ANAHEIM -- The Astros are looking to continue their run of dominance in the American League West, while the Angels are aiming to make the postseason for the first time since 2014. The Halos know Houston remains the favorite in the division but believe they’re also a playoff-caliber club, so it’s only fitting the two clubs will meet to open the ‘22 season on Thursday at Angel Stadium.
The Astros have won the division four times in the last five years and have advanced to the AL Championship Series five consecutive times. But they’re now in the post-Carlos Correa era, as the star shortstop signed with the Twins in March, and they’ll lean on top prospect Jeremy Peña at shortstop. They still have a stout lineup led by Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley while the pitching staff is led by veteran Justin Verlander, who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Angels are a team that relies heavily on their stars such as Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh, but they also made improvements to their pitching staff in the offseason. They signed Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen to join the rotation, while also re-signing closer Raisel Iglesias, and signing Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley to bolster the bullpen. Pitching has been an issue for the Angels in recent years, but they’re confident it has improved enough this year to be postseason contenders.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 6:38 p.m. PT (8:38 p.m. CT) on Thursday and will be available on MLB.TV. The game will be televised on ATT SportsNet Southwest (for Astros fans) and Bally Sports West (for Angels fans). The game will be broadcast on the radio on KBME (790 AM) in Houston in English and on the Angels Radio Network, including Angels Radio AM830 in English and ESPN 1330 AM in Spanish.
The starting lineups
Astros: The departure of Correa to the Twins created a hole in the middle of the Houston lineup. Correa hit anywhere from leadoff to sixth last year but started mostly in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots. Tucker, who hit mostly sixth and seventh last year, remains at sixth for the opener but could bat as high as second this year, as he did late in the spring. That would give the Astros a solid R-L-R-L-R-L combination with Tucker, Alvarez and Brantley as the lefties. Altuve hit a career high 31 homers last year in his return to the leadoff spot George Springer had occupied. There’s a drop-off in the last three spots in the lineup, though, where McCormick and Jose Siri will split time in center. Both struck out quite a bit last year but have power. Peña, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, will take over for Correa and could move higher as he finds his way at the plate. Jason Castro, a left-handed hitter, will split time with Martín Maldonado, a right-handed hitter.
Angels: The Angels are counting on healthy seasons from the stars such as Ohtani, Trout, Rendon and Walsh. Ohtani, Trout and Walsh were All-Stars in 2021, but Trout was limited to just 36 games because of a strained right calf, while Rendon played in 58 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. But if they’re healthy, the Angels should have one of the better offenses in the American League. They’ll have to count on youngsters Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, however, as veteran Justin Upton was designated for assignment five days before the season opener. Taylor Ward will also split time in the outfield, as he could platoon with the left-handed hitting Marsh. David Fletcher is also moving from second base to shortstop, while the Angels will use a combination of Matt Duffy, Tyler Wade and Jack Mayfield at second base.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Left-hander Framber Valdez will make his first career Opening Day start. Valdez missed the first two months of last season with a fractured left ring finger before going 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts, building off his breakout 2020 campaign in which he led the Majors in innings pitched (regular season and postseason). Valdez had an up-and-down ‘21 postseason, throwing eight innings of one-run ball in Game 5 of the ALCS before giving up 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in two World Series starts against the Braves. Against the Angels last year, he was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA, including seven scoreless innings in Anaheim on Sept. 20. He has a 4.01 ERA in 11 career games against the Angels (3.99 in Anaheim), including seven starts.
Angels: Ohtani is set to lead the six-man rotation and will make his first-ever Opening Day start. The two-way phenom made 23 starts last year, posting a 3.18 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. He also got better on the mound as the season went along, as he had a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts before the All-Star break and a 2.84 ERA in 10 starts after it. He improved his control, as he walked 35 batters in 67 innings in the first half but just nine batters in 63 1/3 innings in the second half. He'll be followed in the rotation by Patrick Sandoval, Syndergaard, José Suarez, Lorenzen and Reid Detmers.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: Valdez was built up to 75 pitches during the spring, so it stands to reason he could go 90-plus on Thursday against the Angels. If he can limit his walks, he has the ability to pitch deep. If not, the Astros have several returning bullpen arms of quality in Phil Maton, Ryne Stanek and All-Star closer Ryan Pressly.
They signed on-and-off again Phillies closer Héctor Neris, who figures to get key outs at the back end, if needed. Their only long reliever is Cristian Javier, but the Astros would prefer to save him for later in the series. Bryan Abreu and rookie Ronel Blanco both throw hard and could be used to exploit certain matchups. The only lefty in the bullpen is Blake Taylor.
Angels: The Angels spent $92.75 million combined on Iglesias, Loup, Tepera and Bradley to revamp the bullpen. Iglesias struck out 103 batters compared to 12 walks in 70 innings last year and will return as the closer. Loup will be the primary lefty, while Tepera and Bradley will also be counted on heavily.
The bullpen also returns right-handers Mike Mayers and Austin Warren as well as lefty José Quijada. Jaime Barría didn’t make the club as a starter, so he’ll open the year as the long reliever. The Angels believe their bullpen is one of their strong suits this year.
Any injuries of note?
Astros: Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who was the Astros’ best starting pitcher last year, injured his arm in Game 4 of last year’s ALDS against the White Sox and didn’t throw at all in the spring with what is being described as a flexor tendon injury. He’s out indefinitely. The club is also without starting center fielder Jake Meyers, who injured his shoulder making a catch in the same series and had surgery to repair his labrum. He’s not expected to be back before the end of May.
Angels: The Angels were fortunate to make it through Spring Training relatively unscathed. Right-hander Griffin Canning, however, suffered a setback related to his back injury and will open the season on the 60-day injured list. And fellow right-hander Chris Rodriguez underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and could be out for the season.
Who’s hot and who’s not?
Astros: Gurriel, who lost 15 pounds in the offseason coming off a year in which he won the AL Gold Glove at first base and his first batting title, mashed in the spring. He hit .421 with a 1.423 OPS, three homers and nine RBIs. Altuve hit .348 in the spring with an .882 OPS. Peña hit .250 in the spring (1.081 OPS) with homers in consecutive at-bats on Sunday. Among those who didn’t put up good Grapefruit League numbers are Alvarez (.200), Brantley (.200), Tucker (.227) and Bregman (.250), though they had many at-bats on the back fields that didn’t get included into overall stats.
Angels: The Angels hit well throughout the spring and saw solid performances from Ohtani, Mayfield, Ward, Marsh, Walsh, Duffy, Wade, Rendon and Fletcher. Ohtani, Syndergaard, Lorenzen, Sandoval, Detmers and Suarez also all pitched well. Trout didn't have any extra-base hits in Cactus League play but hit two balls to the warning track against Dodgers ace Walker Buehler on Sunday at Angel Stadium. Barria scuffled a bit and lost out in the competition for the sixth rotation spot to Detmers.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• The Astros have won nine consecutive games on Opening Day, dating to 2013. That means the Astros are 9-0 in Opening Day games since they moved to the American League after the 2012 season.
• Altuve will be making his 11th Opening Day start at second base for the Astros. Only Craig Biggio (19) and Jeff Bagwell (15) started more times on Opening Day than Altuve.
• The Angels had lost on Opening Day in seven consecutive seasons until snapping that streak with a win over the White Sox in the regular-season opener last year.
• Trout is making his 10th consecutive Opening Day start in center field for the Angels. Tim Salmon holds the club record for consecutive Opening Day starts at one position, making 11 straight starts in right field from 1993-2003.
• Peña, Blanco and Siri will be making their first appearance on an Opening Day roster. Peña and Blanco will be making their Major League debuts.
• Astros manager Dusty Baker will begin the regular season 13 wins shy of reaching 2,000 for his career. His 1,987 victories are 12th most all-time, and 10 of the 11 managers who have more wins are in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn’t is Bruce Bochy, who’s not yet eligible.
• Angels manager Joe Maddon enters the season with 1,355 career wins and is on track to become the 30th manager to reach 1,400 career wins. He's also led his clubs to the postseason eight times, including winning the 2016 World Series with the Cubs. He's in the last year of his contract, but the Angels hold an option for the 2023 season.
• The Astros and Angels have played 162 times since Houston moved into the AL in ’13. Houston owns a 96-66 advantage in those games, including 13-5 in the last 18 games.