Baseball begins again with every team opening on the same day for the first time since 1968. Here are a handful of dates to mark on the calendar:
THURSDAY, MARCH 29
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers: The earliest domestic start in baseball history features one of the game’s best rivalries. Clayton Kershaw makes his record eighth opening-day start for the NL champion Dodgers after going 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 27 starts last year. He takes on a much more challenging lineup after the Giants acquired Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen in a pair of offseason trades. It’s the first opener between the clubs since 2013.
MONDAY, APRIL 2
Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros: Reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve and the Astros celebrate the franchise’s first championship before their home opener against Adam Jones and the Orioles. The Astros outlasted the Dodgers in a seven-game World Series last fall, and they might be even better this year after acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole in a January trade with Pittsburgh. The Orioles are hoping to bounce back after finishing last in the rugged AL East last season.
TUESDAY, MAY 8
Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees: It’s on – again. Mookie Betts and the Red Sox make their first trip of the season to New York to take on Aaron Judge and the Yankees. Boston won the AL East in 2017, and then bolstered its lineup by signing slugger J.D. Martinez to a $110 million, five-year contract in February. New York, which lost to Houston in last year’s AL Championship Series, traded for Giancarlo Stanton in December, creating the type of star-studded batting order usually only found in video games. One of baseball’s biggest rivalries is must-see TV again in 2018.
THURSDAY, MAY 17
Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Angels: Albert Pujols begins the season just 32 hits shy of 3,000, and he could be right around the magic number when Los Angeles welcomes Tampa Bay to town for the opener of a four-game series. The 38-year-old Pujols isn’t as dangerous as he was at the start of his career, but he hit 23 homers and drove in 101 runs for the Angels last year. He dropped about 15 pounds over the winter and could see more time at first base after Los Angeles signed pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani over the winter.
FRIDAY, JUNE 15
Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals: The NL Central used to belong to the Cardinals, but it has been the Cubs’ show lately. Chicago won the division in each of the past two seasons and remains the favorite after signing right-hander Yu Darvish to a $126 million, six-year contract in February. St. Louis traded for outfielder Marcell Ozuna in December and is hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. A good place to start might be the season series against Chicago after the Cardinals lost 14 of 19 games against the Cubs last year.
TUESDAY, JULY 17
All-Star Game: The Midsummer Classic returns to Washington for the first time since Willie McCovey homered twice in the National League’s 9-3 victory at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in 1969. That was part of a long run of dominance for the NL in one of baseball’s showcase events, but times have changed. The American League won 2-1 in 10 innings in Miami last year for its fifth consecutive victory.
TUESDAY, JULY 31
Trade deadline: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers.
THURSDAY, AUG. 30
Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians: The AL Central rivals conclude their season series with eight games in August after Cleveland ran away from Minnesota on its way to the division title a year ago. The Twins are much improved after making a surprise playoff appearance in 2017, signing right-hander Lance Lynn and slugger Logan Morrison off the slow free-agent market and trading for righty Jake Odorizzi. The Indians return mostly intact after winning 102 games last season and dropping a heartbreaking first-round playoff series against the Yankees.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 23
New York Mets at Washington Nationals: When New York and Washington are healthy, they offer all sorts of tantalizing pitching matchups when they play each other. But the Mets have been hampered by injuries for the past couple years while the Nationals have captured the NL East in each of the previous two seasons. Each team is looking for a breakthrough under a new manager, with Mickey Callaway hoping to get the Mets back into the playoffs and Dave Martinez trying to guide the Nationals to postseason success.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 30
Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki begins his 18th season in the majors in the same place where he started after he came to the United States from Japan, returning to Seattle for a $750,000, one-year contract. If he decides this is it – Suzuki turns 45 in October, but doesn’t seem to be entertaining the idea of retiring anytime soon – he could play his final game at Safeco Field in the season finale.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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