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Masterson is excited to be starting Opening Day

Let's leave the summation of the feelings in the Blue Jays' and Indians' clubhouses to Toronto ace Ricky Romero.

"Honestly," Romero said, "I'm sick of going home in October, and I think those guys are, too."

And so the Blue Jays and Tribe enter their Opening Day clash at Cleveland's Progressive Field on Thursday afternoon in a similar circumstance. Coming off a year in which they finished in the neighborhood of .500 (the Blue Jays an even 81-81, the Indians 80-82), they both have high hopes in daunting divisions.

They're daunting, of course, because both clubs have payroll powerhouses above them in the perceived pecking order. For the Indians, it's the Detroit Tigers, who ran away with the AL Central by 15 games last season then doled out $214 million for the power-hitting Prince Fielder. They are just about everybody's pick to click in the Central in 2012.

And for the Blue Jays, the demands of the division are an annual botheration, what with the Yankees and Red Sox threatening or topping the limits of the luxury tax. Add in the establishment of the wily Rays as a regular contender, and the East looks all the more alarming.

Yet the Blue Jays and Indians both know, in their heart of hearts, that if their lineups reach their potential, if their rotations pan out as planned and, yes, if a few balls bounce their way, they can exceed the external expectations placed upon them.

They can become an October factor.

"The additional Wild Card this year, it's an extra opening," Tribe closer Chris Perez said. "We can't just get caught up with Detroit. We need to play our best ball and see where we stand when we head into September for that stretch run."

But it all starts with April, and the Indians know first-hand how beneficial a strong start can be. They shocked the baseball world by going 30-15 out the gates last year, and that early sprint allowed them to remain a factor in the standings as the year evolved and injuries whittled down their lineup.

Already, injuries are a factor for the Indians this year. They re-signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year deal, then almost immediately saw him suffer a back injury that will keep him out for much of the first half. Perez was slowed in Spring Training by a strained oblique, and newly acquired veteran Derek Lowe (back spasms) and fifth starter Jeanmar Gomez (right hip) both left their final Cactus League appearances early because of injury.

"Whatever happens injury-wise, you can't control it," manager Manny Acta said. "Again, it goes back to, if two of the main guys go down, where do we go from there? Is it going to be enough? I feel that if Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner -- just to mention the middle of the order of our guys -- are healthy, I think our offense will be enough. But that hasn't been the case for the last two years."

The Blue Jays are equally confident in their bats, if healthy, and that all starts with having one of the best hitters in the game in Jose Bautista. Now they have third baseman Brett Lawrie, one of the game's more tantalizing young talents, on board for a full season, and if center fielder Colby Rasmus, a midseason acquisition from the Cardinals last summer, reaches what some once deemed to be superstar potential, they'll be all the more loaded in the lineup.

"You take the fifth-most productive team in the AL [last year]," said manager John Farrell, "and you put some natural progression to it with some really good additions, yeah, I think there's the real possibility and the likelihood that we take a step forward from that."

Where the Blue Jays and Indians undoubtedly need to take a step forward is in the rotation. There is little concern with the two men taking the mound in the opener. Romero, with a sub-3.00 ERA last season and two straight seasons with 210 innings or more, has established himself atop the Blue Jays' rotation. Masterson, with a breakthrough 2011 in which he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA and 216 innings, has done the same for the Tribe.

But the difference between advancing to October and sitting at home could be the performance of the rotation beyond those two. Last year, the Blue Jays and Indians ranked ninth and 10th, respectively, in the 14-team AL in starters' innings pitched, so both clubs are looking for more, in terms of quantity and quality.

You won't find either of these clubs atop many -- if any -- preseason predictions in their respective divisions. Regardless, there is confidence in each clubhouse that the young cores put in place are ready to contend.

"I think we see the talent around, we see the young guys, the way they carry themselves ... and we believe," Romero said. "We feel like nothing is going to get in our way."

That's the feeling the Blue Jays and Tribe will have to take into a season in which many are counting them out from the start.

"It's no secret we're going to need some help," Perez said. "We're going to need some luck to go our way and catch teams when they're not playing well and take advantage of that, and maybe get some injury news that's nice for once -- get some contributions from guys that you're not expecting, and we need the Tigers to take a couple steps back."

Indeed, the needs for the season at large are many, for both clubs. But come Thursday, the need will be distinct and direct: Start strong in April, and take that first step toward October.

Indians: The trauma of training

Count the Indians among the teams particularly pleased to see spring camp come to a close.

The Sizemore injury got the Tribe's spring off to an unpleasant start, and the added injury issues and 7-22 record in Cactus League play added to the odiousness of the occasion.

A bad omen of things to come in 2012?

"I'm not worried," Perez said. "It's not like we have a team full of rookies who might be nervous about Opening Day or not knowing that the season is going to encompass. We have guys that are going into their fifth, sixth, seventh seasons. Some guys are going into their 15th or 16th year. We've got guys that can fall back on some sort of experience."

Blue Jays: Three keys?

Rasmus, Adam Lind and Kelly Johnson all have the potential to be premier bats at their positions, but last season they hit a combined .232.

So when the Blue Jays talk about the upside in their lineup, a great deal of it revolves around that trio.

But general manager Alex Anthopoulos stops short of calling them keys to the season ahead.

"We don't need them to have career years," Anthopoulos said. "We just need them to perform to their abilities and be solid. If they can be great, even better for us. There's no question they didn't play as well as they're capable of last year, they'd all tell you that. They're all capable of more, and that's the performance risk in our team. That being said, the exciting part is that they're capable of being a lot more than good. They can be well above average at each of their spots, but even if they're just average at their position we're going to have a very deep team."

Worth noting: The Indians and Blue Jays haven't met in the first game of the season since 1987. The Blue Jays won, 7-3, with Pat Tabler going deep and Jimmy Key picking up the win. ... One can only hope these two clubs aren't in for a repeat of the last time they met in an Indians home opener. In 2009, a three-hour, 47-minute rain delay dictated that a game that began in the 3 p.m. ET hour didn't end until 11:20 p.m. The Blue Jays won that one, 13-7. ... The Tribe and Blue Jays met seven times last season, with the Blue Jays winning four of those meetings. The two clubs are dead even in all-time matchups against each other, with both clubs posting 186 wins. Comments