Opening Day FAQ: Brewers vs. Cubs

March 30th, 2023

The Cubs were one of the busiest teams on the open market over the offseason, reeling in a considerable list of free agents highlighted by the blockbuster signing of shortstop Dansby Swanson. The goal for the North Siders -- much like their rivals in the visiting dugout on Opening Day this year -- is to get back onto the October stage.

“I'm excited to get to Wrigley,” Cubs manager Davis Ross said. “And transition into this season and this amazing journey we get to go on together.”

It all starts Thursday, when the Brewers and Cubs square off at the Friendly Confines, where will take on . Both Milwaukee and Chicago will be aiming to supplant the Cardinals as the National League Central champions.

The Cubs had an offseason of changes, but they weren’t alone. Among the Brewers’ notable newcomers are an All-Star catcher (William Contreras), and two veterans (Jesse Winker and Brian Anderson) seeking a return to form after injuries soured last season.

“We have a lot of new guys this year,” Burnes said. “The goal in camp was to get everybody in here, get on the same page, get to know each other and get acclimated. When it comes down to those games in September and October, it’s all about how we’re gelling in the clubhouse and how we’re competing as a team.”

Ross admitted he will have “butterflies” leading up to Opening Day.

“Until you press play,” said the Cubs' manager, “you don't really know how things are going to go. I'm excited. I think it's a good, nervous energy.”

When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT on Thursday and will be available on MLB.TV. The game will be televised on both Bally Sports Wisconsin (for Brewers fans) and Marquee Sports Network (for Cubs fans), as well as on MLB Network. Radio broadcasts will be provided by the Brewers Radio Network and 670 AM The Score and can be heard on MLB Audio.

What are the lineups?
Brewers: The Brewers addressed a weak spot in the lineup by trading for Contreras, an All-Star with 20-plus homer potential. They also have high hopes for a bounce back for Winker -- who used to torment Milwaukee when he played for the Reds, but struggled last season in Seattle -- and for Anderson, who signed as a free agent after fighting injuries last year in Miami. Rookies Garrett Mitchell and Brice Turang are on the Opening Day roster for the first time -- with Turang making his MLB debut and batting ninth. So much of the group’s potential hinges on Christian Yelich, who has shown he can be one of the most dangerous hitters in the sport.

Cubs: With sidelined at the moment due to an oblique setback, the Cubs will likely employ a mix of players in right field, with Miles Mastrobuoni getting the nod for Opening Day. At the top, Ross put Nico Hoerner at the leadoff spot, with Swanson behind him. The Cubs’ lineup is counting on comeback stories (see: Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer and Mancini) and will split the catching duties between veterans and Tucker Barnhart.

Who are the starting pitchers?
Brewers: After winning the 2021 NL Cy Young Award, Burnes followed up with a durable '22 campaign in which he made all of his starts, ranked second among NL qualifiers with a 30.5 percent strikeout rate and was 10th in the league with a 2.94 ERA. He was such an easy choice to start a second straight season opener that manager Craig Counsell didn’t even have to tell Burnes he was getting the assignment. They simply talked about it as a given from the start of Spring Training.

“You want to go out there and set the tone for the year, and all of the guys who are going to follow in the rotation,” Burnes said. “It’s definitely exciting, definitely an honor. I love going out there trying to go as deep as I can into games and set the tone for these guys. That’s the plan for Opening Day.”

Burnes has come a long way to become Milwaukee's de facto Opening Day starter. Since struggling so badly in 2019 that he was demoted to the bullpen and then to the Minor Leagues, he’s been one of baseball’s best starters for three years running. Since the start of 2020, Burnes leads Major League pitchers at 14.4 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, and leads qualifying starters in ERA (2.62), strikeout rate (33.4 percent) and WHIP (0.96).

Now it starts again.

“I’m not going to look at the results of anything; for me, it’s all about going out and executing pitches one at a time,” Burnes said. “Pitch after pitch, outing after outing, if I can stack up as many executed pitches as I can, then things are going to go my way.”

Cubs: A year ago, Stroman insisted that the Opening Day assignment go to veteran . Indeed, the last remaining Cubs player from the 2016 World Series triumph got the nod in the opener for the third consecutive season for the North Siders.

This year, it’s Stroman’s turn to take the ball for the Cubs on Opening Day.

“He's going to be the perfect guy going out there Game 1 -- to set the tone for the team,” said Hendricks, who is about a month behind the rest of Chicago’s arms due to an ongoing comeback from a shoulder issue.

Stroman -- signed to a three-year, $71 million deal prior to last season -- had a 3.50 ERA in 2022, but was limited to 25 starts due to health setbacks. He was dynamic down the stretch, logging a 2.56 ERA in 91 1/3 innings over his last 16 turns, helping the Cubs' rotation rank third in the Majors in ERA after the All-Star break.

This will be the third career Opening Day start for Stroman, who also took the ball to start the 2016 and ‘19 seasons for the Blue Jays.

“To feel that energy in Wrigley,” Stroman said, “that’s kind of why you work so hard, for those moments. And I feel like I’d be the perfect one to go out there and pitch on Opening Day. Even though I feel like we have four, five aces essentially on our staff, so anybody can get the ball that day.”

How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Brewers: After parts of two years of , and Josh Hader as a reliable trio for the final three innings of close games, Williams enters his first full season as a closer with lots of question marks around him. The Brewers are counting on and 2022 breakouts and to cover high-leverage innings between the starters at the front of games and Williams at the end. Hard-throwing , a converted position player, is an intriguing newcomer. The Brewers will probably have significant bullpen fluidity early in the season as pitchers settle into roles.

Cubs: Boxberger is now in Chicago’s bullpen, along with veteran right-hander . While Ross will never apply the “closer” label to any of his relievers, expect Fulmer to get the bulk of the chances, with Boxberger also getting save opportunities. The Cubs are counting on former starters and to be important leverage arms in 2022, and are giving  a shot as a multi-inning option in the wake of his outstanding showing for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Any injuries of note?
Brewers: Besides adding some bats like Contreras, Winker and Anderson, the Brewers’ offseason focus was fortifying the depth of their starting rotation -- the clear strength of their team. But that depth took an early hit when talented 24-year-old experienced discomfort as he began to ramp up for Spring Training. Additional tests revealed a labrum issue that will sideline the lefty for at least the first two months, dealing a blow to the Brewers’ plan to use him both as a starter and a reliever. The Brewers’ other big loss was outfielder , who had a path to an Opening Day start in right field before a setback with a right elbow injury that dates to last season. He won’t be available to the Brewers until May at the earliest.

Cubs: Suzuki remains in Arizona, where he is working his way back from the left oblique strain he sustained in late February. By the time the Cubs broke camp, Suzuki had built back to normal on-field batting practice and was nearing Minor League game action. Chicago is hopeful that Suzuki can make a return some time in April. Beyond Suzuki, Hendricks is going through a normal Spring Training progression now, but will not be an option likely until May. Lefty  was slowed this spring by a left knee issue.

Who’s hot and who’s not?
Brewers: Of the Brewers notable newcomers -- Contreras, Winker, Anderson and utility man -- Anderson and Miller had the most productive springs. Anderson could play an especially vital role early in the season since the Brewers are thin in right field. Miller added center field to his repertoire in Spring Training to help cover that spot. … Utility man was probably the Brewers’ Cactus League MVP and will play a significant role against left-handed pitchers. … First baseman Rowdy Tellez delivered seven hits and five RBIs in six World Baseball Classic games for Mexico after hitting three homers for the Brewers prior to the tournament.

Cubs: Swanson, who joined the Cubs on a seven-year pact worth $177 million, endured an ice-cold spring in the batter’s box. When he finally went deep on Sunday, Ross was waiting near the dugout to give him a celebratory hug. Given Swanson’s track record and strong offensive showings the past two years, Chicago was not worried about the veteran shortstop. … Gomes and Ríos were among the Cubs' leaders in homers in Cactus League play with four apiece. Mancini also swung a hot bat on the whole in the preseason. A crucial piece to the North Siders’ lineup this year, Bellinger had bursts of power, but his overall offensive showing this spring was inconsistent.

Anything else fans might want to know?
This marks the second straight season and the third time in four years that the Brewers and Cubs are opening their seasons against each other at Wrigley Field. Ian Happ hit a tie-breaking double in the seventh inning of a 5-4 Cubs win in last year’s opener, and Hendricks outdueled in a 1-0 Cubs win in the pandemic-delayed opener in July 2020. … The Brewers and Cubs also met on Opening Day in 2008, a 4-3 Brewers win in 10 innings. … The Brewers are 28-25-1 all time on Opening Day, including 16-16-1 on the road and 12-12-1 since moving into the National League in 1998.