Major League Baseball Opener: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Miami Marlins

It’s opening night tonight for two of the most exciting teams in Major League Baseball, as the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals get set to meet up with the completely revamped Miami Marlins, for a great showdown at the new Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, with the first pitch set to come out at 7:00 PM ET.

For the Miami Marlins, it’s a year of complete change, as they get set to start life at a gorgeous new facility in Miami, with new uniforms, new management and new players abound. Having had without a doubt one of the busiest off-seasons in Major League Baseball, this year’s Marlins squad is already talked about as a true contender in the NL East, led by a new manager, Ozzie Guillen, who has proven that he knows how to win championships both with the Marlins (part of the coaching staff for the 2003 World Series winners) and without (at the helm of the Chicago White Sox). There’s a heap of new talent for the Fish this season, with acquisitions ranging from All-star shortstop Jose Reyes, to starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, and talented closer Heath Bell. Add that into an already potent mix of capable hitters, and there’s good reason to be positive on this year’s Miami squad, even if you might not be so optimistic towards the new team logo and uniforms (which, dare I say, are hideous). Superficial things aside though, Miami looks from the get-go to be a tough competitor all season long, with a good pitching rotation, an ace closer in the pen, and a wealth of hitters across the batting order. No doubt ready to give a real test to the defending World Series Champions tonight, expect the Marlins to be energized, excited, and ready to play ball this evening.

The St. Louis Cardinals on the other hand retain a large chunk of their World Series winning line-up, albeit with the absence of one very big, and very powerful key ingredient; Albert Pujols. Shipped off to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the offseason, the Cardinals get set for life without the Big A, though chances are likely the effects of the Pujols trade won’t be nearly as negative as some may believe. Though the Cardinals also start off the season without their long-time manager Tony LaRussa, who retired after winning the World Series last season and has been replaced by former Cardinals’ catcher Mike Matheny, the core team led by a number of veterans should be well positioned to begin the season without missing a beat from last year. With their pitching rotation most intact, led by Adam Wainwright, tonight’s starter Kyle Lohse, the youngster Jaime Garcia and the veteran Jake Westbrook, St. Louis should be well prepared once more for the long and grueling 162-game season. Though they’ll be missing their playoff ace Chris Carpenter, who starts the season on the disabled list, the staff is more than capable of carrying the load in his absence. On offense, despite missing the centerpiece in Albert Pujols for the first time in 12 years, the Cards are far from being short on talent. With World Series MVP David Freese set to have another solid year, and with plenty of great hitters from catcher Yadier Molina, newly-acquired Carlos Beltran, power-hitter Matt Holliday, the speedy Rafael Furcal and the veteran switch hitter Lance Berkman, this year’s Cardinals may not hardly feel the effects of Pujols’ absence, provided they can stay healthy.

Looking at the pitching match-up for tonight’s contest between St. Louis and Miami, we’ve got a great duel set up for us as Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.31 ERA in 2011) battles it out with the hard-throwing but injury-prone Josh Johnson (3-1, 1.64 ERA in 2011). Lohse, in his 11th year, saw a marked improvement in his form last season, and was impressive last year on the road with a 8-3 record and a 3.13 ERA. His changeup is especially important for him to have working well from the get-go, as he’s not overwhelming with his fastball, and doesn’t strike many batters out. Key for Lohse tonight against a very talented group of Marlins hitters is to get ahead in the count, and keep the ball down in the strike zone. When Lohse jumps out with a lead in the count, he’s poised and confident, and uses a good range of pitches to keep batters guessing and generates lots of ground balls. Heavily reliant on his defense, Lohse must avoid getting behind in counts, and must avoid leaving the ball up in the strike zone. Johnson on the other hand is without a doubt Miami’s ace when he is healthy, as the 6’7″ fireballer simply mows through opposing line-ups with a devastating fastball and vicious slider. Though injuries are a concern, coming into tonight’s game off a 9 strikeout, 1 walk performance in 5.2 innings of work in his final spring training start, there should be plenty of optimism that Johnson will come out guns blazing tonight in a historical start at the Marlins new ballpark. Johnson should have an advantage from a pure-pitcher standpoint, and if he has command tonight, he’ll likely be the better of the two pitchers. That said, Lohse is more than capable of keeping pace, provided he gets good support from his defense, and avoids making the big mistake in the heart of the Marlins batting order.

Betting Lines for St. Louis Cardinals vs. Miami Marlins at Sportsbetting Sportsbook

For the opening day of MLB play between these two teams, the host Miami Marlins start off with a solid favorite on the money line, with -180 odds to win straight up behind Josh Johnson. The St. Louis Cardinals will get +160 odds as underdogs coming into tonight’s match-up.

Against the spread, Miami will need to cover 1.5 runs (+115 odds) to beat the spread tonight, whereas the St. Louis Cardinals will have +1.5 runs in their pocket (-135 odds). While this game should be tight judging by the quality of starting pitching, with two huge batting orders squaring off, there is a high likelihood that one side or the other will be able to pull away from this game tonight.

On total runs, the magic number stands at 7 for the over/under. One very important note here with regards to scoring runs is the fact that this new Marlins Park complex is completely untested as a hitting venue. What we do know is that the dimensions of the park, which are almost across the board deeper than Sun Life Stadium, the Marlins’ former home, should favor pitchers more than hitters, as both the left and right center field power alleys are extremely deep, and straight away center is a massive bomb at 416 feet away. That should give the pitchers an advantage at this park this season, and help keep the run totals down. With that in mind though, and with both starting pitchers likely to be limited in pitch counts, the bullpens will be a bigger factor tonight in how this game plays out, and how many runs are scored. With expectations that we’ll see a fair number of pitchers for both sides, that should help to keep hitters from dialing in, and should boost the prospects for the game leaning towards the underside of total runs.

Regardless of which way you wager on tonight’s opening night at a fantastic new ballpark, featuring the defending World Series Champion Cardinals against a new and improved Marlins team, expect a great atmosphere for game time, with exciting fan fare and great on-field action to properly kick off the MLB regular season games taking place this week. Head down to grab the top sports bets for tonight’s game at the Sportsbetting Sportsbook, one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at CR.

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