Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is Thursday, April 1. Coming off an abbreviated 2020 season with a stacked lineup of 15 games, this year’s Opening Day is extra special.
The 2020 season didn’t have a true Opening Day. After months of delay and bitter negotiations between the league and the players’ union, every team eventually started playing in empty, lifeless stadiums in August. It didn’t feel anything like Opening Day—no parking lot tailgates, no kids skipping school and lining the baselines to get autographs, no roaring crowds as the home team’s lineup was introduced.
But 2021 Opening Day will feel different. While we’re not yet out of the woods in this pandemic, things feel a good deal more optimistic than they did last August. Small groups of fans will be in stadiums to watch the games, and even just the return of baseball in April brings a welcome feeling of normalcy.
The schedule is also potentially historic. Barring any last-minute changes, all 30 teams will start their seasons on the same day for the first time since 1968. Baseball will break the seal on the season all at once, with 15 games over the course of the day.
Below, we’ve highlighted the four most exciting matchups to watch. There’s one for each part of the day, so you can clear your calendar and enjoy a solid 14 hours of baseball.
1:05 p.m. (EDT): Blue Jays at Yankees (ESPN)
The Yankees have the best lineup in baseball and arguably the league’s best pitcher, too: right-hander Gerrit Cole. Both will be on display in The Bronx on Thursday. In different ways, the Yankees’ hitters and best pitcher are all about power. Players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Luke Voit are going to hit a lot of home runs this summer. For his part, Cole will stand on the mound and pour in the heat: Prepare for his 97-mile-per-hour fastball and lots of strikeouts.
The Blue Jays are worth watching, too. Vlad Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández, and Bo Bichette form one of the most exciting groups of young position players in the sport. Opening Day will also be a first look at how newly acquired center fielder George Springer looks in blue (or gray with blue trim, depending on which uniform the Jays wear).
4:10 p.m. (EDT): Diamondbacks at Padres (local or MLB.tv)
Fernando Tatís Jr. is the most thrilling player in baseball right now. He hits the laces off the ball—the average exit velocity off his bat was the highest in the majors in 2020, per Fangraphs—and he plays beautiful, exuberant defense at shortstop.
Tatís alone makes any game worth watching, but the Padres have done well to surround him with other high-end talent like Manny Machado and Blake Snell. The D-backs are less explosive but have a few fun players in David Peralta, Ketel Marte, and Christian Walker.
7:09 p.m. (EDT): Mets at Nationals (ESPN)
This is the only game in this early-evening time slot (for the East Coast, at least), so you’d better enjoy it.
Fortunately, that shouldn’t be hard, because Jacob deGrom is pitching for the Mets. Any deGrom start is a treat if you enjoy watching 99-mile-per-hour heaters and unhittable, wipeout sliders. His starts are also fun if you enjoy laughing at the Mets for failing to score the two or three runs they usually need to win one of deGrom’s outings.
Maybe they’ll do more of that now that all-world shortstop Francisco Lindor has joined Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso in the heart of the lineup. On the other side, the Nationals will try to rebound after a disappointing 2020, and you’ll get to see first baseman Josh Bell’s debut.
10:07 p.m. (EDT): Astros at Athletics (ESPN)
Zack Greinke, one of the quirkiest elite pitchers of his generation, starts for Houston. He works quickly and keeps the game moving, and he might do something like toss a 54-mile-per-hour eephus pitch just for the hell of it.
The A’s will start Chris Bassitt, a sinkerballer who generates a lot of ground balls and lets his defense go to work behind him to get batters out. Last year, the A’s were one of the best fielding teams in baseball. This game will provide some indication of whether they’ll remain that way now that shortstop Marcus Semien has left for Toronto and been replaced by veteran Elvis Andrus, who spent the bulk of his career with the Rangers.
It should be a nice way to cap off a marathon day of baseball.
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