Opening Day: What to watch for in MLB's first full day of the season
At last, it's here: The first full day of the MLB season. March 31 brings us 13 games and 26 teams in action (minus the Dodgers, Padres, Yankees and Astros) over nine consecutive hours of baseball. But don't feel overwhelmed. Below, you can find a quick guide to every game, including pitching matchups, hitters to watch and other fun facts and stats to make your Opening Day that much better.
All times ET where listed.
What to know for Chicago: It's the second straight Opening Day start for Samardzija, who had a 1-3 record in five starts and 33 innings against the Pirates last season. But don't blame him for that: Samardzija allowed just 11 runs and struck out 34 in those five appearances, including an eight-inning shutout performance against Pittsburgh on Opening Day last year. Instead, blame Chicago's offense, which managed just nine runs in those five games. Against Liriano, Anthony Rizzo (.393 OPS against) and Starlin Castro (.446) haven't had any success.
What to know for Pittsburgh: The Pirates' lineup hasn't had much success against Samardzija, with only Andrew McCutchen (.983 OPS) and Neil Walker (.911) boasting good results vs. the Cubs' right-hander. Liriano ruins lefthanders (.131/.175/.146 line in 138 plate appearances vs. lefties last season), which likely means Opening Day starts for Darwin Barney at second base, Justin Ruggiano in either center or right, and either Emilio Bonifacio or Mike Olt at third base.
What to know for Detroit: Make it seven straight Opening Day starts for Verlander, but the first day of the season hasn't always been a fun one for him. In his previous six Opening Day starts, Verlander's given up three or more runs four times. His last two Opening Day turns have been better—13 combined shutout innings with 14 strikeouts against Boston in 2012 and Minnesota last year.
What to know for Kansas City: Billy Butler may be the key for Kansas City's offense on Opening Day, as he's a career .441 hitter against Verlander, with eight walks to nine strikeouts. Shields, meanwhile, gets his first Opening Day nod as a Royal. Shields was a better pitcher away from Kansas City last season (2.07 ERA vs. 4.37) but the Tigers beat him up to the tune of a 4.96 ERA in five starts.
Starters: RHP Stephen Strasburg (8-9, 3.00) vs. RHP Dillon Gee (12-11, 3.62)
What to know for Washington: Strasburg gets his third straight Opening Day start for the Nationals. Last year, he threw seven shutout innings against Miami. Strasburg made just one start against the Mets last season, but has a career 1.88 ERA against them in 24 innings over four starts. No Met has more than 12 plate appearances against Strasburg, but Ike Davis has four hits in his 11 at-bats, including two homers.
What to know for New York: Gee makes his first-ever Opening Day start, and Citi Field treated him well last year, with a 2.75 ERA in 95 innings. He also had good results against the Nationals in 2013, recording a 2.72 ERA over six starts and 39 2/3 innings. He has Ryan Zimerman's number in particular, holding the third baseman to a .544 OPS against in 33 career plate appearances.
What to know for Texas: It's not just Tanner Scheppers' first career Opening Day start; it's his first career start ever. Only two pitchers in the last 70 years have ever made their first career start on the season's first day: Preacher Roe for Pittsburgh in 1944 and Fernando Valenzuela for Los Angeles in 1981. As a reliever, the right-handed Scheppers boasted no discernible platoon split, which is good news against a predominantly left-handed Phillies lineup.
What to know for Philadelphia: Lee gets his first Opening Day start as a Phillie and first since 2009 for Cleveland. In doing so, he'll face the team he helped get to the 2010 World Series and against whom he owns a 4.91 ERA in 69 2/3 innings, though he hasn't pitched against them since May 21, 2011. Lee is bad news for Adrian Beltre, who has posted a measly .125/.152/.219 line in 33 plate appearances against him. But Prince Fielder has managed six hits in eight at-bats with three extra-base hits.
What to know for Atlanta: Teheran gets his first Opening Day assignment. Milwaukee's heavily right-handed lineup is good news for Teheran, who held same-siders to a .580 OPS in 393 plate appearances last season. He'll also have the advantage of unfamiliarity on his side, as no Brewer has more than three career PAs against Teheran. Atlanta's lineup will be almost identical to last year's Opening Day, with Evan Gattis replacing Gerald Laird behind the dish.
What to know for Milwaukee: Gallardo draws his fifth straight Opening Day start. He's handcuffed Dan Uggla in 19 career plate appearances (.485 OPS) but has had a harder time with Justin Upton (.783 OPS). Teheran on the mound means left-handed Lyle Overbay at first base, and though he has a career .815 OPS against right-handers, that slipped to .748 last season. Jean Segura (shoulder injury) will start, but he managed only a .716 OPS against righties last year.
What to know for Boston: This will be Boston's third Opening Day as defending champion in the last 10 years. The Red Sox lost the 2005 season opener to the Yankees and beat the A's in the 2008 season opener in Japan. Jon Lester will make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start against an Orioles franchise he knows well. The left-hander boasts a 15-3 mark against Baltimore with a 2.94 ERA in 156 1/3 career innings. Opening Day also marks the first game for Grady Sizemore since September 2011, as the veteran won Boston's starting centerfield job.
What to know for Baltimore: Chris Tillman gets his first-ever Opening Day start against a team he liked to face last year. In six starts and 37 1/3 innings vs. Boston, Tillman struck out 37 and allowed just 11 earned runs. Nelson Cruz will be a welcome addition to Baltimore's lineup against Lester, as he boasts a .455/.500/.909 line with two homers in 24 PAs. Nick Markakis is less of a fan of Lester, with a .619 OPS against the lefty in 71 career PAs.
What to know for Minnesota: Nolasco earns his second straight Opening Day start, third overall, and his first for Minnesota. But he's been beat up in those last two starts, with seven runs allowed in 12 innings. He's faced the White Sox just twice in his career, and only two Chicago players have more than 10 plate appearances against him—Adam Dunn (28) and Jeff Keppinger (14).
What to know for Chicago: Sale makes his second consecutive Opening Day start as well. He got roughed up in two starts against Minnesota last year, allowing seven runs in 12 innings despite 13 strikeouts. Sale is death on left-handers (.360 OPS against last year), so Minnesota's nearly all-right-handed lineup will be a good initial test for him. He's handled the Twins' top two hitters, however, limiting Joe Mauer to a .649 OPS and Josh Willingham to a .498 mark in 19 career PAs for each. This will be the final Opening Day game for Paul Konerko, the first for Cuban import Jose Abreu, and the first career start for top prospect Marcus Semien at second base in place of the injured Gordon Beckham.
What to know for St. Louis: Wainwright will make his third Opening Day start and second straight, but he's yet to pick up a win on the season's first day. He also had little to no success against Cincinnati last year, going 1-3 in 22 innings with a 7.77 ERA. There's been a fair amount of turnover for St. Louis, with the Cardinals having new starters at six of eight field positions, including St. Louis debuts for Peter Bourjos (center) and Jhonny Peralta (shortstop). Jon Jay has the best career numbers against Cueto (1.452 OPS and three homers in 23 PAs), but Bourjos' arrival pushes him to the bench.
What to know for Cincinnati: Cueto gets his third straight Opening Day start, but injury issues kept him from making a start against St. Louis in 2013. Not that he missed them: The Cardinals have hit Cueto to the tune of a 4.66 ERA in 83 career innings, including just 39 strikeouts. Jay Bruce has hit Wainwright well in his career, with a .393/.452/.679 line in 31 career PAs, but Joey Votto has struggled to the tune of a .530 OPS in 30 PAs. The Reds need a good start from Cueto, with injuries leaving the bullpen a shell of itself. Cincinnati is without top relievers Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton to start the year.
What to know for Toronto: A hamstring strain nearly kept Jose Reyes from the Opening Day lineup, but he should be in there against Price. It's a second straight Opening Day start for Dickey, who has had success against Tampa (2.91 ERA vs. the Rays in 2013 in 43 1/3 innings) and at Tropicana Field (2.79 ERA in 42 innings with two homers allowed and two complete games). Toronto will be without closer Casey Janssen for Opening Day and beyond, as he was placed on the disabled list with an abdominal strain on Sunday. Jose Bautista has crushed Price in their matchups, with a .342/.435/.789 line in 43 career plate appearances, including five homers.
What to know for Tampa Bay: Price's third Opening Day start is his second such in a row. Price handcuffed lefthanders last year, holding them to a .189/.227/.262 line. That's bad news for Adam Lind (.573 OPS vs. LHP in 2013), Colby Rasmus (.712), Reyes (.705) and Melky Cabrera (.595). No Ray with double-digit plate appearances against Dickey in his career has mustered better than a .775 OPS. That belongs to Ben Zobrist, who has hit .227/.320/.455 vs. Dickey in 25 PAs. James Loney (.530 OPS) and Matt Joyce (.599) have had particular trouble with the knuckleball.
What to know for Colorado: The matchup to watch will be Jorge De La Rosa, who was far better against left-handers (.510 OPS against) than righties (.770) in 2013, against Giancarlo Stanton (1.006 OPS vs. LHP in 2013). With Dexter Fowler now in Houston, the starting centerfield job and leadoff spot goes to Corey Dickerson, who hit .263/.316/.459 in limited time in 2013.
What to know for Miami: At 21, Fernandez is the youngest player since Felix Hernandez (20) in 2007 to get an Opening Day start. He's also the first pitcher to start on Opening Day the year after winning the Rookie of the Year award since Dwight Gooden did it for the Mets in 1985. With De La Rosa on the mound, Jeff Baker will get the nod at second base. He has five hits, two for extra-bases, in 12 at-bats against De La Rosa in his career.
What to know for San Francisco: Marco Scutaro's back injury means the Giants will likely go with some combination of Joaquin Arias and rookie Ehire Adiranza at second base, and Hunter Pence hitting second overall. The Diamondbacks' righty-heavy lineup in Arizona will be a test for Bumgarner, who was worse (albeit not bad) against right-handers and on the road in 2013. That said, Bumgarner dominated the Diamondbacks last season, allowing just five earned runs in 32 1/3 innings and striking out 28.
What to know for Arizona: Patrick Corbin's injury and the Australia series means that McCarthy gets the ball for Opening Day, his first such assignment since 2012 for Oakland. McCarthy was a much better pitcher at Chase Field than away last year (3.79 ERA in 80 2/3 innings vs. 5.63 in 54 1/3 on the road). Pence has been big trouble for McCarthy in his career, with seven hits in 13 at-bats versus the righty. Chris Owings gets the starting nod at shortstop with Didi Gregorious now in Triple-A; the rookie hit .291 in 20 games with the D-backs last year.
Starters: RHP Felix Hernandez (12-10, 3.04) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (11-8, 3.27)
What to know for Seattle: Hernandez gets his seventh Opening Day start, sixth straight, making him the franchise leader in that category. Beyond Hernandez, only three other Mariners who were in Seattle's 2013 Opening Day lineup will be there for 2014: Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager. A fourth, Michael Saunders, may get the nod in centerfield over rookie Abraham Almonte. Monday is, of course, Robinson Cano's debut as a Mariner as well. He has a career .861 OPS against the Angels and a career .309/.350/.487 line in Safeco.
What to know for Los Angeles: Like Hernandez, Weaver will set a record when he takes the mound. Monday will be his sixth Opening Day start, fifth consecutive, breaking the franchise record held by Bobby Witt. Weaver has had some trouble with Cano in the past, with the second baseman picking up 12 hits in 32 career at-bats against, albeit just one for extra bases. Opening Day also provides a battle between the game's best player in Mike Trout and one of its best pitchers in Hernandez. So far in their matchups, Trout has gotten the better of Hernandez, hitting .395/.405/.632 in 42 plate appearances.
What to know for Oakland: Gray's first career Opening Day start is also his first appearance against the Indians. Gray will face a predominantly left-handed Cleveland lineup, with all but one of the Indians' projected starters a southpaw or switch-hitter. Oakland, too, has a lefty-heavy lineup, but Yoenis Cespedes could be in for a long day against Masterson. Cespedes' OPS against RHP in his career is 100 points lower than his OPS vs. LHP and was a measly .672 last season. Masterson, meanwhile, held right-handers to a miniscule .182/.267/.240 line in 309 PAs. That said, Cespedes does have five hits in 14 career at-bats against Masterson. What to know for Cleveland: Masterson becomes the first Indians starter to get three straight Opening Day starts since CC Sabathia did it from 2006 to 2008. But he's struggled in his career against Oakland's current lineup, with Cespedes, Coco Crisp, John Jaso, Daric Barton and Brandon Moss all hitting him well. Nyjer Morgan will get the start for the Indians in center with Michael Bourn on the disabled list, making it his first MLB game since Oct. 3, 2012 when he was with Milwaukee. It'll also be the first big league start for Carlos Santana at third base, with Yan Gomes now taking over as the primary catcher.