Bonzai! Baseball’s opening day is in Tokyo, play ball!

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It’s still hard to get used to seeing baseball’s opening day – or opening series as MLB calls it – happen in Tokyo, but who cares? Real baseball is finally back.

We went from Cincinnati traditionally throwing out the first pitch on opening day, to Sunday night being the first game, to having the first game outside the United States and then having the official opening day not happen on a Monday.

Major League Baseball has thrown us for so many loops of breaking tradition over the last decade that we’re all kind of over any animosity and just ready for someone to yell, “Play ball!”

It doesn’t even matter that I have to get up at 3 a.m. (PDT) Wednesday to watch the first pitch. I’ll be right there in front of the TV with my fantasy team set and best of all, I’ll have action on the game, something I have sorely missed since the Cardinals and Rangers left us hanging on the edge of our seats wanting the series to never end last October.

The matchup of the A’s facing the Mariners may not seem so intriguing, but these two particular teams will attract the most rabid fans in Japan just because of a few of the players participating. If you look at the names on signs and shirts of the fans in attendance this Wednesday and Thursday, you might think you were watching a Motocross event as there will be a lot of Suzuki’s and Kawasaki’s represented all over the place.

Japan’s national treasure, Ichiro Suzuki, comes home along with teammates Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma. The fans also get to see a couple of very good Japanese-American players with Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki and Seattle’s Brandon League.

So although the matchup might not appear to be the best offering of our brand of baseball to our friends across the Pacific, to them, it is very much appreciated.

The quality of play by these two may surprise teams early on in the season and they could each be like the Pirates, Indians and Royals who were out of the gate fast last season with plenty of winning underdog plus-money opportunities.

Despite a lineup filled with a bunch of no-names, Oakland has collectively hit for a .293 average this spring with the second most runs scored in baseball led by Jamile Weeks (.365) and Cliff Pennington (.395).

Seattle also has to be happy that Ichiro doesn’t look like his age is bothering him as he’s hit .400 in spring. An even bigger positive is that Justin Smoak is smoking’ the ball at a .393 clip.

Before we handicap these games, I though it might be a good idea to get a better read on how the Tokyodome plays so I asked one of the most knowledgeable baseball guys in Las Vegas, oddsmaker Kenny White, his thoughts.

“The Tokyodome is a pitcher’s park that has seen runs scored drop the last 3 to 4 years, most of which is because they went to dead ball over there,” White said. “I don’t think we have a ball park comparable to how it plays in the states, but the MLB hitters definitely have more power and will be using an MLB ball.”

Felix Hernandez takes the mound against Brandon McCarthy on Wednesday in what would appear to be a perfect situation for a pitchers duel, but McCarthy may not have enough work in the spring to be ready. That’s something White says is key coming out of the spring.

“I don’t put too much stock into the overall numbers in spring training,” he said. “It is nice momentum carrying over into the regular season, but for the most part, the players don’t really care about those numbers. What I look for is to make sure the starting pitchers got enough innings in and the hitters got enough at-bats.”

In McCarthy’s case he’s pitched in 11.2 innings and gave up nine runs, six of which were earned and he didn‘t look that sharp in his last outing against the Cubs giving up four runs in four innings. Hernandez has 18 innings under his belt and went 2-2 this spring.

In Thursday’s game we have a great opportunity to see a lot of runs despite the Tokyodome because Jason Vargas is pitching. Seattle has to be worried about their No. 2 starter because he had such an awful spring. Vargas pitched in three games (8.2 innings) and ended up with an ERA of 12.46. He’ll be going against Bartolo Colon who didn’t get a lot of work in spring (6.2 innings), but was quite affective in the early months last season.

Look for Seattle to win Wednesday and Oakland to bounce back on Thursday in a high scoring game.

SPRING NOTES

The Angels team batting average in the spring through 23 games is .305 leading the majors. The Detroit Tigers led by Ryan Rayburn (7 HR) and Delmon Young (7 HR) led spring with 32 home runs, however, it‘s the Blue Jays that have scored the most runs (144).

The least productive, with maybe some of the highest expectations is the Miami Marlins who have manufactured only 55 runs in 21 games. If new manager Ozzie Guillen thought having a bullpen that couldn’t close out games gave him sleepless nights in Chicago, imagine what he’s in store for if his team can’t score runs in their new ball park.

 

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