Welcome to opening day. Well sort of.
After starting the season in Japan over a week ago, the Seattle Mariners and A’s will resume their rather unorthodox four-game series tonight at the Oakland Coliseum.
They’ll face-off again on Saturday, have a rare day off on Sunday, and then begin a four-game series in Texas on Monday against Japanese phenom Yu Darvish.
The A’s and the Mariners aren’t exactly unfamiliar with each other.
As a matter of fact, they share a lot in common. They are American League West division rivals that will play each other 17 more times before the season is over.
They are both looking up at a pair of division heavyweights — the Rangers and Angels — with World Series championship aspirations and the tools to make it happen.
The comparisons don’t end there. The Mariners and A’s both share the dubious honor of beginning the 2012 campaign with reconstructed lineups. The hope is to generate more offense (runs) in support of capable pitching staffs (A’s) and quality defenses (Mariners).
Jason Vargas, who held Oakland to two hits and a run in 6 1/3 innings in Japan, gets the start tonight for the Mariners.
He’ll face A’s ace Brandon McCarthy, who was equally superb in the opener earning a no-decision (1 earned run on 6 hits in 7 innings) against Felix Hernandez. Facing McCarthy again will not be an easy task for the Mariners.
Even though they did post a 4-1 record against McCarthy in 2011, the right-hander still kept the M’s in check with heavy doses of sinkers and two-seam fastballs.
The results were quite evident in McCarthy’s 1.99 ERA against Seattle last year.
In order for the Mariners to have success, they will have to attack McCarthy early in the count.
One of the things I noticed in the season opener in Japan was McCarthy threw hittable fastballs in 1-1, 2-1, and 2-2 counts. In the fourth inning with Dustin Ackley leading off, McCarthy started off the at-bat with a two-seam fastball on the outside corner for a called strike.
After taking a sinker for a ball, Ackley connected on a 1-1 fastball belt high for his first home run of the season to dead center field.
It wasn’t just Ackley that had success in the season opener. The Mariners put together some nice at-bats against McCarthy.
This time around, the Mariners will need to capitalize with runners in scoring position. They cannot allow this game to be pushed into extra innings because they are unable to come up with clutch base hits with runners on in two out situations.
They must be patient but also be aggressive early on against McCarthy.
Keys to the Game:
Jason Vargas will have to set the tone early for the Mariners. Effectively mixing his cutter and two-seamer will allow his change-up to be more effective against an early swinging A’s lineup.
The Mariners lineup needs to score in the top of the first. Put the game in motion early on and give Smoak/Montero early opportunities with runners in scoring position.
Early success will create a trickle down effect for the rest of the lineup.
1. Figgins – LF
2. Ackley – 2B
3. Ichiro – RF
4. Montero – DH
5. Smoak – 1B
7. Seager – 3B
8. Saunders – CF
9. Ryan – SS
Jason Vargas vs. Brandon McCarthy
Start time: 7:05pm
TV/Radio: Comcast ch. 30/630, 710 ESPN