Here’s something we can all agree on in this election year: Opening Day should be declared a national holiday. Let’s get that petition going. Meanwhile, here are 10 things to watch for today:
1. It’s an even year, so ...
The high-priced Giants' rotation was terrible in spring training, but these guys will flip the switch now that the games count. Madison Bumgarner, who gave up 21 hits and 14 runs in 11.1 innings in major league games in camp, makes his third consecutive Opening Day start. Is this the year he wins the Cy Young Award? As good as he has been, with back-to-back 18-win seasons and five consecutive 200-inning seasons, he has finished in the top five in the NL in ERA only once, with a fifth-place finish in 2013, even though he pitches his home games at AT&T Park. He is now 26, he doesn’t have a heavy postseason workload weighing on his shoulder like he did last April, and he has a strong defensive team behind him. Look for a monster season as the Giants go for that every-other-year World Series thing.
2. AL West showdown
Hot dogs, apple pie and Felix Hernandez pitching on Opening Day. King Felix is making his eighth consecutive Opening Day start and the ninth of his career, and the opener brings out the best in him: His 1.49 ERA is the lowest of the live ball era of the 31 pitchers who have started at least eight times on Opening Day. No wonder the Mariners have won nine openers in a row. Cole Hamels, meanwhile, has lost both his Opening Day starts and has allowed nine earned runs in 10 innings.
In a day of aces, this gets my vote for best matchup, assuming the game goes off. Snow is expected early in the morning, and game-time temperatures will hit a balmy 34 degrees. Happy Opening Day!
Price was given the deed to Faneuil Hall to help bolster a rotation that ranked 13th in the AL and a franchise trying to avoid its fourth losing season in the past five years. No pressure! Kluber went from leading the league with 18 wins and winning the Cy Young Award to leading the league with 16 losses while seeing his ERA rise a run per game. Was he that bad? Not really. His walk and strikeout rates were nearly identical to his stats 2014, though he did allow a few more home runs. He gave up a .231 average overall but .265 with runners in scoring position. Assuming that normalizes and isn’t a real issue of pitching from the stretch, expect Kluber to once again be one of the best starters in the league. We know Price will be.
Editor's note: The Red Sox-Indians game has been postponed due to weather. The game will be made up on Tuesday.
4. No-hitter alert of the day
Bob Feller’s no-hitter in 1940 remains the only one in Opening Day history, but if you want a best bet for a historic performance, go with Max Scherzer against a Braves lineup that isn’t exactly the 1927 Yankees. Scherzer threw two no-hitters last year -- both were nearly perfect games, marred only by an error and a hit batter -- and had a one-hitter with 16 strikeouts. Bonus: Bryce Harper begins the encore performance to his MVP campaign.
5. Clayton Kershaw will not play all nine positions
Welcome to the walking wounded. The Dodgers’ disabled list includes Brett Anderson, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Andre Ethier, Alex Guerrero and Mike Bolsinger. That’s two-fifths of the projected starting rotation and three starting position players, and it doesn’t include Hyun-Jin Ryu or Brandon McCarthy, who were already out from injuries last year, Justin Turner, who didn’t start playing until halfway through spring training after offseason knee surgery, and rookie hotshot Corey Seager, who missed a large chunk of spring because of a knee sprain. The Dodgers were banking on their depth over 162 games, but now they’ll need it early on, as seven of their first 13 games are against the Giants, with three more against the Diamondbacks.
The most important guy is healthy, however. Kershaw will hope to avoid his slow start of 2015, when he had a 4.32 ERA through his first nine outings. That was just a blip for the best pitcher in the game, as he posted a 1.39 ERA over his final 24 starts with 228 strikeouts in 174.1 innings on his way to a 300-strikeout season. How consistently dominant has he been? He has allowed a .521 OPS each of the past three seasons.
6. Mashers in action
The Jays struck out 16 times against Chris Archer and the Tampa bullpen in Sunday’s opener but still scratched across five runs, including a two-run homer from Troy Tulowitzki. Toronto won 93 games last season, but the Jays got off to a slow start: 11-12 in April and 12-17 in May. They then turned it on, despite limited contributions from Tulo, who hit just .239/.317/.380 in 41 games with the Jays. If he returns to being a force at the plate -- and stays healthy -- the majors’ best offense from 2015 won’t have a problem duplicating that feat. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey starts, and though he’s 41, he might just be entering his prime. Phil Niekro won 100 games from age 41 on.
7. Zack Greinke’s debut
My enthusiasm for the Diamondbacks’ playoff hopes took a big hit with A.J. Pollock's broken elbow, but they’ll still be one of the most interesting teams to watch, starting with their big free-agent signing. Greinke allowed just 43 runs in 32 starts last season, and in 11 outings, he allowed zero runs -- and he still didn’t win the Cy Young Award.
8. No pressure, Cubs, you’re just expected to end a 107-year drought
9. Don’t miss the late game
If this matchup looks familiar, it’s because these two pitchers squared off in the wild-card game in October at Yankee Stadium, with Keuchel pitching six scoreless innings on three days’ rest in Houston’s 3-0 victory. In fact, in three starts against the Yankees in 2015, Keuchel allowed zero runs in 22 innings while recording 28 strikeouts.
Of course, the Yankees weren’t the only team to struggle against the 2015 Cy Young winner. Keuchel blossomed into an ace after ranking second among AL starters in ERA, second in opponents’ batting average, first in opponents’ OBP, first in OPS allowed, first in quality starts, first in innings pitched, first in ground ball percentage and fifth in strikeout-to-walk rate. That last number was key: He maintained his high grounder rate while ramping up his K rate from 18.1 percent to 23.7 percent. He’s one of the pitchers who has benefited most from the low strike zone, and that’s the reason I’m picking him to repeat his Cy Young performance.
Editor's note: The Astros-Yankees game has been postponed due to rain. The game will be made up on Tuesday.