Opening Day is a time of hope for most teams ... except the Miami Marlins.
When Miami opens its season on Thursday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs at Marlins Park, there will be exceptionally low expectations for the home team. Rookie executive Derek Jeter executed a well-publicized offseason salary purge, leaving a roster that ranks among the worst in baseball.
Meanwhile, the Cubs -- who ended their 108-year World Series title drought in 2016 -- are once again among the favorites to make a deep run. And they will send left-hander Jon Lester to the mound on Thursday in the hopes of getting off to a good start.
Lester, halfway through his six-year, $155 million free agent contract, has been durable and effective. Last year, he had eight starts that lasted at least seven innings. No other Cubs had more than four such starts.
He has also made more than 30 starts in each of the past 11 years.
Lester went 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA last year. It was his fifth straight season with more than 10 wins. But he also allowed a career-high 26 homers, which has been attributed to a fastball that at times has decreased in velocity to 90 mph.
Opposing Lester on Thursday will be right-hander Jose Urena, who struggled to even make Miami's roster at the start of last season but then emerged from middle-innings reliever to front-line starter with a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA.
From May 7 to the end of last season, Urena led the National League with 28 starts. Urena has a mid-90s fastball, but he pitches to contact as his strikeout rate per nine innings (5.7) reflects.
Among the players backing Urena on Thursday will be second baseman Starlin Castro, a four-time All-Star who likely deserves better than his current predicament.
He was on the 2015 Cubs team that made the playoffs but was traded away before he could be on that 2016 World Series championship team. Then, last year, Castro was with the New York Yankees and was one win away from getting to the World Series.
The cruelest twist of fate happened this past offseason, when the Yankees dumped his contract on the Marlins so that they could acquire home run king Giancarlo Stanton.
Castro's sad story has nothing on what Marlins fans have had to endure for years. This past offseason, they saw Jeter and his group trade away a superstar in Stanton and other standouts such as Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.
To make matters worse for the Marlins, they have suffered numerous injuries this spring and will be missing starting catcher JT Realmuto and starting third baseman Martin Prado. Other Marlins on the disabled list are starting pitchers Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen, reliever Brian Ellington and shortstop JT Riddle.