hit, play very good defense and now that Jonathan Papelbon has been moved back to the bullpen, they have solidified their pitching staff. With Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who looks like a pitcher who's going to win between 12 and 17 games -- they should have an outstanding rotation and a solid to above-average bullpen.

Even if the Red Sox get off to a slow start, I don't expect the Yankees to run away with it because there are some holes in their armor with their starting rotation. In the last two to three innings of games, New York's bullpen is going to be very good and offensively they are going to score runs.

But the key to watching the Yankees early on is their starting rotation and how much pressure that's going to put on the bullpen in the long run. The pieces on a baseball team are usually related: Bad pitching puts pressure on the offense; bad defense puts pressure on the pitching; bad starting pitching puts pressure on the bullpen. One part of a team's success (or failure) usually is related to something else. On the Yankees, pitching is more of an Achilles' heel than anything you can find on Boston.

But the one reason you have to have confidence in the Yankees to be in the thick of the pennant race all the way through the season is because their offense can just bludgeon teams.

"Baseball Tonight" previews the NL.
Tom Glavine Tom Glavine allowed one run in six innings to earn his 291st career win in the Mets' 6-1 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night.

Glavine, 41, pitched five scoreless innings before surrendering St. Louis' lone run in the sixth. In all, he threw 89 pitches, 50 for strikes.

This one might appear to be the Johan Santana show, but consider that he's a historically slow starter, with a 4.42 career ERA in April. The Orioles' lineup, however, does lean heavily toward the left-handed side, which bodes well for you Santana owners. Don't forget that Santana was 12-0 with a 2.19 ERA in 17 home starts in 2006.

Tristan Cockroft's Fantasy Notes

AP Photo/Tom Gannam
Albert Pujols makes Sunday's season-opening game a special one for a young Cardinals fan.
Paul Lo Duca went 2-for-5 with three RBIs in the Mets' 6-1 win over the Cardinals. It was the fourth consecutive season in which Lo Duca recorded a multiple-hit game on Opening Day -- the longest current streak in the majors, pending Pat Burrell's results on Monday. Burrell has at least two Opening Day hits in each of the last three seasons.

• Complete Elias Says

"The day was beautiful, the fans were receptive. I was overwhelmed."
-- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on the Cardinals celebrating their 2006 World Series title at Busch Stadium Sunday
Baseball Tonight previews the AL.
Jose Capellan • The Brewers optioned right-hander Jose Capellan and utility man Vinny Rottino to Triple-A Nashville on Sunday and placed third baseman Corey Koskie on the 15-day disabled list. With the moves, outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. and right-handed reliever Greg Aquino will start the season on Milwaukee's major league roster.

• Travis Buck, a 23-year-old outfielder, made the A's Opening Day roster and is slated to start in right field Monday in his major league debut. The A's also placed right-hander Esteban Loaiza on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with tightness beneath the shoulder blade on his throwing arm.

Jay Payton • The Orioles placed outfielder Jay Payton and right-hander Sendy Rleal on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, finalizing their 25-man roster a day before the season opener against the Twins. The Orioles also sent right-handed reliever Todd Williams outright to Triple-A Norfolk, leaving Baltimore with a 13-man pitching staff and a three-man bench. Williams' demotion means left-hander Brian Burres has made the club and will pitch out of the bullpen.

• The Giants traded outfielder Jason Ellison to the Mariners for left-hander Travis Blackley on Sunday. Ellison, who will turn 29 Wednesday, will be on the Mariners' 25-man roster to begin the season. Blackley, who was assigned to Triple-A Fresno to start the season, started 25 games at Double-A San Antonio and two at Triple-A Tacoma last season. The one-time top Seattle prospect missed all of 2005 after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.



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