The biggest reason for fans of every MLB team to watch Opening Day is that their team is in first place. It’s the only day of the year every team can say that, but fans of every team, even the Miami Marlins, have at least one reason to watch Opening Day baseball.
The Playoff Contenders
The defending champions take on their in-state rivals the Texas Rangers on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. CST, and the biggest reason for Astros fans to tune in is to see if 35-year-old Justin Verlander can repeat his stellar 2017 season and carry a staff of mostly question marks.
Dallas Keuchel followed up his Cy Young season in 2015 by posting an ERA+ of just 86 in 2016. He rebounded with an ERA+ of 136 last season, but pitched just 145.2 innings. He’s pitched 200 innings just twice in his six-year career. Verlander has done it in 10 of 13 seasons, which is five more times than the rest of the Astros’ starters combined.
But the Astros are prepared in case their starters fail to eat innings, with Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock available in the bullpen.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw takes the mound against San Francisco at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN. That’s all Dodgers fans should need to tune in on Opening Day, because it could be Kershaw’s last season with the Dodgers.
New York Yankees
Yankees fans will get their first look at last year’s home run champion Giancarlo Stanton in Toronto on Thursday. Oh, and the runner-up in the home run race, Aaron Judge, will be there in pinstripes, too.
Jon Lester will take on Miami to kick off Opening Day on ESPN at 11:30 a.m. CST. Lester, who has struggled throwing to first base, will feature a new bounced throw he’s been working on in Spring Training. It’ll be interesting to see if his new approach limits the running game of Miami, a team that does have some speed if nothing else.
Indians fans will get their first look at new first baseman Yonder Alonso, who has become the new poster boy for launch angle despite his simple focus of becoming “a tough out.” He’s certainly been that in Spring Training, collecting 21 hits in 56 at-bats and amassing an OPS of 1.284. Defensive metrics have Alonso rated as a downgrade at first base when compared to Cleveland’s former first baseman, Carlos Santana, though.
The Nationals will have to wait until Friday to open the season due to weather in Cincinnati, but it does give Adam Eaton an extra day to recover from the ACL tear that kept him out all of last season. Eaton will most certainly be the biggest addition to a team that sees its championship window closing. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Weiters will all be free agents at the end of the season.
Boston Red Sox
J.D. Martinez debuts with Boston on Thursday at Tampa Bay, a much-needed upgrade at designated hitter, where Hanley Ramirez struggled to a .750 OPS last season. Martinez will get time in the corner outfield spots as well, but will mostly steal at-bats from Ramirez and Mitch Moreland, who will serve as a platoon at first base.
Martinez’s awesome power to all fields should play well at Fenway Park, and while he might not hit as many home runs as he did at Chase Field in Arizona, at least he’s not in Arizona this year, where baseballs will be kept in a humidor to limit home runs. Chase Field accounted for the fourth-most home runs in baseball last season. Fenway was 26th, but Martinez is more than just a power hitter. He’s hit over .300 in three of his seven MLB seasons.
The Twins’ new braintrust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine might have won the offseason, adding reasonably-priced bullpen depth (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney), undervalued starters (Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn) and an undervalued slugger (Logan Morrison). They were the second-best offense of the second half of last season, with Gold Glove center fielder Byron Buxton discovering a swing that has him poised for a breakout in 2018.
Twins fans will get a chance to see all their new additions in action on Thursday in Baltimore, most notably starter Jake Odorizzi, who takes the mound with Ervin Santana recovering from hand surgery.
The Rockies were second in the league in save percentage (77.05 percent) last season despite Greg Holland being abysmal in the second half (6.38 ERA). They added Wade Davis in the offseason, who closed out 32 of his 33 save opportunities in 2017.
The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and will surprise no one this year. They also got better in the offseason, adding center fielder Lorenzo Cain and left fielder Christian Yelich. Those additions should help them climb out of the bottom third of the league in runs scored.
St. Louis Cardinals
Marcell Ozuna is coming off a career year in Miami (.924 OPS) and provides added depth to a lineup that already had six players with an OPS+ over 100. The Cardinals were 13th in the league in runs scored last year, but were 20th in runs allowed. The addition of Ozuna allows the Cardinals’ best outfielder, Tommy Pham, to play center field full time instead of splitting time with the less adept Dexter Fowler, who will roam right field instead. The Cardinals are going to score more runs and limit fewer runs in 2018 thanks to Ozuna.
The Mariners’ aging rotation can’t seem to stay healthy, and Felix Hernandez is a shell of his former self, but they have the speedy Dee Gordon roaming center field to back up that aging rotation, which is the best reason for Mariners fans to watch Opening Day baseball. Gordon’s transition from middle infielder to center fielder should be an adventure worth watching, but his prowess at the plate and on the base paths is always worth watching. The addition of Gordon should lift Seattle’s run production substantially, which was 15th in the league last year. Gordon’s 60 stolen bases last season would have put the Mariners at the top of the league in that category.
The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who will open the season at home against Colorado. Greinke allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona should make him even better in 2018. It might have an adverse effect on Paul Goldschmidt, though. Still, having a Cy Young contender on the mound is reason enough to watch Opening Day.
Los Angeles Angels
Angels fans were probably hoping Shohei Ohtani would be starting Opening Day at Oakland, but he hasn’t pitched well enough in Spring Training to warrant the fourth spot in the rotation let alone the first (27.00 ERA). He hasn’t hit either (4-for-32). The Angels still don’t have the starting rotation to reach the playoffs, but the addition of Ian Kinsler into an already potent lineup featuring the game’s best player, Mike Trout, one of the game’s best hitters of all time, Albert Pujols, and a rejuvenated Justin Upton, should make for an Opening Day featuring plenty of runs scored.
Jake Arrieta won’t toe the rubber on Thursday in Atlanta, but Aaron Nola will, giving Phillies fans reason to watch and reason for hope. The Phillies aren’t as far from contending as some people think thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. Nola amassed 184 strikeouts in 168 innings last year, left fielder Rhys Hoskins hit 18 home runs in 170 at-bats, and second baseman César Hernández collected 215 total bases for a second consecutive season.
Toronto Blue Jays
New addition Randal Grichuk is going to have a career year in Toronto, and Aaron Sanchez seems to have rediscovered himself (3.06 ERA in Spring Training) after struggling last season. The key for Toronto is always health. How many games will Troy Tulowitzki and Curtis Granderson play? Even Josh Donaldson missed considerable time last year. But the starting rotation and lineup are both playoff caliber. The bullpen is the reason they’re pretenders.
Manny Machado is moving to shortstop in the final year of his contract with the Orioles. Adam Jones is also in a contract year, so both will be looking to put up massive numbers to earn big paydays in the offseason. Machado was a premiere third basemen and should make for an above average shortstop, especially given his hitting ability. Watching him at his new position on Opening Day is reason for Orioles fans to watch.
San Francisco Giants
It’s another even year, and the Giants have added pieces to make another run at a championship. With Madison Bumgarner recovering from a broken hand and out three months, the eyes of Giants fans will gravitate towards Andrew McCutchen on Opening Day. At 31, McCutchen should enjoy hitting in the Giants’ effective lineup, but hate chasing balls in right field behind the Giants’ aging rotation.
Can Cole Hamels return to form after a hiccup in 2017? Rangers fans will get a clue when he takes on the offensive juggernaut Houston on Thursday. If the 34-year-old Hamels has indeed regressed, at least the Rangers now have the 34-year-old Doug Fister to back him up in the rotation.
San Diego Padres
Eric Hosmer will debut with the Padres on Thursday in San Diego against Milwaukee, giving San Diego the bat it needs to protect Wil Myers. They’re still a long way from contending, but having a guy like Hosmer in the lineup should help make the vast Petco Park look just a little bit smaller. Petco allowed the second-fewest homers last year.
Kansas City Royals
Replacing Hosmer with with Lucas Duda could be a very affordable way for the Royals to get similar offensive production for $140.5 million less than Hosmer got from San Diego. Duda posted an .818 OPS and hit 30 homers playing for the Mets and Rays last year. But Jon Jay (.738 career OPS, +4 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field) is no Lorenzo Cain (.763 career OPS, +11 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field).
New York Mets
All eyes will be on Noah Syndergaard, whose 101-mph fastball has been all the rage in Spring Training. The Mets have playoff potential in their pitching, both starting and relieving, and the addition of Adrian Gonzalez gives them four professional hitters (Jay Bruce, Yoenis Céspedes and Todd Frazier) in the lineup. The Mets are also very old and injury prone, so health will be a key factor in limiting their potential.
Ivan Nova could be the next Pirate traded and will start the season in Detroit taking on Jordan Zimmerman. Nova isn’t a free agent until after next season, but the $9 million and change he’s owed this year and next will make him very attractive to a team in the hunt if he has similar success to last season (4.14 ERA).
Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer has long been the subject of trade rumors, but will start for the Rays on Opening Day for the fourth consecutive season. Archer’s contract is any team’s dream and comes with two club options at just $8.25 million after next season, so if he gets off to a hot start, the Rays could be given an offer they can’t refuse. Rays fans should tune in on Opening Day to see their ace get the season started on the right foot.
Top prospect Robert Acuna Jr. won’t be on the Braves’ Opening Day roster so Atlanta can control the start of his service time and retain his rights longer, but second baseman Ozzie Albies will be worth watching. Albies posted an impressive .810 OPS in 217 at-bats last year and has been raking in Spring Training (20-for-66 with an .843 OPS).
Chicago White Sox
Yoán Moncada found an effective stroke last season, posting a .750 OPS in 199 at-bats. He’s been even better this spring, posting an .833 OPS in 59 at-bats. All eyes will be on Moncada to become the star everyone expected way back when he was still with the Red Sox.
Scott Schebler has been an absolute force in Spring Training, with 19 hits in 46 at-bats and an OPS of 1.151. He’ll be manning right field for the Reds on Opening Day, looking to build on his respectable 2016 season that saw him post a .762 OPS over 257 at-bats.
Miguel Cabrera might not be a piece the Tigers can trade -- this year or ever. But Nick Castellanos has just one more year of arbitration eligibility, and Victor Martinez and José Iglesias are free agents at the end of the season. The Tigers have to move all they can to complete their rebuild, so Tigers fans should be rooting for Cabrera, Castellanos, Martinez and Iglesias to start the season hot on Opening Day.
José Ureña taking on the Cubs should be reason enough for Marlins fans to watch Opening Day. Ureña had a fantastic 2017, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. If he can shut down the Cubs’ lineup, it should give Marlins fans hope that they might have an ace in the making.
California native Matt Chapman will look to stake his claim to third base for the long term in Oakland after posting a respectable .785 OPS over 290 at-bats in 2017. He’s got legitimate power potential, too, hitting 14 home runs and 23 doubles last year.
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