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COLUMN

Cubs looking for improvement as season opens

'This Week in Baseball' column debuts

Monday, April 1, 2013 - 12:01 am

"This Week in Baseball" was a weekly television show hosted by the late Yankees broadcaster Mel "How about that?" Allen. An updated version of the show is seen in many markets nowadays.

What you'll see in The News-Sentinel on Mondays is a new weekly look at Major League Baseball with examinations of the week ahead for the Cubs, White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

I'll let you know what schedules are like and what teams and their fans can look forward to.

This year has to be better

Today the Cubs open at Pittsburgh at 12:35 p.m. before getting Tuesday off and continuing the series at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday and wrapping it up at 11:35 a.m. Thursday. The Cubs then travel to Atlanta for games Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The Cubs open at Wrigley Field at 1:10 p.m. next Monday vs. Milwaukee.

The Cubs have optimism that Theo Epstein and company will help erase last season's 101-loss season. But injuries have slowed the team so far with pitcher Matt Garza already hurt.

Edwin Jackson was signed to provide experienced innings. Young Anthony Rizzo will be counted on to provide big offensive numbers.

“We've put ourselves in position to succeed,” manager Dale Sveum told The Associated Press, and with All-Star shortstop Sterlin Castro and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney, there is hope.

But Carlos Marmol is still the closer, so don't get too excited yet, long-suffering Cubs fans.

Ventura's confident again

The White Sox open at home with Kansas City at 3:10 p.m. today. KC had MLB's best exhibition record, and the Royals will likely provide more of a challenge this season. The Sox get Tuesday off and end the series with Wednesday and Thursday games at1:10 p.m. before hosting Seattle on Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon games at 1:10 p.m.

The ChiSox don't have many lineup changes, except Tyler Flowers is the new No. 1 catcher after A.J. Pierzynski signed with Texas.

Second-year manager Robin Ventura wasn't intimidated in Year One and he won't be with all the good young pitchers in Chicago and Paul Konerko's big bat still around. He sounded confident recently during a preseason TV broadcast.

The Sox signed Chris Sale to a contract extension and still have Jake Peavy and are hoping for good health. John Danks will begin the season on the disabled list. Great bullpen arms also bring hope to the South Siders, who led the Central Division for most of last summer before fading in September.

Reds are playing for real now

The Reds open in Cincinnati with a 4:10 p.m. Monday afternoon game vs. the Angels of Los Angeles. The series ends with Wednesday and Thursday games before the Washington Nationals come to Ohio for three games this weekend.

The Reds, who had MLB's worst exhibition record, are keeping Aroldis Chapman as their closer, not a starter, and traded to fill the leadoff position with ex-Indian Shin-Soo Choo, who did great in that role for Cleveland last season.

Todd Frazier takes over at third base for the retired Scott Rolen.

Preseason games don't count, so don't worry about the Reds, who open vs. the powerful Angels (now with Josh Hamilton) on Monday.

“We're built for now,” GM Walt Jocketty tells The Associated Press.

After 50 years in MLB, manager Jim Leyland, 68, is one of my heroes, because he's still in love with baseball. He's not even MLB's oldest manager. Davey Johnson with Washington and Charlie Manual with the Phillies are older.

Tigers in search of closer

The Tigers open at 4:10 p.m. today in Minnesota and play two more day games there Wednesday and Thursday before going to Comerica Park to face the Yankees at 1:05 Friday, 4:05 Saturday and 1:05 Sunday.

The Tigers had a good spring but still don't have a closer. Bruce Rondon will open the season at Class AAA Toledo after a lousy March. But the AL champs still have a great everyday lineup and MLB's best starting pitcher with Justin Verlander, along with Max Scherzer, the re-signed Annibal Sanchez plus Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. They added ex-Wizard Torii Hunter in the outfield to provide more punch and will count on a healthy Victor Martinez back to provide more DH power.

No delays for the Tribe

The Tribe opens at Toronto on Tuesday, and don't have to worry about bad weather. Two more games in Canada on Wednesday and Thursday precede three at Tampa Bay on Friday through Sunday. Domed stadiums to open the season mean no weather interruptions. That is until next Monday's home opener vs. the Yankees at 4:05 p.m.

Optimism is high as Cleveland finally spent money on free agents this winter, signing Nick Swisher (he'll play first base) and ex-Atlanta center fielder Michael Bourne (a Gold Glove winner) and traded for ex-Red Drew Stubbs. The Tribe outfield, with Michael Brantley in left field, is one of MLB's fastest, and that should help a shaky starting pitching staff. No. 1 starter Justin Masterson is reunited with new manager Terry Francona, and hopes to resume pitching well.

No. 2 starter Ubaldo Jimenez must pitch better than he has for two years since he came over in a trade with Colorado. No. 3 starter Brett Myers pitched in relief last year but was signed to start. Zach McAllister is the No. 4 starter and Scott Kasmir, who was out of baseball last season, is the No. 5 starter. The bullpen needs to stay healthy to stay strong with All-Star closer Chris Perez and excellent 8th-inning man Vinnie Pestano.

This week in baseball history

My favorite Opening Day memory is 1975's Tribe home opener when player-manager Frank Robinson began his career as the American League's first black manager by homering in his first at-bat vs. the Yanks in Cleveland. And 1941's Indians opener when Bob Feller no-hit the Tigers (the only no-hitter in MLB Opening Day history) was my late father's favorite one.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Rick Rimelspach at rrimelspach@news-sentinel.com.