ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have a new manager in Chris Woodward, who is facing the daunting task of leading a 2018 last-place club in the midst of a rebuild. The Cubs have Joe Maddon, entering his fifth season as the Cubs manager but without a contract beyond this year and high expectations bearing down.
How these two managers handle their challenging situations will be central themes for both the Rangers and Cubs this year, as they open the 2019 season with an Interleague matchup on Thursday at Globe Life Park.
Maddon has a .597 winning percentage, four trips to the postseason and a World Series title with the Cubs. But their front office is clearly looking for a re-energized ballclub after losing both a one-game playoff to the Brewers for the NL Central title, and a subsequent Wild Card Game to the Rockies last season.
The Rangers are also looking to be revitalized after going 67-95 last season. Woodward impressed the Rangers with his passion, energy and communication skills, and was hired away from the Dodgers after three years on their coaching staff. But Texas’ pitching remains a question mark.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is 3:05 p.m. CT and will be shown on both WGN in Chicago and Fox Sports Southwest in Texas. You can also watch live on MLB.TV.
The starting lineups
Cubs: The Cubs bring back all eight regulars from last year’s lineup. They had the fourth-best offense in the National League with 761 runs scored, and also sported the fifth-ranked OPS at .744. Albert Almora Jr. is expected to be the leadoff hitter against left-handers, with Ben Zobrist being used against right-handers. The Cubs could use a big year from Kris Bryant after he dealt with left shoulder inflammation for much of last season.
Rangers: Most conspicuous about the Rangers lineup is the absence of Adrián Beltré, who retired after last season. Veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera was signed to replace him, although this will be his first season as a full-time third baseman. Jeff Mathis also takes over as the No. 1 catcher, sharing duties with Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Cubs: Left-hander Jon Lester will make his third-straight Opening Day start for the Cubs, the eighth overall of his career. Lester, 35 years old and beginning his 14th season in the league, was 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 32 starts and 181 2/3 innings last season. He was 11-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 15 road starts. That was tied for the second-most road wins among Major League pitchers. He is making his 14th career start against the Rangers and his first since 2014, when he was still with the Red Sox.
Rangers: Left-hander Mike Minor takes the ball on Opening Day for the first time in his career. Minor made a successful transition back to starting last season; he missed 2015-16 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder and was used in a relief role by the Royals in ‘17. He was 12-8 with a 4.18 ERA in 28 starts for the Rangers. He was 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in his last 16 starts. He hasn’t started against the Cubs since 2014, when he was in the Braves rotation.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Cubs: Pedro Strop will be the primary closer until Brandon Morrow (right elbow) returns from the injured list. He had a strained right hamstring during Spring Training but should be ready for Opening Day. The Cubs also have right-handers Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Brad Brach and Brandon Kintzler who could all be used in the late-inning role. It isn't clear how Tyler Chatwood will be utilized, while swing-man Mike Montgomery is the top lefty option.
Rangers: The Rangers’ rebuilt bullpen is led by closer José Leclerc, who was 12-for-12 in save opportunities over the final two months of last season. Right-handers Shawn Kelley and Chris Martin figure to be the right-handed setup relievers with Jeffrey Springs taking the lefty role. Jesse Chavez could play a huge role as a multi-inning middle reliever, with veteran Jeanmar Gómez also added to the mix.
Any injuries of note?
Cubs: Righty reliever Tony Barnette will open the season on the injured list with a sore right shoulder. So will pitcher Morrow, who is back throwing from the mound but a month away from returning, and Xavier Cedeño, who has a left wrist injury. Strop (right hamstring), Yu Darvish (blister) and Daniel Descalso (left shoulder) all had minor ailments in Spring Training but should be ready for Opening Day.
Rangers: Gallo had a mild right groin strain over the final 10 days of Spring Training but will start in left field for the opener.
Who is hot and who is not?
Cubs: Almora hit .373 with three home runs in 17 Cactus League games. Rizzo hit .356 with three home runs and Baez batted .313 with two homers in 18 spring games. Bryant and Zobrist hit just .200 during camp.
Rangers: Odor hit .359 (14-for-39) in his last 14 games, with four homers and a team-leading 11 RBIs on the spring. DeShields hit .326 (14-for-36) in his last 17 games. After a great spring to make the team, Hunter Pence had two hits in his last 15 at-bats. Gallo and Soo-Choo did not hit a home run in Arizona.
Anything else fans might need to know?
• Cash parking lots open at 10 a.m. CT with the gates opening at noon. Fans are encouraged to arrive early.
• Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will throw out the first pitch and the Air National Guard Band of the Southwest will perform the Star Spangled Banner, with a flyover from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas.
• The Cubs will be visiting Arlington for the first time since 2010. They have won eight of the 15 games between the two teams since the beginning of Interleague Play.
• Cubs shortstop Addison Russell is serving the remainder of his 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy and isn’t expected to be reinstated until the beginning of May.