America's Opening Night: St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins

By Tom Froemming

Baseball’s back … again. This time, you won’t even have to set your alarm clock to see the action.

The Marlins make their official debut as their rebranded selves in Miami. They’ll unveil the new Marlins Park against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

The best part is the game will be played at 7:05 Eastern. That’s p.m.! And to top it all off, you can even watch the game live on television, as ESPN will be broadcasting the game. What a novel idea.

The Marlins got a serious face lift over the offseason, adding veterans Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell along with manager Ozzie Guillen. The most important player to their 2012 season, however, could be Josh Johnson, who’ll get the start for the Fish.

Johnson made just nine starts in 2011, but was the National League ERA champ back in 2010. He’s coming off a great spring, which actually means a lot for a player coming off injury. Johnson had a 2.42 ERA and struck out 24 batters in 22.1 spring innings.

The Cardinals are without Chris Carpenter and are seemingly saving Adam Wainwright from any more attention from his first start, leaving them with Kyle Lohse as their de facto Opening Day starter. Carpenter will start the year on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his pitching shoulder. Wainwright missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.

Lohse is coming off an impressive spring himself, posting a 2.81 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. One on the long list of pitchers whose careers were saved by Dave Duncan, Lohse will have to continue on without the Cardinals pitching coach, as Duncan is on an indefinite leave of absence to tend to his ailing wife. Lohse went 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP last season.

Cardinals’ center fielder Jon Jay brings an interesting perspective into this game. He grew up in Miami and was a Marlins fan, so he knows what the new ballpark means for the community. Here’s what Jay told the Associated Press:

“To be able to play the first game there, it’s something I am going to remember forever. The Dolphins’ stadium wasn’t really a baseball ballpark. It’s going to be nice for the community to have a real baseball park.”

The game will mark the start of the post Albert Pujols era, and the debut for new manager Mike Matheny for the Cardinals. Carlos Beltran will also be debuting for St. Louis.

Just because the game has returned for meaningful games stateside doesn’t mean there isn’t another scheduling head scratcher.

Baseball fans and hardball haters alike all criticized MLB’s decision to start the regular season in Japan with games that appeared in the U.S. before the sun came up. Now, they’re starting up again with a single game series.

That’s right, after tonight’s game, the Marlins will head out to Cincinnati to start a three-game series with the Reds. They’ll have Friday off. The Cardinals will take a day off tomorrow before returning to St. Louis to host a three-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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