What's the record for the fastest in a season a closer was pulled from his role? I'm sure there's a statistic for that somewhere, but I'm guessing the Toronto Blue Jays just broke the mark. Manager John Gibbons announced the move Thursday, one day after Brett Cecil blew a save by allowing three runs in the bottom of the eighth to the Yankees. Gibbons did say it was only temporary, but I doubt that. Cecil was a terrific set-up man the previous two years but did have some shoulder issues this spring, so maybe that's why he wasn't sharp. He will move back into a set-up role. Flame-throwing 20-year-old Miguel Castro takes over the job for now -- he nearly won it in spring training. Castro got his first save Thursday night with a scoreless inning vs. the Yankees and Cecil was credited with a hold.
Cardinals at Reds (-137, 6.5)
I will be very interested to see how the Cardinals' Michael Wacha fares Saturday in his first start of the season. He looked like a rising superstar late in 2013 but suffered a very rare shoulder injury (stress reaction) last year and saw his season end as a reliever when allowing the NLCS-winning home run to the Giants' Travis Ishikawa. Wacha was 5-6 with a 3.20 ERA in 19 starts before missing a few months. He was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four starts against the Reds. Joey Votto is 4-for-9 with two doubles and two RBIs off him. Maybe Jay Bruce gets the day off (he won't). He's 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts. Reds starter Johnny Cueto was brilliant in 2014 but just 1-2 in three starts vs. the Cardinals despite a 2.25 ERA. Cueto started this year about as strong as possible, blanking the Pirates on four hits and striking out 10 but getting a no-decision thanks to his bullpen. The Cards' Jon Jay isn't exactly a great hitter but he kills Cueto, going 12-for-25 with three homers and seven RBIs.
Key trends: The Cards are 2-9 in Wacha's past 11 road starts. Cincinnati is 4-0 in Cueto's past four on Saturday. The "over/under" has gone over in four of five Wacha's past five vs. the NL Central. The under is 4-1 in Cueto's past five vs. St. Louis.
Early lean: Reds and under.
Twins at White Sox (-160, 8.5)
Minnesota looked completely inept in its opening sweep at the hands of the Tigers. The White Sox were supposed to be the AL's most improved team, but they were dominated in a three-game sweep at Kansas City. If the Twins were to somehow sweep this series, which started Friday, that Pale Hose bandwagon will empty fast. New White Sox Jeff Samardzija bombed in his first start, allowing five runs, six hits, three walks and hitting two Royals in a 10-1 loss. He faced the Twins once last season while with Oakland, allowing two runs over six innings in a win. Trevor Plouffe is 2-for-5 with five RBIs off him. Mike Pelfrey starts for the Twins, and he lost a battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but was needed back in the rotation with the suspension to Ervin Santana. Pelfrey missed most of last year with the Twins and also much of 2012 with the Mets due to elbow surgery. Chicago's Adam LaRoche hits him hard, going 9-for-13 with six RBIs.
Key trends: The Twins are 1-4 in Pelfrey's past five on the road. The over is 4-1 in his past five overall. The over is 8-1 in the past nine meetings in Chicago (entering Friday).
Early lean: White Sox and over.
Mariners at A's (-160, 7)
With all due respect to the Reds' Cueto, the most impressive Opening Day pitching performance likely was from Oakland's Sonny Gray, and he makes start No. 2 on Saturday. He took a no-hitter vs. Texas into the eighth inning and finished allowing just one hit over eight, walking only one. Gray was 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts against Seattle in 2014. Robinson Cano has had the most success of the Mariners regulars against him, going 5-for-15 with a homer and three RBIs. Seattle counters with lefty J.A. Happ, who in my opinion is the weak link of the rotation. He was acquired this offseason from Toronto in the Michael Saunders deal. Happ was not good this spring with a 6.11 ERA. He made one start last year against Oakland and pitched seven shutout innings. Ben Zobrist is 6-for-13 with three doubles and four RBIs career off him.
Key trends: The A's are 2-5 in Gray's past seven at home. The over is 5-1 in his past six there. The A's are 5-1 in Gray's past six against Seattle.
Early lean: A's and under. I might consider the runline at +145.
Blue Jays at Orioles (-118, 8.5)
When Toronto entered camp, a lot of people though young right-hander Aaron Sanchez would win the closer's job. He was largely fantastic as a rookie last season, allowing just five runs and 14 hits in 33.0 innings over 24 relief appearances, striking out 27. Toronto ideally didn't want him and fellow top pitching prospect Daniel Norris both in the rotation to start the year, but those plans were scuttled when Marcus Stroman tore his ACL. So Sanchez gets his first big-league start Saturday. He pitched 4.2 innings against the Birds in 2014, allowing two runs and two hits while walking five. Chris Davis homered in his lone at-bat off Sanchez. Ubaldo Jimenez starts for the Orioles, and he was a free-agent disaster last season, going 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and losing his spot in the rotation. However, Jimenez had a good spring and won the No. 5 job. He was 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA in four appearances (three starts vs. the Jays last year). Jose Bautista can't hit the guy, going 2-for-26.
Key trends: The Orioles are 6-1 in Jimenez's past seven starts. The over is 4-1 in his past five overall.
Early lean: Blue Jays and under.
Giants at Padres (+110, 6)
San Francisco starts ace lefty Madison Bumgarner in this one against new Padres right-hander James Shields. Does that matchup sound familiar? It should. On his way to World Series MVP honors last October, Bumgarner beat Shields, then of course with the Royals, in Games 1 and 5. Shields was not good in the opener but pitched well in Game 5 -- Bumgarner was simply dominant in both. Shields was solid in his National League debut Monday, allowing two runs and six hits over six innings in a no-decision at the Dodgers. Most Giants haven't seen Shields in their careers. Buster Posey is 0-for-4, Gregor Blanco is 4-for-7 with a triple and three RBIs. Bumgarner opened the season with a win in Arizona, allowing a run and six hits over seven innings. San Diego's Justin Upton is 9-for-25 with a homer in his career off Bumgarner. Matt Kemp is hitting .212 off him with a homer and eight strikeouts.
Key trends: The Giants are 5-0 in Bumgarner's past five after a quality start in his last appearance. San Francisco is 10-3 in his past 13 vs. San Diego. The under is 4-1 in the past five when Bumgarner faces the Padres.
Early lean: Only opening total of 6 on the board. Call it a hunch, but I'm going Padres and over.
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