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Outlook: Weaver amongst the best AL pitchers in '12

It is both presumptuous and preposterous to say it, but let's just go ahead and say it:

Opening Day between the Reds and Angels -- which takes place at 4:10 p.m. ET Monday at Great American Ball Park -- could be a preview of the World Series.

Now, this is crazy for two reasons, the first being that, until 2013, such a statement wasn't even a possibility. An Interleague series on Opening Day was unnecessary and, therefore, uninvited. But with the balance of two, 15-team leagues comes both the inconvenience and the entertainment of an Interleague series sprinkled into schedules year-round.

"It's going to be a little bit different," said Angels starter Jered Weaver, "having to grab a bat and knowing when you're coming up in the lineup. It's going to be a different experience for everybody, but I'm sure it will be a fun experience."

The other reason it is crazy to make such a proclamation before the season's first pitch is that none of us is smart enough to know how the next six months play out and what injuries or oddities are on the horizon for these or the other 28 clubs.

But as we sit here today, there is little question that the Reds and Angels have assembled two of the Major Leagues' most talented rosters.

And so, the inherent strangeness of Interleague on Opening Day is accompanied by the inherent intrigue of two well-regarded clubs competing.

"[The Angels] have an outstanding team, especially on paper," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "But you've got to go score the runs and make the outs. We'll see what happens. I'm as confident with our team as you could be. We expect a high level of execution and preparation out of ourselves, and then we just go play the games."

The 2012 Angels are a perfect example of expectations gone awry, as the first year of the Albert Pujols Era ended without an invitation to October.

So what did the Angels do when they fell short with two of the best hitters in baseball in Pujols and rookie sensation Mike Trout? Easy. They signed another one of the best hitters in baseball. Opening Day could give us our first real look at the Pujols-Josh Hamilton pairing in the middle of the Halos' order, but only if Pujols' body cooperates.

Pujols' Spring Training timetable was slowed by offseason knee surgery and plantar fasciitis, limiting his play in the field. Under ordinary circumstances, he'd probably take advantage of the designated hitter slot in these initial days of the season. Obviously, though, that won't be a possibility at Great American Ball Park.

Still, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said operating under NL rules for the first three games of the season doesn't bother him.

"Somebody has to do it," Scioscia said. "I was probably more irritated with our first Spring Training game being split-squad. Interleague is Interleague. It's going to be there. We have to play those games. A split-squad the first day of spring took us three to four days to rebound from."

The Reds are trying to rebound from their collapse in the NL Division Series last year. They were a win away from sweeping the Giants, only to lose three straight at home. The sting of that frustrating finish has given the Reds a greater appreciation for what it takes to go the distance.

"I think we did a lot of learning," said Joey Votto, who is back at full strength after knee surgery slowed him in September and October last year. "Ultimately, this game is a very humbling game, and if we don't turn the page on it and forget about it, we're going to find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs."

Losing Johnny Cueto to an oblique injury just eight pitches into the postseason certainly didn't help the Reds, but having Cueto back at full strength for this Opening Day start is good for the soul.

The Reds also addressed their primary weakness -- a low on-base percentage from the leadoff spot -- by acquiring the Indians' Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade. Choo not only has the patience to draw a walk, but the power to ignite an inning with a single swing.

Of course, no leadoff hitter is as big a game-changer as Trout, whose sophomore effort is going to be one of the most intriguing storylines in the big leagues this year. Trout's 2012 accomplishments -- .326 average, .963 OPS, 49 stolen bases, 30 homers, 83 RBIs, second in the MVP voting -- made for perhaps the best rookie season in history. Monday marks the entry to his encore.

So subplots abound in 2013's opening act, which could very well prove to be a preview of bigger things to come. The Reds and Angels, though, are firmly focused on the present, and the present calls for an important Interleague matchup.

"I point out to my team every year that [Interleague] is at least 10 percent of your schedule," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's huge. Those games can be the difference between going to the playoffs or not."

Angels: Hamilton back where it began

Much will be made of Hamilton's return to Arlington later in the week, when he faces the Rangers team he spurned in free agency, in the building where he became an MVP and in the uniform of Texas' biggest rival.

But first, it will be a different sort of homecoming for Hamilton in Cincinnati, where he'll face, for the first time, the Reds team that picked him up in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, setting off one of baseball's greatest comeback stories.

Hamilton played one season with the Reds, batting .292 with a .922 OPS, 19 homers and 47 RBI in 90 games in 2007. He was then traded to Texas for Edinson Volquez (since flipped in the Mat Latos deal) and Danny Herrera.

"I'm a little anxious to see how Cincinnati responds," Hamilton said. "I mean everybody I've always talked to, as far as fans from Cincinnati, it's, 'We wish you were still there.' And then I say, 'You guys traded me.' I just think it's cool. It's a cool baseball city."

Hamilton had 11 homers and a .617 slugging percentage at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

Reds: Chapman back where he began, too

After another spring flirtation with a rotation role, Aroldis Chapman is back in the closer role for Cincinnati, looking to build on a sensational 2012 in which he saved 38 games, allowed just 12 earned runs in 71 2/3 innings and struck out 15.3 batters per nine innings.

If Chapman faces the Angels, neither side has much familiarity to work with. In his big league career, Chapman has faced just one member of the Angels' regular lineup.

Of course, that's where it gets interesting. That one player is Albert Pujols, who is 1-for-2 off Chapman. And that one hit was a home run -- one of only six Chapman has allowed over the course of 534 plate appearances against. The home run came on July 15, 2011, in a game the Reds would go on to win on a Brandon Phillips homer in the bottom of the ninth.

Worth noting:
• The 94th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade will begin at noon, with Reds Hall of Famer George Foster serving as grand marshal.

• Joe Torre, fresh off his stint as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and Cincinnati firefighter John Winfrey will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

• The Angels and Reds have played each other in just two previous Interleague series, with the Angels winning four of the six games. Cueto has never faced the Angels, and Weaver has never faced the Reds.

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