It all starts today. While the weather in early April may cause some games to be postponed, all teams should play on the first day of the MLB season – that’s how it should be every season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers begin their quest for history. They are trying to become the first team since the New York Yankees in 2000 to win back-to-back World Series titles. Behind a solid starting rotation, they might even have a chance at a record 116 wins in a single season – their pace of 162 games since 2020 equals …. 116 wins. Then they added Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer.
We return to our normal schedule of 162 games and a playoff format of 10 games. Winning the division and avoiding the wildcard will be a priority. On the field, the biggest challenge for teams will be getting their pitchers to last the entire season as their workload increases due to the short 2020 schedule. Many in the industry believe the 2021 season will be a war of attrition. Stay healthy and you have a chance. There are new rules that will remain in effect starting in 2020 (such as starting a runner at second base in extra innings) and old rules that will return starting in 2019 (the pitcher’s throw).
As Yankees starter Gerrit Cole said Wednesday about the opener: It is always a special day because there are so many different emotions. Everyone is tired from spring training, ready for opening day. Lots of hope, lots of excitement, lots of projections, lots of baseball ahead. They just want the door to open. It’s a great day, but it’s the first of many.
But it won’t be completely normal, at least not yet. The fans are back at the stadium, albeit with limited capacity to start the season (the Rangers will allow their full home opener, but will then distribute the socially dispersed seats). At the Washington state championships, five players were not retained by the New York Mets after one tested positive for KOVID-19 and four others were quarantined for contact tracing – a reminder that we are far from free from the pandemic.
We have a lot of time to figure this out. For now, let’s enjoy the first day of the season. Look at the 15 games:
Get in the game:
TOR-NYY: CLE-DET: BALL-BOS(PPD)
MIN-MIL: PIT-CHC: ATL-PHI 19 ARI-SD: LAD-COL: STL-CIN
TB-MIA: TEX-KC: NYM-WAS
CHW-LAA: HOU-OAK: SF-SEA
Biggest Storyline: The American League East favorite against a team that has improved to take a shot at the top. Cy Young’s two opponents. Two strong teams. Yankee Stadium on opening day (although it won’t be full). Excellent start to the season.
Key number : Since acquiring Giancarlo Stanton in 2018, the Yankees are 88-47 when Stanton and Aaron Judge are in the starting lineup – 106 wins in 162 games.
Opening week is here! You can follow the start of the 2021 season on Thursday with ESPN’s Opening Night lineup, full of the biggest names and best teams in baseball.
13:00 AND : Blue Jays v Yankees
3 p.m. AND (ESPN+) : Braves v. Phillies
4:00 ET: Dodgers v. Rockies
7:00 PM ET: Meat on Nationals
22h ET: Astros to A.
Despite all the legitimate concerns about the durability and results of new rotation members Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, it’s important to remember that the Yankees’ offense is absolutely potent – if everyone stays healthy. Last season, they led the AL in runs per game, although Stanton and Judge only participated in 51 games in a 60-game season, while Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez struggled. They are missing major league home run leader Luke Voit, who starts the season on the injured list after knee surgery. If there is one team that can challenge the Yankees for the best offense in the AL, it’s the Blue Jays, with newcomers George Springer (who will miss the opener with an injury to his shin) and Marcus Semien, as well as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who is on the verge of a big breakthrough.
Prediction: Both starters dominate and we’ll see how the bullpen holds up. The Yankees get back to 4-2 with two late runs.
Biggest Storyline: Shane Bieber begins the defense of his Cy Young Award. In his career, he has made six starts against the Tigers and allowed no runs in three of them. On the Detroit side, manager A.J. Hinch returns to the bench after serving his 2020 suspension for his role in the Astros’ autograph theft scandal.
Key number : Cleveland is 65-20 against Detroit over the past five seasons, including an 18-1 record in 2019.
After going 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and a .167 average, the question is not whether Bieber can improve – that’s virtually impossible – but whether he can come close after 32 starts and over 200 innings. His strikeout rate went from 24.3% as a rookie to 30.2% to a ridiculous 41.1% in 2020. That’s my Al Cy Young.
Prediction: Bieber pitched seven scoreless innings. Cleveland wins 5-1.
Biggest Storyline: We’ll have to wait another day to see the Red Sox after weather in Boston forced a postponement to Friday. After a disastrous 2020, will a few small steps drastically change the earnings column?
Key number : In 2020, the Red Sox allowed 5.85 runs per game, the highest number in franchise history since 1932.
After 16 starts in 60 games – including big names like Robinson Leier, Matt Hall, Josh Osich and Mike Kickham – the Red Sox are just hoping for stability and that Chris Sale will make a big impact when he returns. This plan is not a good start, as the Red Sox had to forgo Eduardo Rodriguez as their Opening Day starter due to a dead arm. Their most likely path to the playoffs will require the forwards to carry the load, which means significantly better seasons from J.J. Martinez and Rafael Devers, and quality production from rookies Hunter Renfro and Enrique Hernandez.
Prediction: John Means, the Orioles’ only reliable starter in otherwise lousy drafts, put a damper on Friday’s first game at Fenway with a nice outing and a 6-3 win for the Orioles.
Biggest Storyline: Which Christian Yelich will we see in 2021?
Key number : Yelich finished fourth in the wRC+ in the majors in 2018 and second in 2019 …. Then it dropped to 70th place in 2020.
I love, love, love this pitching contest. Kenta Maeda finished second in the 2020 Cy Young voting and probably had the best spring training of any starter in the majors. One thing that will create a comfort level for all Twins pitchers: Byron Buxton hits to center field, Andrelton Simmons to shortstop. If these two stay healthy, which has been a problem for them, Minnesota’s defense will be huge. Brandon Woodruff throws harder than any other starter in baseball and is considered a safe bet for the Cy Young.
Prediction: Maeda stays hot, and Buxton denies a home run and hits it, the Twins head home with a 2-1 victory.
Biggest Storyline: The one-year Cubs enter their final round together, a storyline that will hang over the team all season. Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant will be free agents next winter, as will one-year players the Cubs drafted, such as Joc Pederson and Zach Davis.
Key number : Rizzo, Baez, and Bryant are hitting just .210 in 2020.
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Statistical predictions: 118 wins for LA?
The Cubs will be one of the most exciting stories of 2020, in a season that new president of baseball affairs Jed Hoyer says will be a little more forward-looking than usual. They have sold Yu Darvish, and many expect that some or all of the upcoming free agents will be sold during the season, leading to a possible conundrum about what the Cubs will do when they enter the heat of the National League Central in July.
Prediction: Pederson continued his hot spring with two home runs: Rizzo and Baez one each and the Cubs 9-2.
Biggest Storyline: Is this the year of Ronald Akuna Jr? Do you remember Bryce Harper?
Key number : The Phillies have never finished above .500 in their last nine seasons.
It’s hard to believe, but the Phillies now have the second longest playoff drought in the majors, only Seattle has a longer one. The Braves and Mets are the unanimous favorites in the East, but the Phillies certainly have the talent to make a run. The key will be the bullpen, which posted a 6.92 ERA in 2020, the second worst mark in MLB history.
Only the Dodgers led in more games than the Phillies in 2020, but the Pens went 9-14 and missed 13 saves. Jose Alvarado, Archie Bradley, Brandon Kinzler and the tenacious Sam Coonrod are the new key arms in addition to Vince Velasquez, who moves from the rotation to the bullpen. Phillies get tested early: Their first 16 games are against the Braves (6), Mets (7) and Cardinals (3).
Prediction: We actually seem to have more good pitchers on opening day than usual. It’s another one. Both teams must determine their running order. Harper, who had five career home runs on Opening Day, hit one and Aaron Nola hit six … but the bullpen beat him to it and the Braves won 6-5.
Biggest Storyline: Yu Darvish will make his debut for the Padres, but all eyes will be on Fernando Tatis Jr. who is getting a brand new contract for 14 years and $340 million.
Key number : Tatis is the only player in MLB history to hit at least 35 home runs and 25 steals in his first 150 games (he has 39 and 27 in 143 games). He turned 22 in January.
The Padres are the third favorite among bettors to win the World Series, but they should finish second in their own division. Can they break the Dodgers’ eight-year stranglehold on Northwestern? That statement will depend heavily on the performance of rookies in the Darvish and Blake Snell rotations, as well as the continued MVP caliber of Tatis and Manny Machado that we saw in 2020, and the offensive improvements of Eric Hosmer and Will Myers.
Prediction: Tatis hits 3-for-4 with a home run and stolen base, and Darvish fanned 11 times – the Padres win 6-2.
Biggest Storyline: The Dodgers begin their defense of the crown as Kershaw begins his ninth day as opener.
Key number : Including the postseason, the Dodgers have outscored their 2020 opponents by an average of 2.19 runs per game. This is the fourth-best mark in MLB history since 1903, just behind the Yankees of 1939 (2.71), 1927 (2.45) and 1936 (2.19).
How strong are the Dodgers after adding Trevor Bauer to their rotation? David Price and Tony Gonsolin will start the season in the bullpen. L.A.’s wins over/under 104.5 are tied with the 1999 Yankees for the most in 30 years. Those Yankees had 114 wins, and although they only won 98 games, they still won the World Series. Maybe the Dodgers have a lot of injuries and don’t even beat the Padres, although it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they don’t make the playoffs. Most likely, the league’s most experienced pitchers and best team will lead them to their ninth consecutive division title, if not their first World Series repeat in 21 years.
Prediction: Clayton Kershaw allowed eight runs and nine hits in 3.1 innings in his final spring start. He’s still struggling and German Marquez throws a 5-3 golf gem. This will be the only time this season the Dodgers are under .500.
Biggest Storyline: Nolan Arenado makes his debut for the Cardinals.
Key number : The Reds had a .212 average in 2020, the lowest average since 1910 when the White Sox hit .210. But the Cardinals actually had a team with a lesser OPS.
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It’s another match to be won between potential Cy Young rivals and an exciting one between two clubs coming out of spring training with some problems.
The Cardinals are a bit temperamental when it comes to shooting. Dakota Hudson is already out for the season after Tommy John surgery, and now Kwang Hyun Kim (back issues) and Myles Mikolas (shoulder issues) won’t be ready for the start of the season either. Carlos Martinez, whose last good year as a starter was 2017, is now in the rotation, and he hasn’t been great this spring.
The Reds, looking for a shortstop, have pulled third baseman Eugenio Suarez from spring training, and starters Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen are also out with hopefully minor injuries.
Prediction: Luis Castillo dominated with two hits in six innings, while Suarez hit a home run and fielded three routine runs. The Reds happily returned home with a 4-1 victory.
Biggest Storyline: The battle for Florida! The Rays begin their defense of the AL title. The Marlins are playing their first official game under new general manager Kim Ng.
Key number : Randy Arozarena had an OPS of 1,022 after his September call-up, then hit 10 home runs in 20 playoff games.
Following the Snell trade and the departure of Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow is one of the key players in 2021. The Rays really need him to dominate 30 starts, not just short stretches like we’ve seen. Similarly, Arozarena gives the Rays lineup a potential bat. They also have to deal with the loss of their top assistant, as Nick Anderson will be out for at least half the season with a partially torn elbow ligament. I don’t think the Rays will be the best team in Florida. The Marlins have a young and exciting rotation. It’s another team that will be tested in the first four series – the Rays, Cardinals, Mets and Braves.
Prediction: Glasnow retired 13 batters and Arozarena homered for a 7-3 Rays win.
Biggest Storyline: The underrated Brad Keller starts in what could be a solid rotation and a tough playoff opponent.
Key number : The Royals hope to get OPS from Jorge Soler (.922), Carlos Santana (.911), Hunter Dozier (.870) and Andrew Benintendi (.774) in 2019.
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If the Twins and White Sox stumble, and neither team may be considered a playoff lock, you could see a path to success for the Royals if the young starters in the rotation improve and the projected 2020 roster is expanded. Add a dose of Bobby Witt Jr. in the middle of the season, and this could be the surprise team of 2021. A quick start in April will be crucial. Thirteen of the Royals’ first 18 games will be at home, and then they’ll face off against likely division leaders Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Keller gets 16 ground balls in six innings, and Soler – on his way to another home run score – scores five runs with two home runs. Royals 8, Rangers 0.
Jeff Passan explains how Francisco Lindor can get a 10-year, $341 million extension with the Mets.
Biggest Storyline: Um, it’s Jacob deGrom against Max Scherzer, what more do you need? (Oh, just Francisco Lindor’s debut with the Mets after signing a 10-year contract the night before games).
Key number : Since DeGrom’s rookie season in 2014, he’s been the second-best pitcher in terms of WAR (36.6). Scherzer likes to point out that he is first (41.8).
This will be the seventh time deGrom and Scherzer will be NL East opponents, including a 2019 opener when deGrom threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, while Scherzer threw 12 strikeouts in 7⅔ innings but allowed two runs. The last two games have not been of the same caliber (one in 2020 and the other in September 2019), as both have allowed seven runs in 12 innings. Weather permitting… Stay away, the rain… I’m betting on a pitchers’ duel.
Prediction: It was 0-0 when Lindor hit a home run in the ninth in his Mets debut. That’s why you gave him $341 million!
Biggest Storyline: Tony La Russa takes over perhaps the most exciting team in the AL and plays against a team with two of perhaps the most exciting players in the AL, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Key stat: 51⅔ – that’s the number of innings Ohtani has pitched in 2018, the most in a season since 2016 in Japan.
Ohtani impressed in spring training with his electric performance at the plate (.552, five home runs) and flashes of brilliance on the mound, leading to talk of MVP. As exciting as it would be to see Ohtani succeed in both roles, as he did in the first two months of 2018, I’m skeptical about the pitching side of things. Yes, he pitched hard in spring training, but he also allowed 14 runs with 10 walks in 10⅓ innings. He just hasn’t shown he can always throw strikes since returning from his Tommy John surgery. If he struggles on the mound, it will be interesting to see how long Joe Maddon keeps him.
At the same time, the White Sox need to get Eloy Jimenez’s injury under control, which could mean playing Rookie of the Year Andrew Vaughn in left field.
Prediction: Ohtani goes for a yard, but it’s not enough to overcome Lucas Julito’s brilliance. Luis Robert backs him up with home runs and Nick Madrigal hits a three-run single to the opposite field. White Sox 5, Angels 1.
Biggest Storyline: This time with the fans! Will the Astros hear from Oakland fans? (A starts at 20% of the power, i.e. about 9400 fans).
Key number : The Astros led the league in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS in 2019. In 2020, they dropped to 20th, 16th, and 16th in those categories.
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Be prepared to fight. And he ended the Astros’ three-year run at the top of the AL West with their first division title since 2013 – only to lose to the Astros in the division series. The Astros lost outfielder George Springer in free agency and then threw Framer Valdez into spring training with a broken finger. However, he only played two games last year and then came back. The A’s lost shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendricks, but are hoping for a better offensive season from Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in the middle of the order. This is the first of 19 games that promise to be one of the best rivalries of the season.
Prediction: Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve signaled their comeback with two hits, including a home run. The Astros lost 9-8.
Biggest Storyline: Jarred Kelenisch, no. 3 Kylie McDaniel, is not on Seattle’s opening day roster, but Taylor Trammell, No. 84, earned the job with a good spring.
Key number: 20 is the number of years since the Mariners last made it to the postseason.
The Giants and Mariners are in a similar situation. They don’t have a tank like the Orioles or Pirates, but it would take almost anything to make those two clubs interesting. That’s more likely in Seattle’s case, since the M’s aren’t in a division with the Dodgers and Padres. If they are not equal, they are in a recovery cycle. The Mariners have several young players who are on the cusp of maturity – not only Kelenic, but starter Logan Gilbert and outfielder Julio Rodriguez, as well as Gold Glove winners J.P. Crawford and Evan White, have already made it to major league teams, while the Giants will again have one of the oldest teams in the league.
Prediction: Gonzalez’s underrated pitching looked like midseason with seven good innings, and the 2021 baseball champion Ty France walked with three hits. Mariners 4, Giants 3.
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