After the 2019 season, the Twins became the favorites of the American League Central, dethroning the Indians after the Tribe sat atop the division for the previous three seasons. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic has shortened the season to just 60 games, the odds could go in anyone’s favor.
Despite trading away Corey Kluber in December and Trevor Bauer at last year’s Trade Deadline, the Tribe’s strongest asset will still be its starting rotation, consisting of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac. Its bullpen may be unproven, but Brad Hand will return as the club’s closer after having an All-Star-worthy performance in the first half of 2019.
While the Royals’ bullpen is strong with the additions of Trevor Rosenthal -- who is back throwing 101-102 mph -- and Greg Holland, the big question is the rotation. Right-hander Brad Keller, last year’s Opening Day starter, just returned from the injured list (COVID-19) last Friday and his availability is uncertain. And right-hander Jakob Junis, projected to be the No. 3 starter, just went on the IL. That only leaves two proven starters -- Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery. The Royals didn’t have a No. 5 starter cemented in the rotation when they left Arizona.
The Indians will start the season at full strength, unlike last year when they had to wait 20 games for shortstop Francisco Lindor to return from calf and ankle injuries. Catcher Roberto Pérez, who’s fresh off of his first Gold Glove Award, underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle over the offseason and feels better than he did in all of 2019.
Kansas City welcomes back All-Star and Gold Glove catcher Salvador Perez, who missed all of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. They also get back shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, now 100 percent recovered from shoulder surgery last fall. And with the addition of free-agent third baseman Maikel Franco, the Royals now believe they have a competitive batting order one through nine, a lineup with no obvious holes.
Let’s take a deeper look at everything you need to know about the matchup between the Indians and Royals on Opening Day:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is slated for 7:10 p.m. ET/6:10 p.m. CT on Friday. The game will be televised on both SportsTime Ohio and FOX Sports Kansas City, along with MLB.TV. There will also be radio broadcasts on the Indians’ and Royals’ Radio Networks.
The starting lineups
Indians: Tribe manager Terry Francona is ready to experiment with four switch-hitters at the top of his lineup. Though he’s open to swapping the order around if this move causes his roster to be unbalanced, his one through four hitters are set in stone for Opening Day. Cesar Hernandez will take over the leadoff duties from Lindor, who will likely get more at-bats with runners in scoring position in the three-hole. There’s a chance that Bradley Zimmer or another outfielder could get the start in left, but here’s a look at how Friday’s lineup against the Royals may shake out:
Royals: The Royals have elite speed at the top of the order in Whit Merrifield and Mondesi, and at the bottom with Nicky Lopez. In between there is the slugger Jorge Soler, who had a breakout year, setting a club record with 48 homers. Kansas City will be missing another power bat in Hunter Dozier, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Ryan McBroom gets the job over Ryan O’Hearn, who is still on the IL with COVID-19. McBroom has shown tremendous power potential in Spring Training and during Summer Camp.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Indians: From the Indians’ No. 5 starter in 2019 to their Opening Day starter in 2020, Shane Bieber will get the ball on Friday night at Progressive Field. At 25 years and 54 days old, Bieber will be the Tribe’s youngest Opening Day starting pitcher since a 23-year-old CC Sabathia in '04. This will be the first time that Kluber, who was traded to Texas in December, will not get the ball for the first game of the season since '14. In '19, Bieber posted a 3.28 ERA with three complete games, two shutouts and 259 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings (34 games, 33 starts), placed fourth in the AL Cy Young Award vote and won the All-Star Game MVP honors.
Royals: Danny Duffy gets his third Opening Day start of his career (also 2017-18). The Royals had been hoping the honor would have been the result of a heated competition between Duffy and Keller, but Keller went on the IL last Friday after testing positive for COVID-19. Manager Mike Matheny wants Duffy to embrace the role of team ace, a challenge that Duffy said he is ready to meet.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Indians: The Tribe’s bullpen will be fluid throughout the season, but will have starter Adam Plutko as a long relief option. The most exciting addition to the ‘pen is rookie James Karinchak, who’s known for his near triple-digit heater and his devastating curveball. However, he’ll need to prove that he can command the strike zone consistently to be trusted in more high-leverage situations. Closer Brad Hand will return to the back end of the ‘pen after arm fatigue caused him to labor through the final weeks of last season.
Royals: The Royals added power to the back of their bullpen with Trevor Rosenthal. Righty Greg Holland will give them a nice veteran mix. Right-hander Josh Staumont finally has gained command of his 101-mph heater and will factor in. Right-hander Scott Barlow was unhittable at times last season, but also endured a prolonged slump. Ian Kennedy returns as the closer after notching 30 saves in 2019.
Any injuries of note?
Indians: While there was some concern just last week that outfielder Jordan Luplow wouldn’t be ready in time for Opening Day due to back soreness, he quickly got himself back on track and is healthy for the start of the season. Outside of Delino DeShields, who is ramping himself back up after his bout with COVID-19, the Tribe enters the 2020 season with no major injuries.
Royals: Like the Indians, the Royals don’t have any major injuries, but have three people affected by the coronavirus. Keller returned to camp on Friday, Dozier tested positive on Wednesday and O'Hearn tested positive last week.
Who is hot and who is not?
Indians: Zimmer and Yu Chang had the hottest bats in Summer Camp, but no one seems more ready for the season than Bieber. The right-hander dominated in Spring Training and carried that momentum all the way through July. In his last outing on Sunday, he struck out nine batters in four simulated innings, allowing one run on a solo homer to Reyes. Mercado has had a quieter camp, but the club is optimistic about his sophomore campaign.
Royals: Franco had a 1.200 OPS during the intrasquad games, and Gordon posted a 1.156 OPS during them. Perez has come back from an IL stint smoking hot. He lit up intrasquad games for a week, then homered against Houston in an exhibition game Monday night.