TORONTO -- An old American League rivalry will be renewed when the Tigers and the Blue Jays meet on Opening Day for the first time since 2009.
The starting lineups
Tigers: The top third of manager Ron Gardenhire's batting order is stable and fairly impressive, built around the idea of getting Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera as many at-bats and RBI opportunities as possible. It's the rest of the lineup that will have Gardenhire wracking his brain, trying to balance promising young hitters and veteran role players. The cleanup position behind Cabrera, in particular, is fascinating, with Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart all getting time there in Spring Training.
Blue Jays: Toronto is expected to mix and match with the leadoff spot this season. Whenever Billy McKinney is in the lineup, he'll likely be batting out of the top spot. Whenever he's out, the duties likely will fall to a few different players, including Brandon Drury and Randal Grichuk. This batting order will look a lot different once the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is promoted from the Minors, but for now the heart of the order will consist of Grichuk, Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernández. There's a lot of power in this lineup, but also a lot of swing-and-miss at-bats, so low on-base percentages might be an issue. But it became a lot more versatile following Wednesday's trade of Kendrys Morales .
Who are the starting pitchers?
Tigers: Zimmermann will make his second consecutive Opening Day start as he looks to get back to the stingy pitching that helped him build a quietly impressive first half last year, including seven innings of one-run ball at Rogers Centre on Canada Day last summer. Expect a steady mix of sliders, curveballs and sinkers to keep hitters from sitting on what is now a low-90s fastball.
Blue Jays: Stroman is about to become the 10th pitcher in franchise history to start Opening Day multiple times, and the first since R.A. Dickey in 2013-14. Stroman was limited to 102 1/3 innings last season because of right shoulder issues, but he looked strong this spring with a 2.19 ERA over four official starts. The 27-year-old is expected to become a trade chip later in the year, but for now, he will open the season as Toronto's top workhorse.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Tigers: Shane Greene reprises the closer role he has held for the past season and a half, but the key for the Tigers is young setup man Joe Jimenez, who earned an All-Star spot last year with a dominant first half before a heavy workload caught up with him down the stretch. Gardenhire will have to mix and match in middle relief with Alex Wilson gone and Drew VerHagen injured; sophomore Victor Alcantara could be the key to that.
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are starting the year without top setup man Ryan Tepera, who is out with a sore right elbow. Veteran John Axford went down with a similar injury this spring and that has left Bud Norris, Joe Biagini and lefty Tim Mayza to assume the high-leverage innings in front of closer Ken Giles. There is bound to be some trial and error here for new manager Charlie Montoyo, and it might take a bit of time to find the right mix as he sorts through other arms, including the recently acquired Daniel Hudson.
Any injuries of note?
Tigers: Michael Fulmer is out for the season after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which will require Tommy John surgery to repair. Starting center fielder JaCoby Jones is expected to miss at least two to three weeks with a left shoulder strain, while VerHagen will miss the opening week to rest a right forearm strain.
Blue Jays: Left-hander Ryan Borucki should miss at least a couple of weeks with a sore left elbow, second baseman Devon Travis is out indefinitely following left knee surgery and outfielder Dalton Pompey is out after sustaining the third concussion of his career. In the bullpen, Tepera is starting to recover from right elbow inflammation and Axford's stress reaction in his right elbow will be evaluated in approximately three weeks. Right-hander David Phelps continues to recover from last year's Tommy John surgery and he should be ready at some point in April. Outfielder Jonathan Davis is also out with a sprained right ankle, but once healthy, he will begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo.
Who is hot and who is not?
Tigers: Cabrera ended Grapefruit League play on a tear, homering in three of his final four games. He batted .348 (16-for-46) with five home runs and 15 RBIs for the spring, though his 16 strikeouts reflected a work in progress to regain his timing. Harrison signed during Spring Training, but he shook off the rust quickly, batting .359 (14-for-39) with five doubles, one home run and 13 runs scored.
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays had plenty of success at the plate this spring. Gurriel, Drury and Smoak all posted an OPS well above .900, with each flashing a lot of extra-base potential. Drury might have been the club's best overall player and his hot bat has put him into the conversation for a regular spot as Toronto's leadoff hitter.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• Not a lot of hitters in the Blue Jays' lineup have much history with Zimmermann. Galvis has four hits in 15 at-bats, while Hernandez and Pillar have each tripled.
• The Tigers open the season in Toronto for the first time since 2009, when they lost three of four at Rogers Centre. Roy Halladay outpitched Justin Verlander on Opening Day that year.
• Less than a week ago, it looked like the Blue Jays would be without Tepera for the entire season. He appeared destined for Tommy John surgery, but tests in New York resulted in a diagnosis of right elbow inflammation. Tepera was scheduled to resume throwing on Tuesday and is now poised to return to help out Toronto's bullpen in the not-so-distant future.
• Harrison and Mercer opened last season playing against the Tigers as the starting middle infield of the Pirates. They open this year playing for Detroit, the first time the Tigers have opened with a completely new double-play duo since Ian Kinsler and Alex Gonzalez in 2014.