There has never before been an Opening Day like this one. It’s trite but true: For the first time since 1968, when MLB contained just 20 franchises, every team in baseball is starting play on the same day this season, meaning there’s an unprecedented volume of introductory baseball activity slated for Thursday.
That’s mixed news for the baseball consumer, who is surely excited about the return of actual games that count but might simultaneously be worried about how to consume all that action, with something in the range of 50 hours of baseball all occurring in the same frenetic day. Let’s narrow down that mass of options with a guide for how to best enjoy this new manner of Opening Day. ESPN will carry four games in a marathon—Cubs-Marlins, Astros-Rangers, Giants-Dodgers, and Indians-Mariners—in addition to whatever game a local channel offers, and those with an MLB.tv account can plan for more, and more exciting, baseball than watching the entirety of a Marlins game. The goals are threefold: First, watch at least one plate appearance from all 15 games; second, fill a full day with nonstop baseball watching; and third, garner the greatest possible enjoyment from goals 1 and 2. Let the scheduling, and spectating, begin.
The Amuse-Bouches: A Mix of Strikeout Pitchers and Rebuilding Rosters
12:30 — Cubs at Marlins (all times Eastern)
1:10 — Pirates at Tigers
1:10 — Cardinals at Mets
It’s a brand-new season. The excitement is palpable. Seven months of new story lines and breakout players and homers galore await. And to get all that joy started, everyone can watch … the Marlins, minus four traded star outfielders. Derek Jeter still commands the sport’s spotlight, apparently.
You’ll be switching to another game at 1:10 on the dot, so a key question during the first 40 minutes of the season is whether the Cubs can stay on offense long enough to prevent you from reaching the portion of the Marlins’ lineup with players that you’ve never heard of before changing the channel.
Half of the teams playing early won’t be contenders this season, and as with Cubs-Marlins, there’s no need to devote much time to Pirates-Tigers, which instead leaves room for lots of uninterrupted Noah Syndergaard spectating. The middle of the day is packed with games and story lines, but the early and late sessions will offer more time to luxuriate in the full development of an inning and, in this case, the progression of Thor’s triple-digit fastball after he missed most of last season due to a torn lat muscle.
Opposing Syndergaard are an improved Cardinals lineup and Carlos Martínez, who’s no slouch himself with fastball velocity, and who in his first Opening Day start last season shut out the Cubs for 7 1/3 innings while striking out 10. Tune in to a few minutes of Pittsburgh-Detroit during a commercial break, but otherwise focus on the opening round of what could be a chaotic and expansive race for the NL’s wild-card spots.
The Early Afternoon: Elite Fielders and Elite Hitters, Albeit on Separate Fields
3:05 — Twins at Orioles
3:30 — Astros at Rangers
3:37 — Yankees at Blue Jays
Minnesota–Baltimore is unique among the day’s matchups because its most intriguing story lines revolve around defense, chiefly: How will Manny Machado look in his long-awaited return to shortstop? And how many web gems is Byron Buxton going to collect? Make sure to check in on this game early, because the schedule gets crowded from here.
In Texas and Toronto, the two best offenses in baseball will reach the batter’s box for the first time in 2018 just seven minutes apart. If possible, a dual or split-screen will be your friend; if forced to choose, focus on the absolute most exciting players from two rather exciting lineups. That means reigning MVPs José Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton—the latter in his first game as a Yankee—and potential future MVPs Carlos Correa and Aaron Judge.
The Crowded Afternoon: So Many Stars Shining at Once
4:00 — Red Sox at Rays
4:05 — Angels at Athletics
4:10 — Phillies at Braves
4:10 — Nationals at Reds
4:10 — Brewers at Padres
4:15 — White Sox at Royals
This is the most stuffed section of the day and the best excuse for East Coasters to duck out of work early. In addition to drawing obvious attention because it represents the season’s start for 40 percent of the league, this set of games also includes new-team debuts for J.D. Martinez (Boston), Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart (Los Angeles Angels), Carlos Santana (Philadelphia), Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (Milwaukee), and Eric Hosmer (San Diego).
MLB.tv users will require the use of split-screen at this point, and perhaps even want to go to the four-game view at times. There’s just so much to take in. Presented in reverse order of interest and, accordingly, recommended time commitment:
White Sox-Royals might be the least compelling matchup of the day, featuring two rebuilding teams and a starring role from James Shields, who is Chicago’s Opening Day starter despite running a 5.60 ERA (and an even worse FIP) over the last two seasons. Time your viewing window for scarcity here: Yoan Moncada will lead off the game for Chicago, so check in for his first at-bat and don’t bother returning unless someone is going for a four-homer game.
Aim for a similar plan with Milwaukee–San Diego. Pick a half-inning when the top of Milwaukee’s lineup, where Yelich and Cain and other fun bats reside, is coming up, and maybe see how strange Hosmer looks without a KC on his jersey, but otherwise place this contest low on the list of priorities.
Philadelphia and Atlanta are in similar situations as rebuilding NL East teams on the verge of a turnaround, but with Braves top prospect Ronald Acuna in the minors for service-time manipulation, the Phillies are the more fun bunch to start the season and likely further ahead in their return to relevance anyway. Find time for a Rhys Hoskins at-bat and an Aaron Nola inning against Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman and take note if Phillies prospect Scott Kingery earns an appearance after he made the Opening Day roster. If Philadelphia plays well enough to confirm its playoff-sleeper status, it will be an MLB.tv favorite throughout the summer, and a healthy Opening Day showing will yield plenty more look-ins to come.
In Washington-Cincinnati, try to catch at least one jaunt through the top of the Nationals’ lineup, which features such thrilling offensive talents as Trea Turner and Bryce Harper, and do all you can to watch each duel between Joey Votto and Max Scherzer. The Reds first baseman has a .400/.500/.800 slash line in 12 career plate appearances against the three-time Cy Young winner, but he struck out twice in three trips to the plate in their only meeting last season.
In Oakland, watch every plate appearance for Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani—the former to appreciate the heights he’s reached and to recalibrate your sense of the sport’s peak as the season begins, the latter to watch the first MLB action for the most exciting addition to the majors this year and to see if his rough spring training performance will linger. The Angels and A’s have other interesting players, too, but you can probably save them for Day 2 amid such a packed afternoon slate.
Also remember that some earlier games will still be underway at this point: Stanton and Judge and Altuve and Correa still have at-bats to anticipate. And if none of the above is occurring at any given moment in this stretch, use Boston–Tampa Bay as the default viewing option to better enjoy the best pitching matchup of the day, as Chris Sale faces Chris Archer in a different kind of Chris War.
The Dinnertime Spotlight: Just One Game, With Unfortunately Just One Ace
7:00 — Giants at Dodgers
Continue to monitor the remaining games from the 4 p.m. slot in case any provide ninth-inning fireworks. Last year, when Opening Day consisted of just three games, the Diamondbacks came back in both the eighth and ninth innings to beat the Giants, and the Cubs scored three runs in the ninth to tie the Cardinals before St. Louis won in the bottom of the inning.
Then settle in for the lone game in the 7-10 slot, which the schedule-makers hoped would match Madison Bumgarner against Clayton Kershaw. In that Arizona–San Francisco opener last year, Bumgarner pitched seven innings, struck out 11, and walked none, and he added two home runs at the plate—and then, six days before Opening Day this year, he fractured his hand while trying to field a line drive in spring training.
Still, there are worse ways to spend a TV dinner than watching Clayton Kershaw pitch, even if instead of Bumgarner he’s opposing Ty Blach, who resembles his fellow Giant southpaw like an AT&T mall kiosk resembles AT&T Park. (He’s kind of not terrible at hitting, though! They have that much in common!) After an afternoon full of strategic channel-flipping to find mostly top hitters, it will do for a nice change of pace to enjoy another extended look at elite pitching, and there’s no better fit than Kershaw, who is 5-0 with a 0.99 ERA in seven career Opening Day starts. He even won one of those games with a homer of his own—who needs Bumgarner after all?
Dessert in the Desert (and Seattle): A Joyous Way to Wrap Up the Day
10:00 — Indians at Mariners
10:10 — Rockies at Diamondbacks
The late-late slate offers a pair of wonderfully contrasting games. In Seattle, find a salivatory pitching matchup between aces past and present, in Félix Hernández and Corey Kluber, respectively; in Arizona, watch a rematch of last season’s bonkers NL wild-card game, which featured four homers, four triples, 30 total hits, and 19 runs. Chase Field’s new humidor might dampen some of the offensive output in the desert this year, but any game with Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Charlie Blackmon is likely to include bunches of runs.
Alternate between the two games for a balanced dose of pitching and hitting, and for some delicious individual matchups even once the starters depart. Andrew Miller, for instance, might face Nelson Cruz for just the second time since Cruz crushed a game-winning homer off Miller in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, while Archie Bradley might face Nolan Arenado for the first time since surrendering a homer in the wild-card game. Add in the always-entertaining Edwin Díaz and the Rockies’ ostensible super-pen opposing Miller and Bradley, respectively, and it’s easy to imagine the nightcaps entertaining viewers through the last out of the day. Arizona even has a bullpen cart now! Baseball is truly back.