Monday will be more than just another Opening Day: It will be the busiest Opening Day in major league history. For the first time ever, 28 teams—all but Sunday night’s combatants, the Cardinals and the Cubs—are scheduled to begin their seasons on the same day. This marks only the third time since baseball expanded to 30 teams in 1998 that every club will debut within a two-day span. The last time that happened was 2011, when 12 teams opened on a Thursday and the other 18 debuted on Friday.
What’s more, due in part to the NCAA men's basketball championship game Monday night, all but three of the day's 14 openers will start in the afternoon, and eight games scheduled for between 3:05 and 4:10 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Are you ready to gorge yourself on baseball? Here’s a guide to how best to navigate what should be an almost overwhelming smorgasbord of baseball to start the 2015 season. (NOTE: All times are EDT; national television games listed where applicable.)
It doesn’t get too much better than this when it comes to Opening Day matchups: the projected top two teams in the National League West with their respective aces on the mound. For the Dodgers, that means Kershaw, the undisputed best pitcher in baseball. For the Padres, it will be free agent addition James Shields, who has thrown more innings than any other pitcher over the last four seasons and pitched his team into the playoffs in four of the last six years.
Shields, who is making his fourth straight Opening Day start and seventh overall, leads a radically rebuilt San Diego team for whom all but two members of the Opening Day lineup could be making their Padres debut in this game. Among the new faces are outfielders Matt Kemp (who had spent his entire nine-year career with Los Angeles until being traded to San Diego in December), Wil Myers and Justin Upton, catcher Derek Norris, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and shortstop Clint Barmes.
The Dodgers have their share of newcomers as well, with double-play combination Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins and catcher Yasmani Grandal likely to make their L.A. debuts in this game and 22-year-old rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson expected to make just his fourth major league start.
Having made a big statement this winter with their flurry of acquisitions, the Padres could make another by stealing a game started by Kershaw on Opening Day. With the Dodgers’ bullpen weakened by closer Kenley Jansen's foot injury, they may only need Shields to keep pace with Kershaw to do it. Of course, if Kershaw is as excellent as he was on Opening Day two years ago—when he threw a shutout and hit a home run in a 4-0 win over the Giants—that hope will be dashed.
Still, as will be the case for many teams facing Los Angeles early this season while lefty starter Hyun-Jin Ryu is out nursing a shoulder injury, stealing a Kershaw start would give San Diego an excellent chance to take two out of three this week and to get out in front of the team they’re likely to be chasing all season.
Of the three games scheduled to start before 3 p.m. EDT, this is the most compelling. The Blue Jays, who many expect to be a serious contender in the AL East this year, are in some ways the Padres of the American League, as they have a radically rebuilt roster centered on two marquee additions, third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin. Toronto is expected to have four players making their team debut in Monday’s lineup, with first baseman Justin Smoak and rookie Devon Travis joining Donaldson and Martin, while rookie centerfielder Dalton Pompey has just 10 major league starts under his belt. Also be on the lookout for rookie relievers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, a pair of live arms who were starters in the minors, neither of whom has played above High A ball. Castro is particularly compelling given his ability to throw triple-digit heat in short outings.
For the Yankees, all eyes will be on starter Masahiro Tanaka—and on the radar gun. Tanaka, who missed almost all of the second half of last season due to a small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, did not show his best stuff in spring training, exhibiting limited velocity and a lack of sharpness on his secondary pitches. There has been some debate as to whether or not Tanaka was holding back in exhibition games, but this one counts, and it will be interesting to see what he has to offer, particularly in big spots against the heart of Toronto's powerful lineup.
It will also be interesting to see how Joe Girardi manages the late inning of this game if he has a lead, as he has said that righty Dellin Betances and lefty Andrew Miller may alternate late-inning roles based on matchups. The Blue Jays have a heavily righthanded lineup with only switch-hitters Smoak and Jose Reyes batting from the left side and fellow switch-hitter Dioner Navarro, the backup catcher, being the biggest lefthanded threat off the bench.
Price takes his place as Detroit's ace in a compelling pitching matchup against Hughes, who set a modern record for strikeout-to-walk ratio last year (11.63) in this meeting of the potential bookend teams in the American League Central. Longtime Minnesota fan favorite Torii Hunter returns to the Twins while outfielder Yoenis Cespedes makes his debut for a Tigers team beginning pursuit of its fifth consecutive division title.
Rockies at Brewers, 2:10 p.m. ET (Kyle Kendrick vs. Kyle Lohse)
Enjoy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez while they’re still healthy for Colorado. That the Rockies are starting Kyle Kendrick on Opening Day tells you about all you need to know about their chances this year.
The only game scheduled to start between 4:10 and 10:05, this game features a matchup of 2014 breakout pitchers, American League Cy Young award winner Kluber and groundballer Keuchel. The Astros have the majority of the new faces here in designated hitter Evan Gattis, outfielder Colby Rasmus, shortstop Jed Lowrie, third baseman Luis Valbuena and end-game relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, the latter the closer. This game will also mark rightfielder George Springer’s first regular season game since July of last year; a quad strain wiped out the second half of his promising rookie season.
For Cleveland, Brandon Moss is the big new addition to the lineup, but just as many eyes will be on 28-year-old second baseman Jason Kipnis, who broke out as a star in 2013 but fell nearly to replacement level last year. For a certain magazine’s World Series prediction to have any hope of coming true, Cleveland needs Kipnis to bounce back in a big way.
The rebuilt A's and defending World Series champion Giants are compelling in their own ways, but their opponents figure to be among the worst teams in the majors. In Oakland, the A's new infield of third baseman Brett Lawrie, shortstop Marcus Semien, second baseman Ben Zobrist and first baseman Ike Davis makes its debut, while Texas still has some star power with third baseman Adrian Beltre and first baseman Prince Fielder making his first regular season appearance since May 16 of last year. It will also be interesting to get an early look at bounce-back candidate Shin-Soo Choo and to see Gallardo’s first start for the Rangers.
The latter game offers Paul Goldschmidt hitting against Madison Bumgarner, but don’t look for high-profile Cuban import Yasmany Tomas. Despite signing a six-year, $68.5 million contract with Arizona in the offseason, he was optioned to Triple A on Saturday night
If you're still hungry:
Cole Hamels opens the season pitching against the Red Sox. Will he finish it pitching for them? Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval make their Boston debuts; the former will be starting in leftfield for the first time in the regular season. Twenty-two-year-old Mookie Betts, who beat out Rusney Castillo for the centerfield job, will look to build on an eye-opening spring.
This is a battle of AL East Past and AL East Present, as the Orioles are the defending division champions and the Rays are a far cry from the perennial contender they were under departed manager Joe Maddon. Don’t look for Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis in this game; he will be serving the final game of his amphetamine suspension. Also missing for the Orioles: catcher Matt Wieters, who is still nursing his right elbow after last June’s Tommy John surgery and opens the year on the disabled list. Instead, enjoy watching O's third baseman Manny Machado play in a game that counts for the first time since last Aug. 11.
With Anthony Rendon, Denard Span and Jayson Werth opening the season on the disabled list, the Mets have an early opportunity to steal some games from the heavy favorite in their division in this matchup of the only two teams from the NL East to have positive run differentials in 2014. Of course, to do that in this series, New York will have to beat Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. You can see why the Nationals are so heavily favored.
The Marlins open a season of expectations against the stripped-down Braves. For Miami, newcomers Mike Morse and Martin Prado will hit behind Giancarlo Stanton in the heart of the order and Dee Gordon, an All-Star second baseman acquired from the Dodgers during the offseason, takes over atop the lineup.
Joey Votto is back in the Reds' lineup but is his power? How much will the Pirates, and Liriano specifically, miss departed catcher Russell Martin? Will we get to see Jung-ho Kang, the slugging Korean import, pinch-hit for Pittsburgh? Tune in for the answers or just to watch Francisco Cervelli gesticulate behind the plate for the Bucs.
The much-improved White Sox turn to their new addition in Samardzija to take on their intradivision rival and the defending AL champions from Kansas City.
The reigning AL West champions, led by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, face the team favored to unseat them this year with Nelson Cruz joining Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the heart of the lineup supporting ace Fernandez, a perennial Cy Young candidate.