Even though the on-field product will look much like it did last season, the Chicago Cubs' 2012 Opening Day game vs. the Washington Nationals represents the beginning of a new era on the North Side. The fingerprints of new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer will be visible in only a few places, namely when new acquisitions David DeJesus and Ian Stewart step to the plate, but there should be even more optimism than normal in Wrigley on Thursday afternoon, even though almost ever Cubs fan understands that the road back to the playoffs will likely still be a long one.
The man hoping to give Epstein, Hoyer and new manager Dale Sveum an Opening Day loss is Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg, who will take the mound looking to complete his first full season in the majors in 2012. That's a bit down the road, though, and on Thursday Strasburg will certainly settle for one of the dominant low-hit, high-K starts that he's become known for. For whatever it's worth, Strasburg was middling this spring, posting a 4.18 ERA and striking out only 17 batters in 23.2 innings, which is a very solid rate for a starting pitcher but down from his stellar career average.
The Cubs will trot out Ryan Dempster, an old standby who will be looking to impress the new brass. Dempster had a so-so spring, putting up a 3.26 ERA in 19.1 innings but he walked eight batters while only striking out 11.