And they're off

Jack McDowell
Yahoo! Sports

Well, here we go again. The first week of the season will fly by and likely not be remembered unless something extraordinary unfolds. However, the first week also can reveal some telling signs of what's to come.

As far as pitchers go, I've got my eye on five early this season: Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Curt Schilling. Starters on playoff hopefuls know they will have high expectations placed on them and, to makes things more challenging, these five will be learning the ways of a new league as well. Actually, Schilling and Brown are returning to the AL, but plenty of time has passed since their last go-around.

No matter how solid each of these five is, a lot of weight is going to be placed on his shoulders.

Here's a look at their first scheduled starts:

• Schilling: at Baltimore, Tuesday, 3:05 p.m. ET
• Pettitte: vs. San Francisco, Tuesday, 8:05 p.m. ET
• Brown: at Tampa Bay, Wednesday, 4:15 p.m. ET; defeated Tampa Bay 12-1, March 31
• Clemens: vs. San Francisco, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. ET
• Vazquez: vs. Chicago White Sox, Thursday, 1:05 p.m. ET

Kevin Brown's first start for the New York Yankees was dominating, and he will be back to do it again on Wednesday. If he can keep it up early on, Brown could be 2-0 before many starters have even thrown a pitch.

We also get to see Javier Vazquez open 2004 at Yankee Stadium. Mike Mussina struggled in his first outing but will be fine. In the end, Brown and Vazquez are the keys to the Yankees this year.

An early peek at the Yanks and Red Sox is at the top of many fans' lists this season. They first play each other on April 16, a rare Friday night FOX game. Red Sox fans already are shaking their heads at having to start the season without Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra. Once again, however, the key lies in the arms of the Red Sox starters – and Boston fans hope to see Pedro Martinez and Schilling dominate early and often. Martinez lost his opening start on Sunday at the Baltimore Orioles.

In Chicago, the Cubs are without Mark Prior until at least May 1. One month is only five starts for Prior, but that could be five wins the Cubs may have to find elsewhere. If the Houston Astros can live up to their billing, they might build an early lead in the NL Central. They open against the San Francisco Giants, with Pettitte and Clemens starting after Roy Oswalt takes the hill in the opener.

Down in San Diego, the Padres have a combination of quality veterans and young potential that could make for an interesting mix, but can they live up to growing expectations? They open at Los Angeles before unveiling Petco Park in a three-game series against the Giants that begins Thursday.

We can expect that there will be a surprising team or two this year – there always is. And when the first week of play is said and done, we might get some insight into who will be this year's Kansas City Royals.

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