By: Evan Brunelle
As the coronavirus pandemic started to intensify in the United States in March and the country started to shut down, so too did all major sports leagues.
The NBA and NHL abruptly suspended their seasons with playoffs on the horizon. Meanwhile, the MLB pushed back the start of the season until further notice in the midst of spring training.
It turns out that date to be named later would be July 23. We are finally here.
For months, sports fans all around the nation were questioning when sports would make their return. The answer is now.
Fans have watched the PGA and MLS resume their seasons without fans with a slew of regulations in place. There has also been a lot of talk about the college football season, the NBA bubble, and the NHL tournament.
Despite a very public dispute between the players and the owners, early cases of COVID-19 among multiple franchises, players sitting out due to health concerns and social unrest, and a shortened season, the MLB will be the first of the major American sports leagues to start since the pandemic brought things to a halt in mid-March.
Here is a look at the games that will be kicking off the season on Thursday night:
New York Yankees at Washington Nationals (G. Cole vs. M. Scherzer), 7:08 PM EST
It’s difficult to imagine a much better start to a much-anticipated season than this game.
You have the Yankees boasting hoards of roster talent and the highest payroll in baseball, facing off against the Washington Nationals. Washington’s results last year speak for themselves, and the Nationals are ready to defend their title.
Not to mention, the pitching match-up in this game is as good as any we will see this season.
For the Yankees, Thursday will be the debut of the crown jewel of their off-season.
Gerrit Cole, who signed a monster nine-year, $394 million contract in December, will take the hill for New York in the opener. Cole has earned his paycheck, being one of the most desired free agents in baseball after the 2019 season. The veteran arm had a stellar year for the Astros, as he led the league in strikeouts and led the American League in ERA.
Of course, his opponent is no slouch either.
“Mad Max” Scherzer has been one of the league’s best pitchers for years, and has kept his ERA below 3.00 for five consecutive seasons. He is also a three-time Cy Young Award winner (2013, 2016, 2017), which just goes to show how dominant he has been this decade.
The two aces will have the challenge of facing two of the best lineups the league has to offer.
The Yankees feature bats such as DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez, while the Nationals have Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, and Eric Thames. Washington lost Anthony Rendon in free agency this off-season and star Juan Soto will be inactive after testing positive for COVID-19.
This is a great match-up of two top tier teams to start the season, and fans should be excited to see dominant pitching try to outlast some of the league’s best hitters.
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers (J. Cueto vs. C. Kershaw), Thursday 10:08PM EST
The late game on Thursday reunites two West Coast rivals who have been moving in opposite directions the past few seasons.
Since San Francisco’s years of dominance in the early 2010s, they have struggled to string together successful seasons, whereas the rival Dodgers have been one of the National League’s premiere teams.
The Dodgers roster is filled with superstars, the newest being Mookie Betts. Betts was acquired through a trade with the Boston Red Sox this past winter and recently signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with the club.
However, Betts is only one of the stars in Los Angeles, playing alongside Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager. On Thursday night, this lineup will be defended by long-time ace Clayton Kershaw, who is widely considered as one of the best pitchers in baseball, despite often struggling in the postseason.
The Dodgers will face off against Johnny Cueto, a solid veteran ace for the Giants.
Cueto won 19 games in 2012 with the Reds, 20 in 2014, and 18 in 2016 with the Giants. Despite a rocky 2019, Cueto has often been reliable and has shown flashes of being a true ace.
The Giants lineup does not have much firepower, as they are very young, so an opening night test against one of baseball’s perennial aces will help gauge where the Giants are positioned for the 60-game sprint ahead.
Cover photo via: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
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