The rest of baseball is just a little behind the Dodgers.
That might be a common theme this year. Los Angeles passed the Yankees in payroll this offseason -- something that hasn't been done since 1998. The Dodgers also kicked off their season against the Diamondbacks in Australia last weekend, and then doubled down by playing in the Sunday night opener against the Padres.
Injuries will keep some teams from going to the hill with their best arms, but for the most part, it'll be a pretty ace-heavy day. The first pitch should be thrown by Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano as he takes on the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija. Chicago's top prospects are still a year or two away, but that doesn't mean the guys on the current roster won't try to scratch out as many wins as they can. The Pirates are hoping to get off on the right foot was they attempt to make consecutive appearances in the postseason after missing out on the playoffs for over 20 years.
Here are a few of the top pitching matchups for TODAY's games:
This might be the best duel of the day. The Royals are finally unhorrible and Verlander will be looking to lead a slightly confusing Tigers team to another AL Central pennant. These two teams could end up going back and forth all year. Shields vs. Verlander is the perfect way to start things off.
Shields was excellent in his first run with Kansas City last year. He put up a 3.15 ERA and pitched nearly 230 innings. He'll be a free agent after the season and the Royals don't appear to be very motivated to sign him to an extension despite the fact that they traded potential superstar Wil Myers to the Rays for him.
Verlander wasn't very Verlanderian last year. He still finished the season with a 3.46 ERA and strong peripherals, but somehow he seemed like a disappointment -- which should be a testament to how dominant he's been over the last few years. Max Scherzer might be leaving after the season and Prince Fielder is already gone, but with Verlander leading the way, the Tigers are probably going to be all right.
Cliff Lee might be facing off against his next team in this game. Of course, there are 28 other teams he could end up with. But if the Rangers manage to battle through their injuries and stick around until the trade deadline, and the Phillies struggle -- as many expect them to -- Lee could be headed back to Texas. It's kind of hard to keep track of all the failed prospects Lee has been traded for, but there are definitely some former Rangers in the mix. He threw just over 100 innings for Texas in the second half of the 2010 season. The Rangers have Yu Darvish, who might be the best pitcher in the game, but injuries have devastated their pitching staff -- as evidenced by first-time starter Tanner Scheppers taking the hill on Opening Day.
I wonder if David Price thinks Dickey is a nerd ... He does love Star Wars.
Dickey struggled last year, but he's easily one of the most likable players in the league, so unless you're a fan of the team he's pitching against, it's kind of hard not to root for him.
David Price is entering what might be his final season in Tampa Bay. It might be his final half-season in Tampa Bay, actually. The Rays look poised to compete for the AL pennant, but they are also a limited team financially. Price is set to become a free agent after 2015, so the Rays could consider trading him this season -- whether they're in contention or not. It's much less likely that they'd move him if they're winning games, of course, but they have to think about the best way to maximize his talent for the future of the club.
It'll be the last game, but it could end up being the most fun to watch. Hernandez is a perennial Cy Young candidate and Mike Trout will probably show up, too. The Mariners have spent a lot of money in an attempt to crawl out from underneath the Angels -- and the Rangers, and the Athletics. Robinson Cano wearing something other than Yankees pinstripes alone will be motivation to catch this game. Safeco Field might end up sapping some of his power, but he's still Robinson Cano. He'll keep hitting and fielding baseballs like he just woke up, no matter what park you put him in.
The Angels will be looking to get back on track after a disappointing 2013 season. Having Jered Weaver in top form will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. Somehow, this team has become a sleeper to make the playoffs. Seems strange since they have one of the most star-studded (and expensive) lineups in the game.