The Toronto Blue Jays visit the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday afternoon for an Opening Day matchup between playoff contenders.
The Cardinals, who went 93-69 and won the National League Central last season, hope to make their first deep postseason run since they reached the 2019 National League Championship Series.
The Blue Jays, who were second in the American League East last season with a 92-70 record, have not won a postseason game since reaching the 2016 American League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
Both teams were swept 2-0 at home in their wild-card series last year.
The Blue Jays have particularly bad feelings about their embarrassing exit in Game 2 against the Seattle Mariners. They led 8-1 after five innings. Seattle tied it with four runs in the eighth and won it in the ninth to complete the biggest road comeback win in playoff history and the largest comeback victory to clinch a postseason series.
The Cardinals lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Right-hander Alek Manoah (16-7, 2.24 ERA) will start for Toronto on Thursday.
"You can expect him to be up to the task," Blue Jays manager John Schneider said.
"Alek has shown he loves big games. A lot went into it. We have a lot of really good pitchers. He separated himself a little bit last year and even into this year after a huge workload."
Manoah, who has never faced the Cardinals, leads a rotation that includes Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi.
The Cardinals will start right-hander Miles Mikolas (12-13, 3.29). He is 0-0 with a 4.05 ERA in one career start against Toronto.
Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Jake Woodford and Steven Matz make up the rest of the Cardinals rotation.
The Cardinals had planned to start Adam Wainwright, 41, on Opening Day, but he suffered a strained groin during a pregame warmup before Team USA's loss to Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
"I think everybody knows what Jack Flaherty is capable of, and everyone knows what Miles Mikolas is capable of, but I don't think they know quite how great Miles is yet," Wainwright said. "I don't think people know about our two big lefties (Matz and Montgomery) and how good those guys could be."
The Blue Jays tried to improve their pitching and defense in the offseason and also focus on the team's attention to detail and professionalism.
Former major league manager and New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly was added as bench coach.
Outfielders Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are gone, with outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho replacing them that should improve the defense. First baseman/DH Brandon Belt, Bassitt and reliever Erik Swanson also were added.
The Cardinals did not make many changes, feeling the talent is there to contend.
National League MVP Award winner Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado will be joined in the lineup by new catcher Willson Contreras and 20-year-old slugger Jordan Walker. They feel they have depth in the rotation and the bullpen.
"We're betting big on our guys," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "We think we have enough talent in the (clubhouse) to win, and we're about to find out."
Tyler O'Neill, a Gold Glove winner twice in left field, and Lars Nootbaar will continue to compete for the job in center field. "I think (O'Neill in center) would be our best-case scenario of how it would work out," Marmol said.
--Field Level Media