For the first time since 2010, the Blue Jays and Rangers will meet on Opening Day, with excitement on both sides as the Blue Jays enter the year with great expectations and the Rangers are coming off of a major offseason.
The Blue Jays fell just short of the postseason in ’21, going 91-71. They’ve lost Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien, who makes an immediate return with Texas, but have added Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman in an attempt to get back over the hump and into October.
After a 102-loss season in 2021, the Rangers are ready to take the next step toward competing in the American League West, manned with a lineup of new additions like Semien, Corey Seager and Mitch Garver, along with Adolis García and Nathaniel Lowe. The young pitching staff is anchored by Opening Day starter Jon Gray.
While the Rangers won’t go from 100 losses to 100 wins in one offseason, 2022 is a crucial step to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series. Toronto is just the first step.
How can I watch?
First pitch at Rogers Centre is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET, 6:07 p.m. CT, Friday. The game will be available on MLB.TV and broadcast for Canadian fans on Sportsnet with a radio call available from Sportsnet 590 The FAN. For Rangers fans, the game will be broadcast by Bally Sports Southwest with the radio call on 105.3 The Fan.
The starting lineups
Rangers: Manager Chris Woodward has consistently said he would like the trio of Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Mitch Garver to hit 1-2-3 or 2-3-4 in the lineup -- for the opener, he went with the latter. With a right-hander on the mound for Toronto, the Rangers started Brad Miller in left field over Nick Solak, with the two set to platoon the position to start the season.
Blue Jays: Charlie Montoyo has toyed with the idea of batting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. second instead of third, but the AL MVP runner-up is slotted third in the opener. With a healthy George Springer at the top, a lineup also including Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Matt Chapman should rank among baseball’s best again in 2022.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rangers: Right-hander Jon Gray will get his third career Opening Day start and his first with the Rangers since doing it in back-to-back seasons with the Rockies from 2017-18. Gray made 29 starts last year with Colorado and finished with a 4.59 ERA. He was also one of the Rangers' best pitchers this spring, allowing just 2 earned runs on 8 hits across 6 innings. He also notched 10 strikeouts, 6 of which came in his final outing against the Brewers. Gray was expected to get the Opening Day nod since the club signed him this offseason, but it’s also a testament to how much Woodward and the staff have come to believe in his abilities in a short amount of time.
The Rangers are expected to go straight right-handers against the Blue Jays’ heavy right-handed lineup themselves and will most likely follow Gray with Dane Dunning and Spencer Howard for the following two games in Toronto.
Blue Jays: José Berríos gets his first Opening Day start with the Blue Jays, which you can get used to seeing after the right-hander signed a seven-year, $131 million extension in November. He’s joined atop the Blue Jays’ rotation by Kevin Gausman, who signed a free-agent deal worth $110 million over five years.
Hyun Jin Ryu will pitch the final game of the Rangers series as the No. 3 before Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi open the next series. This rounds out one of baseball’s deepest rotations that should be a strength of the Blue Jays in ’22. Their depth beyond the starting five is impressive, too.
How might the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rangers: With starters not expected to go too long to start the season, the Rangers have a number of long-relief options out of the bullpen, including Kolby Allard, Garrett Richards, Brock Burke and the recently acquired Albert Abreu. Any one of the four should be available to bridge the gap between Gray and high-leverage innings. Joe Barlow, Matt Bush and Josh Sborz are all expected to be used in those high-leverage situations, though an official closer has yet to be named. Barlow went 11-for-12 in save opportunities last season, but Woodward has noted he doesn’t want to force that on him while he is still young.
Blue Jays: Toronto’s bullpen will be deep, with multiple bulk options available should the Blue Jays need extra length early on. The Blue Jays’ back-end relievers will be particularly important this season, though, and likely into October. That starts with Canadian closer Jordan Romano, who’s been excellent in back-to-back seasons. Yimi García will pitch ahead of Romano along with Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, Tim Mayza, David Phelps and Julian Merryweather. That’s a crowded group, but the Blue Jays will target matchups until a hot hand emerges.
Any injuries of note?
The Rangers are down two notable bullpen pieces in José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández, both of whom missed all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring. Outside of those two, Texas will leave Spring Training surprisingly healthy.
Who's hot and who's not?
Rangers: The Rangers' new and improved offense has been firing on all cylinders this spring thanks to new hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Tim Hyers. Lowe has specifically proven why the Rangers staff has consistently seen him as a guy who could reach the next level. The first baseman has slashed .344/.344/.563 (.906 OPS) with two home runs this spring.
Neither Seager nor Semien has had a particularly “hot” Spring Training, but Woodward said if there’s anybody he’s not worried about Cactus League stats with, it’s the two of them. Designated hitter Willie Calhoun has struggled in camp, slashing just .235/.297/.324 (.621 OPS) through 12 games. He'll break camp with the big league club, but he'll need to do more damage at the plate in order to remain in the lineup early in the season.
Blue Jays: Chapman enjoyed a nice start with the Blue Jays in camp, hitting a pair of home runs in Grapefruit League play and immediately showing his great glove. The Blue Jays also saw some encouraging signs from Guerrero, Gurriel, Kirk and Biggio in camp. The numbers may not have been there for Bichette, but the shortstop got plenty of reps in and looked lively on the bases, leaving coaches very impressed with his offseason. Berríos was actually hit hard in spring, but the veteran says he felt great physically and was happy with what he’d been focusing on.
Anything else fans might want to know?
- Marcus Semien’s return to Toronto: The second baseman spent just one season with the Blue Jays but speaks highly of his time in the organization and of the things he learned while being a veteran in a young clubhouse there. This will be his first time playing against his former club.
- For the 14th straight season, the Rangers will have a different Opening Day starter in Jon Gray. The last Texas pitcher to start back-to-back Opening Days was Kevin Millwood for four years from 2006-09.
- This will be Toronto’s first game with full capacity at Rogers Centre since 2019. After playing most of 2020 and ’21 in Buffalo and Dunedin throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Jays returned for the final two months of the ’21 season but still operated under capacity restrictions.