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It's Opening Day: Let's play 12! #CapsOn

With a dozen games on the slate, plenty of storylines
April 3, 2017

Game on, #CapsOn, here we go. Opening Day is upon us, a 12-game, non-stop slate of first impressions available on MLB.TV is ahead of us, and a 2017 season sure to enthrall and entertain is underway.It began with Sunday's soft opening. The Cardinals and defending champion Cubs capped it in

Game on, #CapsOn, here we go. Opening Day is upon us, a 12-game, non-stop slate of first impressions available on MLB.TV is ahead of us, and a 2017 season sure to enthrall and entertain is underway.
It began with Sunday's soft opening. The Cardinals and defending champion Cubs capped it in captivating fashion, with Randal Grichuk's game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth sealing the Cards' 4-3 win shortly after Willson Contreras' game-tying three-run blast had brought the Cubbies to life in the top half. Earlier in the day, Madison Bumgarner's historic two-homer performance went for naught as the Giants' bullpen faltered in the eighth and ninth and Chris Owings' walkoff RBI single off new San Francisco closer Mark Melancon gave the D-backs a 6-5 win. The Rays rode seven sharp innings from Chris Archer and homers from Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison to a 7-3 win over the Yankees.
For the more traditional Opening Day today, fans are encouraged to wear their caps to school or work -- or maybe just blow off all responsibility and use MLB.TV's out-of-market streaming service to take in all the action. Four of the day's tilts are nationally televised (Braves-Mets, Padres-Dodgers, Indians-Rangers on ESPN and Angels-A's on ESPN2), and MLB Network's 10-hour "MLB Tonight" will begin at 1 p.m. ET with live look-ins from all the games.
Marlins (Edinson Volquez) at Nationals (Stephen Strasburg), 1:05 p.m., Nationals Park
Strasburg returns from the flexor strain that kept him out of the postseason, and Volquez tries to help the Marlins overcome the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. But when the Fish and the Nats get together, nothing is better than seeing Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper on the same field. Nobody hits a baseball as hard as Stanton, who had a whopping 42 instances last year in which Statcast™ recorded his exit velocity at 115 mph or more. And Harper, with eight Grapefruit League home runs, looks ready to reclaim his MVP throne.

Braves (Julio Teheran) at Mets (Noah Syndergaard), 1:10 p.m., Citi Field
Considering a big question with the Mets is center field, where a 36-year-old Curtis Granderson is tasked with covering a lot of innings and a lot of ground, it figures that their opening opponent features one of the great defensive center fielders in the game in Ender Inciarte, who also brought stability to the leadoff spot for a Braves team on the rise. But there's no question about the Mets' Opening Day starter. The man they call Thor stocked up on bowls of venison over the winter to get even stronger after leading all starters in average velocity of three pitches -- four-seamers, sinkers and sliders, per Statcast™.

Pirates (Gerrit Cole) at Red Sox (Rick Porcello), 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park
With some angst in the air over the injuries involving David Price and prized relief acquisition Tyler Thornburg, Porcello can calm a lot of nerves and get this Boston season of ramped-up expectations started right with the kind of groundball-inducing, walk-preventing prowess that helped him win 22 games and the AL Cy Young last year. But beware of those pesky Pirates, who, for the first time ever, will start Andrew McCutchen in a field position other than center and unleash their ace Cole, who showed all spring how motivated he is to put a frustrating '16 behind him and vie for a Cy of his own.

Rockies (Jon Gray) at Brewers (Junior Guerra), 2:10 p.m., Miller Park
This is a matchup of two of the better rookie breakout pitchers from 2016, but one of these now-sophomores (Guerra) happens to be seven years older than the other. The 32-year-old Guerra's surprising 2.81 ERA and 152 ERA+ last year might have been easy to miss on an out-of-contention Brew Crew club, but the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Gray, with a power arsenal and rising profile, is increasingly difficult to miss. The Rockies' belief in their ability to climb into contention in '17 revolves largely around the up-and-coming young staff he leads. And as an added bonus, let's see if Colorado shortstop Trevor Story can hit seven home runs in the first week of the season again.

Blue Jays (Marco Estrada) at Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 3:05 p.m., Camden Yards
There is lots of Red Sox hype this year, but these two heated rivals faced each other in an epic AL Wild Card Game last year and could return to October. It says a lot about the depth of that underrated Blue Jays starting staff that it's Estrada -- not borderline 2016 Cy Young contender Aaron Sanchez or World Baseball Classic star Marcus Stroman -- getting the Opening Day assignment. And Gausman, who broke out with a 123 ERA+ in 30 starts last season, will be pivotally important to the O's this year. But maybe the biggest source of intrigue here is Jose Bautista, who, as voiced by O's GM Dan Duquette over the winter, doesn't have many fans in Baltimore and is out to prove a lot of people wrong after finding few suitors in free agency.

Tigers (Justin Verlander) at White Sox (Jose Quintana), 4:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
It's the first game at "The Rate"! Well, OK, it might be a while before we settle on a nickname for the ballpark formerly known as U.S. Cellular Field, and apparently it's going to be a while before we know if Quintana's going to be pitching for a contender this year. His every outing will be an audition for the Trade Deadline. Quintana's in for a tough assignment here, not just because he's going up against the resurgent Verlander, but because Jose Cabrera (1.045 OPS, two homers, five doubles in 43 at-bats) and Victor Martinez .923 OPS, two doubles in 39 at-bats) have been particularly messy matchups for him in the past.

Royals (Danny Duffy) at Twins (Ervin Santana), 4:10 p.m., Target Field
The Royals are loaded with prominent pending free agents, but they removed Duffy from that list with a five-year, $65 million contract extension. Last year, Duffy had one of the game's largest leaps in average four-seam fastball velocity (93.7 to 95.0) and he got his walk rate under control to become a breakout star. Now, he'll try to get what could be the Royals' final run with this particular core started off on the right foot against a Twins team with a lot of intriguing young talent. We're all excited to see if five-tool center fielder Byron Buxton is going to put it all together in 2017.

Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) at Reds (Scott Feldman), 4:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park
There's still nothing quite like Opening Day in Cincinnati, with the Findlay Market Parade winding its way through the city streets. This matchup itself obviously involves two rebuilding ballclubs not yet ready for center stage, but both of them have excitement in center field. Odubel Herrera became an All-Star and earned an extension in his sophomore season by cutting his K/BB ratio by more than half. And blazing Billy Hamilton made a league-best nine of 24 possible catches last year on what Statcast™ determines to be "5-star" plays -- or plays ordinarily made just 0-25 percent of the time.

Padres (Jhoulys Chacin) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 4:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium
No team is projected by FanGraphs to win more games this season than the Dodgers (95), and no team is projected to lose more games than the Padres (96), and this starting matchup is a little window into why that is. Chacin fronts a situation in which the Padres are simply trying to piece together a rotation as best they can. But no matter the strength of the opponent, we shouldn't waste any opportunity to see Kershaw, who has finished in the top five of the NL Cy Young voting in each of the last six seasons, continue what is, to date, a Hall of Fame trek. He showed this spring that his 2016 back issues are, well, behind him, and that's a scary thing for everybody out West.

Indians (Corey Kluber) at Rangers (Yu Darvish), 7:05 p.m., Globe Life Park
Beyond an obviously elite starting matchup (if Darvish can maintain his .598 estimated OPS, as calculated by Statcast™'s Hit Probability, he'll really rake it in when he hits free agency in the fall), a key storyline as these two reigning division winners get together is Mike Napoli's return to the Rangers after a splendid summer with the Tribe. When the Indians surprisingly signed Edwin Encarnacion, Napoli wound up returning to Texas to try to build off his career-best 34-homer, 101-RBI output. In addition to Encarnacion, the Indians have also added Michael Brantley, who missed all but 11 games last year following shoulder surgery, but looked healthy and strong this spring.

Mariners (Felix Hernandez) at Astros (Dallas Keuchel), 8:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
The Mariners surprisingly finished ahead of the Astros in the AL West last season, though neither club got where it intended to go. That led to a flurry of moves from both clubs, with the Mariners adding depth and athleticism to a roster that improved by 10 wins last year and the Astros significantly lengthening their lineup. Either club is capable of winning the AL West, but the outcome will in no small way be dependent on how these two pitchers looking for a bounceback year fare. King Felix is coming off two subpar statistical seasons by his lofty standards (his combined ERA+ of 107 pales in comparison to his prior career mark of 130), and Keuchel came down from his 2015 Cy Young high (157 ERA+) with a bumpy and injury shortened '16 (87).

Angels (Ricky Nolasco) at Athletics (Kendall Graveman), 10:05 p.m., Oakland Coliseum
By this point in the day, if you've monitored all of the above, it's late, you're tired, you're full, and you've still got 181 regular-season days ahead of you. Maybe, you think, it's time to call it a night. And just then, out by the Bay, a 25-year-old center fielder who has quite clearly distinguished himself as the best player in this sport takes the field for the first time in his sixth season, looking to build on a legacy in which, like only Babe Ruth (1926-31) before him, he's led his league in Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement for five straight years.

You gotta watch that, right?

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.