While it is not mandatory for the Chicago White Sox to open the 2023 campaign with a roaring start, early success would help soothe the lingering angst over last season's disappointment.
Following consecutive postseason berths, the White Sox entered 2022 with thoughts of the World Series. What unfolded instead was a season ravaged by injuries and marked by underachievement by missing out on the playoffs.
This Opening Day comes with the White Sox stewarded by a new manager in Pedro Grifol and reinforced by new faces around a familiar core. Chicago opens the season on the road against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros on Thursday, seeking not only a fresh start but a means to create distance from a season in which precious little went right.
Grifol understood the need to start anew. Prior to the close of spring training, he implored fans to give these White Sox a chance without tying this roster to past failures.
That evaluation process will entail throwing support behind Anderson, catcher Yasmani Grandal, third baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert Jr. while also wishing each a healthy campaign.
It will start with White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, who was second in AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2022, on the mound. Cease (14-8, 2.20 ERA in 2022) finished with a career-high 227 strikeouts while emerging as the leader of the rotation last season.
The Astros counter with left-hander Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA in 2022), who takes over staff ace duties from the right-hander who bested Cease for Cy Young honors. Justin Verlander signed with the New York Mets as a free agent during the offseason.
Valdez led the AL with 201 1/3 innings last season and went 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 18 strikeouts over two World Series starts against the Philadelphia Phillies this past fall to earn the No. 1 rotation spot.
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The Chicago Cubs added some established contributors to their young talent, sparking optimism for 2023.
The Milwaukee Brewers hope to leave behind a disappointing 2022 finish and return to the postseason.
The quest for both begins Thursday, when Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes aims to put his personal issues with the Brewers aside while facing the Cubs in Chicago.
On Aug. 1, the Brewers led the NL Central by three games when traded star closer Josh Hader. They then went 29-31 to finish 86-76 and miss the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Chicago finished 74-88 last year, its second straight losing campaign. However, the Cubs went 10-9 against Milwaukee, including 6-4 at home.
Star catcher Willson Conteras joined the rival St. Louis Cardinals, but 28-year-old All-Star outfielder Ian Happ returns after setting career bests in RBIs (72), doubles (42) and batting (.271) while also winning his first Gold Glove. Meanwhile, 25-year-old second baseman Nico Hoerner posted 10 homers and 55 RBIs.
He will make up half of Chicago's middle infield with Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson, who signed a seven-year, $177 million deal. Meanwhile, 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger looks for a revival after batting a combined .203 for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past three seasons.
Veteran newcomers Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, Jameson Taillon, Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer will all try to help Chicago contend for a postseason spot. However, second-year outfielder Seiya Suzuki (14 homers, .262 average in 2022) is expected to open on the injured list with a strained oblique
Chicago's Marcus Stroman takes the ball after going 6-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 25 starts last season. The right-hander allowed two runs over 20 innings to win his final three home starts.
Stroman was 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts vs. Milwaukee last season.
The Toronto Blue Jays visit the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday afternoon for an Opening Day matchup between playoff contenders.
The Cardinals, who went 93-69 and won the National League Central last season, hope to make their first deep postseason run since they reached the 2019 National League Championship Series.
The Blue Jays, who were second in the American League East last season with a 92-70 record, have not won a postseason game since reaching the 2016 American League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
Both teams were swept 2-0 at home in their wild-card series last year.
The Cardinals will start right-hander Miles Mikolas (12-13, 3.29). He is 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA in one career start against Toronto.
Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Jake Woodford and Steven Matz make up the rest of the Cardinals rotation.
The Cardinals had planned to start Adam Wainwright, 41, on Opening Day, but he suffered a strained groin during a pregame warmup before Team USA's loss to Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
The Cardinals did not make many changes, feeling the talent is there to contend.
National League MVP Award winner Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado will be joined in the lineup by new catcher Willson Contreras and 20-year-old slugger Jordan Walker. They feel they have depth in the rotation and the bullpen.