Ranking 2020's best Opening Day matchups

July 22nd, 2020

It is not physically possible to have all 15 Major League Baseball games of this upcoming Opening Day and Opening Night beamed directly into your brain at once, and you’ll have to trust me on this one ... because if it were possible, know that I would absolutely be doing it. The wait for baseball this year has been even longer and more torturous than usual. But this Thursday, at last, it returns.

Since you can’t beam every game into your head at once -- and again, it never hurts to try -- allow me to help you with something resembling a viewer’s guide. Every team will play on Thursday or Friday -- the Giants and Dodgers will, in fact, play twice -- and we all must find a way to prioritize. The easy answer for which game to watch: the one involving your favorite team. But every matchup has its own value and splendor. So today, here is a ranking of the best matchups of every team’s first game. You can’t watch them all, but this is the best I can do at prioritizing them.

(Note: Starting pitchers -- who drive much of these rankings -- are listed in parentheses. Also, I am counting the two Thursday games as their own matchups, and then the 13 Friday games that aren’t Giants-Dodgers Game 2 as their own as well. You get it.)

1. Yankees (Gerrit Cole) at Nationals (Max Scherzer)
7:08 p.m. ET, Thursday, ESPN

You’ve got the defending champs, at home in our nation’s capital against baseball’s most storied team, one that at last has (nearly) everyone healthy and features the newly signed most dominant pitcher in the game. Also, it’s the first baseball game that counts since Game 7 of the World Series in October, which happened roughly 47 years ago. This is not a difficult call.

*2. Braves (Mike Soroka) at Mets (Jacob deGrom)**
4:10 p.m. ET, Friday, ESPN

The top two contenders in the National League East, as well as two longtime rivals who may only be kept from a fight this year by social distancing guidelines. The defending division champs, with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies and the triumphant return of Freddie Freeman, against the best pitcher in the National League and many, many adorable cutouts of dogs. Also: Yoenis Cespedes! It's worth remembering, too, that this is the only afternoon game on Friday.

(*deGrom has not been announced as the starter as of this writing, but he looks on track after pitching a pain-free simulated game on Sunday.)

3. Brewers (Brandon Woodruff) at Cubs (Kyle Hendricks)
7:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The NL Central is going to be crazy this year, and the two local rivals who battled it out much of last year kick it off in a season in which every divisional matchup is of the utmost importance. Hendricks gets his first Opening Day start, and Christian Yelich makes his first Brewers appearance since signing that big extension in the offseason. (Remember that?) Plus: Come on, it’s Wrigley.

4. Twins (José Berríos) at White Sox (Lucas Giolito)
8:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The defending division champions look even stronger this year, with Josh Donaldson in the fold, but the White Sox are the young turks rampaging and one of everybody’s favorite picks to surprise this year. It’s also your first chance to see Luis Robert.

5. Rockies (Germán Márquez) at Rangers (Lance Lynn)
8:05 p.m. ET, Friday

What is otherwise a middling matchup between two teams that finished well below .500 last year earns its status high on this list because it’s the opening game at the new Globe Life Field. Any time you get to be introduced to a new ballpark, even one with no fans in it, you have to take it.

6. Angels (Andrew Heaney) at A’s (Frankie Montas)
10:10 p.m. ET, Friday

It’s Mike Trout, first of all, but this time he has Anthony Rendon as a running mate. They’re playing the team they most desperately need to figure out how to pass in their division if Trout’s ever going to get that first playoff victory.

7. Giants (Johnny Cueto) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw)
10:08 p.m. ET, Thursday, ESPN

Kershaw had perhaps the worst year of his career last season, which is to say he was still a pretty darned good pitcher (3.03 ERA). And now he gets to call Mookie Betts a teammate on a Dodgers team that is basically World Series title-or-bust in the strangest possible season to be World Series title-or-bust. It all begins against their rivals who are starting a new era … but one built in a decade during which they have three of the rings the Dodgers so desperately want.

8. D-backs (Madison Bumgarner) at Padres (Chris Paddack)
9:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The two strongest challengers to the Dodgers in the NL West: The D-backs were better than everybody thought last year, and the Padres have all that young talent but need to show they’re ready to at last take a big step forward. Also, Bumgarner is going to look so strange in that uniform at first, and maybe always.

9. Blue Jays (Hyun Jin Ryu) at Rays (Charlie Morton)
6:40 p.m. ET, Friday

The Rays look like legitimate challengers to the Yankees in the American League East, with the sort of pitching staff that’s built for a sprint like this, but the Jays are quietly fascinating, too, with all those young hitters and a pitcher in Ryu whose primary liability (endurance) isn’t a big issue in a 60-game season.

10. Mariners (Marco Gonzales) at Astros (Justin Verlander)
9:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The Astros' tumultuous offseason lasted longer than anyone thought it would, though we’re all talking about the Astros a lot less than we thought we would be on Opening Day. Verlander is now fully healthy, and Houston can get back to trying to show everyone it can win a World Series without any help.

11. Pirates (Joe Musgrove) at Cardinals (Jack Flaherty)
8:15 p.m. ET, Friday

The Cardinals made the quietest NL Championship Series run imaginable last year. They have an NL Cy Young Award candidate in Flaherty, but the offense doesn’t look any better (and it might look worse) than it was last year. The Pirates are the one team in the NL Central who doesn’t look likely to contend, which means their division opponents need to notch every win against them they can.

12. Marlins (Sandy Alcantara) at Phillies (Aaron Nola)
7:05 p.m. ET, Friday

The Phillies have already been through the rebuild that the Marlins are in the midst of, but they don’t have anything to show for it yet: This is still a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Ryan Howard collapsed running toward first base to close out the 2011 NL Division Series. The Marlins have an intriguing pitching staff, but they’re who teams like the Phillies need to beat if they’re going to compete in this division this year.

13. Orioles (Tommy Milone) at Red Sox (Nathan Eovaldi)
7:30 p.m. ET, Friday

The Red Sox have been sort of forgotten in the offseason, which is understandable, considering they traded Mookie Betts and have lost Chris Sale for the season to Tommy John surgery. But there’s still some great young hitters on this team, and they couldn’t possibly start the season with an easier matchup.

14. Tigers (Matt Boyd) at Reds (Sonny Gray)
6:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The Reds are everyone’s sleeper pick to win the NL Central -- and they have precisely the sort of roster that could benefit from a shortened season -- and Cincinnati gets the good fortune of starting its season against the team that had the worst record in the sport last year.

15. Royals (Danny Duffy) at Indians (Shane Bieber)
7:10 p.m. ET, Friday

The Indians spent the offseason wondering if they were going to be completely turned over, but they now look stronger in a short season than they would have in a long one -- and with Francisco Lindor likely here for the whole run. The Royals have a new manager, some young talent and some work to do. However, the power combo of Jorge Soler and the newly acquired Franchy Cordero will be among the most impressive in the game.

Seriously, though: We should really try to figure out a way to watch them all.