Though "opening day" for 28 teams is still a week away or more, two clubs are set to do battle in an actual, regular-season baseball game Wednesday. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners will do battle in Japan at 6:10 p.m. ET. Unfortunately this is 3:10 a.m. PT, the time zone in which both teams reside. Thus, most of their fans won't really be able to reasonably pay attention to the game.
Still, it's a real game and it counts as one of the 162-game set for each club. It deserves our attention.
Here are five storylines:
1. Pitcher's duel. It's Felix Hernandez vs. Brandon McCarthy. Everyone knows what the former here can do. He's King Felix. His counterpart, however, is one of the more underrated pitchers in the game. McCarthy led the AL in FIP last season -- Fielding Independent Pitching, which most heavily factors in things the pitcher can control like home runs allowed, strikeouts and walks. The ERA (3.32) and WHIP (1.13) were solid as well. Obviously it's advantage Mariners pretty much every time Hernandez takes the hill, but expect a low-scoring game.
2. Yoenis Cespedes is making his debut. The Cuban will be playing his first game of American baseball in Japan -- a sentence that feels straight out of a Naked Gun movie. He's obviously seen good pitching before, but how he can handle Hernandez in a regular-season game will be interesting to watch.
3. Jesus Montero is now a Mariners power bat. The Mariners coughed up All-Star starting pitcher Michael Pineda for Montero's bat, and the youngster will now be hitting in the middle of a lineup that produced an AL-worst (and it wasn't even close) 556 runs last season. He definitely appears to have the tools to make a difference.
4. Ichiro Suzuki is now hitting in the three-hole. The 38-year-old right fielder will surely be receiving plenty of fanfare in his native country. He'll also be hitting third. In his MLB career, Ichiro has started in the leadoff spot 1,720 games. He's started 13 games hitting third and zero everywhere else in the order. There are several minor changes to the Mariners' lineup, but adding Montero and moving Ichiro are the major ones.
5. A's bullpen. With Andrew Bailey having been traded in the offseason, Grant Balfour is now the A's closer. He has 10 career saves in 323 career appearances. Brian Fuentes and Fautino De Los Santos are now in the setup roles, too. If the A's take a close lead into the late innings, how well can this trio hold it?
Obviously there are more things to watch, but I'm just glad we have regular-season baseball again, even if it's in the middle of the night for the hometown fans.