BASEBALL 2017: Key dates for the upcoming season

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It's almost time again. From opening day to a couple of potentially big games in September, here are a handful of dates to mark on the calendar:


Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals: One of baseball's best rivalries takes on a new look when the World Series champion Cubs kick off their title defense against Dexter Fowler and the Cardinals. Fowler helped Chicago win its first championship since 1908 in November, playing solid defense in center field and setting the table for its loaded lineup from the leadoff slot. He was rewarded with an $82.5 million, five-year contract from the Cardinals, who finished second to the Cubs in the NL Central last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.


Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians: Edwin Encarnacion makes his home debut with Cleveland after he signed a $60 million, three-year contract with the AL champion Indians over the winter. Encarnacion averaged 39 homers and 110 RBIs the past five seasons with Toronto, which was eliminated by Cleveland in the AL Championship Series last year. The White Sox are rebuilding after going 78-84 in 2016 for their fourth consecutive year with a losing record.


Houston Astros at New York Yankees: All eyes on the Bronx as the Yankees retire Derek Jeter's No. 2 jersey and unveil his plaque in Monument Park before their Mother's Day game against the Astros. The 14-time All-Star shortstop helped New York to five World Series titles and collected 3,465 hits before retiring after the 2014 season.


Washington Nationals at New York Mets: New York's rotation was racked by injuries last season, and the Mets lost in the wild-card game after winning the NL pennant in 2015. Noah Syndergaard and company are hoping to return to the top of the NL East this year, but Bryce Harper and the Nationals are standing in their way. They play one series against each other in June, a four-game set that begins with this Thursday night matchup at Citi Field.


Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre and the Rangers host Albert Pujols and the Angels in the opener of a three-game series. Beltre, a five-time Gold Glover at third base, begins the year just 58 away from becoming the 31st member of the 3,000-hit club. Pujols has 2,825 career hits, but the slugger hasn't reached 175 hits in a season since 2010 with St. Louis.


All-Star Game: The Midsummer Classic comes to Miami for the first time for the Marlins' 25th season. The American League beat the Nationals League 4-2 in San Diego last year for its fourth straight win.


Hall of Fame inductions: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are inducted into the Hall along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz. Bagwell played his entire 15-year career with Houston, finishing with a .297 batting average, 401 homers and 1,401 RBIs. Raines, a seven-time All-Star and the 1986 NL batting champion, joins Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as the only players to enter the Hall representing the Montreal Expos. Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star, hit 311 homers and won 13 Gold Gloves at catcher during his 21 years in the majors.


Trade deadline: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers. It returns to its usual date after it was moved to Aug. 1 last year to avoid having players on the field during Sunday afternoon games as they are about to get dealt.


St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates: The NL Central rivals relive their roots with a visit to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the first ''MLB Little League Classic.'' The Cardinals and Pirates will attend a Little League World Series game during the day then play at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, the home of the Williamsport Crosscutters of the Class A New York-Penn League.


Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles: Mookie Betts and the Red Sox play Manny Machado and the Orioles for the final time in the regular season. Boston is one of the favorites for the World Series after trading for ace left-hander Chris Sale this winter. Baltimore had a relatively quiet offseason, but it returns the core of last year's wild-card team.


San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers won the NL West last season, finishing four games clear of Madison Bumgarner and the second-place Giants. But San Francisco won the season series against Los Angeles, taking 11 of their 19 games. Their 2017 schedule concludes with two series in September, finishing with three games at Dodger Stadium that could help decide who takes the division.


Jay Cohen can be reached at More AP baseball: