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MLB 2016: Key dates for the upcoming season

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It begins with four Sunday games, and just picks up stream from there. Here are a handful of dates to mark on the schedule:


New York Mets at Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer and company celebrate Kansas City's 2015 championship one more time before kicking off their title defense against the same team they defeated in the World Series last year. The Mets re-signed slugger Yoenis Cespedes after a few anxious moments over the winter, and Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom lead one of the majors' best rotations. The Royals also return mostly intact, with All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon opting to remain in Kansas City for a $72 million, four-year deal and Ian Kennedy replacing Johnny Cueto in the rotation.


Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals: Outfielder Jason Heyward and right-hander John Lackey return to St. Louis for the first time since signing with Chicago in the offseason, adding another layer of intrigue to one of baseball's best rivalries. St. Louis is coming off its third straight NL Central title, but Chicago also made the postseason last year and eliminated the Cardinals in the division series. This is the first of 19 scheduled games between the teams in 2016, including six in September that could help determine the division title.


Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels: Two of the majors' bright young stars get reacquainted when shortstop Carlos Correa and the Astros visit All-Star outfielder Mike Trout and the Angels for the first time in 2016. Correa hit .279 with 22 homers and 68 RBIs in 99 games last season, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award and helping Houston to a wild card. Trout is coming off his usual brilliant season, batting .299 with 41 homers and finishing second in the MVP voting to Toronto's Josh Donaldson.


Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks: There is hope in Arizona for the first time in a while. Ace right-hander Zack Greinke left the Dodgers in December for a $206.5 million, six-year deal with the Diamondbacks, who also traded for right-hander Shelby Miller and shortstop Jean Segura over the winter. One of their biggest competitors in the NL West remains Los Angeles, which has won the division for three straight years. Replacing Greinke in the rotation is a big challenge, but Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda looked good in spring training after finalizing an incentive-laden contract in January.


Hall of Fame inductions: Ken Griffey Jr. takes his place in Cooperstown after receiving 437 of 440 votes in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, a record 99.3 percent. Mike Piazza, the top offensive catcher in baseball history, also is inducted after being elected on his fourth appearance on the ballot. Griffey, a 13-time All-Star outfielder, hit 630 homers in 22 seasons in the majors. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza had a .308 batting average and 427 homers in 16 years.


Trade deadline: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers. It normally occurs on July 31, but Major League Baseball pushed it back this year to avoid having players on the field during Sunday afternoon games as they are about to get dealt.


Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers: The season series for these AL Central rivals took an intriguing turn when catcher Alex Avila signed with Chicago in November after spending his first seven years in the majors with Detroit. Avila is the son of Tigers general manager Al Avila, and family activities might become a little tense this summer if Detroit and Chicago are battling for the division title.


Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees: Red Sox slugger David Ortiz plans to retire after the season and is hoping for a standing ovation during his final regular-season trip to Yankee Stadium. Talk about a Bronx cheer; Ortiz is a .306 hitter with 47 homers and 158 RBIs in 224 career games against New York coming into the year. But Ortiz's retirement tour could be reduced to a footnote if the Red Sox and Yankees meet their expectations for the season. Boston added ace left-hander David Price to its rotation in December, and New York bolstered its bullpen by trading for closer Aroldis Chapman.


Jay Cohen can be reached at