Opening day 2024: What to watch for as 28 of 30 MLB teams start their season

Wed, Mar 27, 2024
MLB News (AP)

Opening day 2024: What to watch for as 28 of 30 MLB teams start their season

Here's what to watch for on MLB's opening day:

THE SHO GOES ON

Ohtani already made his Dodgers debut last week in South Korea, but all eyes will still be on the two-way sensation as LA hosts the Cardinals. The $700 million star is trying to play on after the firing of his longtime interpreter and friend Ippei Mizuhara, who Ohtani said Monday stole money from him to pay off gambling debts. Mizuhara was fired while the Dodgers were in Seoul last week for a two-game, regular-season opener against San Diego.

Ohtani, who won't pitch this season while recovering from a second Tommy John surgery, was 3 for 10 with two RBIs as Los Angeles split the Seoul Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts posited Tuesday that Mizuhara's absence could be good for Ohtani, saying Mizuhara had been a "buffer" between the Japanese star and his new teammates.

BIG EAST BALL

Zack Wheeler and Spencer Strider square off in a juicy NL East opener between the Phillies and Braves in Philadelphia.

Wheeler is pitching with a new contract after agreeing to a $126 million, three-year deal for 2025-27 this spring. The 33-year-old could've become a free agent after this season, but instead he recommitted to Philadelphia, where he's been among the game's best since joining the club as a free agent for the 2020 season.

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Strider, meanwhile, has a new pitch. The 25-year-old right-hander has been working on a curveball this spring to deepen his repertoire. A scary thought for batters - without that curve, Strider struck out a major league-high 281 in 186 2/3 innings last season, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Braves finished 14 games ahead of Philadelphia each of the past two years. But the Phillies ended Atlanta's postseason in Game 4 of a Division Series at Citizens Bank Park both times.

NEW IN TOWN

Several stars are set to debut with new teams. Juan Soto, still just 25, was dealt from the Padres to the Yankees over the winter and will slot into the lineup along with Aaron Judge when New York faces Houston. Late in the game, the Astros might counter Soto with Josh Hader, a five-time All-Star closer who signed with Houston in January.

Corbin Burnes is on the mound for Baltimore against the Angels after a Feb. 1 trade from Milwaukee. Matt Chapman should be at third base for the Giants against San Diego, and Rhys Hoskins suits up for the Brewers against the Mets.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW

Two of baseball's top hitting prospects - the Brewers' Jackson Chourio and the Rangers' Wyatt Langford - are set to make their big league debuts. Chourio, 20, signed an $82 million, eight-year deal this offseason, the most money guaranteed to a player with no major league experience. Langford, meanwhile, will reach the majors less than a year after Texas selected him fourth overall in the 2023 amateur draft from the University of Florida.

Neither Orioles infielder Jackson Holliday nor Nationals outfielder James Wood cracked their opening day rosters despite impressive spring trainings.

OPEN AND CLOSE

Several teams are expected to open the season without their injured closers, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (Paul Sewald), the Baltimore Orioles (Felix Bautista), the Milwaukee Brewers (Devin Williams), the Minnesota Twins (Jhoan Duran) and the Toronto Blue Jays (Jordan Romano).

Defending AL East champion Baltimore signed veteran reliever Craig Kimbrel, eighth on the career list with 417 saves, to fill in for Bautista, who is expected to miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery and an additional elbow procedure.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets get back All-Star closer Edwin Diaz after he missed last season following knee surgery. Sound the trumpets at Citi Field.

THE REPLACEMENTS

The first pitch of the day is scheduled to be thrown at Citi Field, though rain is forecast in Queens for Milwaukee's game against the New York Mets.

Pat Murphy takes over as manager of the defending NL Central champion Brewers after Craig Counsell bolted for the rival Chicago Cubs during the offseason.

New York turns to first-timer Carlos Mendoza - the former Yankees bench coach was hired to replace Buck Showalter by new president of baseball operations David Stearns, who used to run the Brewers after growing up a Mets fan in New York City.

After trading Burnes, a three-time All-Star and the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, Milwaukee gives Freddy Peralta his first career opening-day start.

Jose Quintana goes for the Mets, minus 2023 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Kodai Senga because of a shoulder injury.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB

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