Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. If you’re looking for me today, I’ll be on the couch watching baseball.
In today’s SI:AM:
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Opening Day is here
MLB is going big for Opening Day this year. All 30 teams are scheduled to begin their seasons today, and with clear skies across most of the country, it looks like we’ll actually get the full complement of 15 games. The last time every MLB team played on Opening Day was 1968. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the season.
With so many changes on the horizon, both in terms of star players in new uniforms and the significant rule changes, it promises to be a really great season. Our experts tried to make predictions for how it will play out, but the only thing they all agreed on is that the Astros will win the AL West, and Shohei Ohtani will win MVP. Here are some other things you should be paying attention to this season.
The most fascinating variable in MLB this season will be the effect various rule changes will have on the way the game is played. I’ve already gone through the new rules in detail. Specifically, I’m looking forward to seeing whether batters such as Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo, who often faced defensive shifts, will have offensive resurgences due to restrictions on defensive positioning. And will some teams get creative with their defensive alignments and use unorthodox strategies like parking the left fielder in shallow right to scoop up balls hit through the hole? Which pitchers will have the most trouble adjusting to the pitch clock? Will MLB have to adjust the timing of the clock at all to account for tense moments late in close games?
Shohei Ohtani’s future
The greatest free-agent bonanza in MLB history is on the horizon. Shohei Ohtani, the unprecedented two-way superstar, will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The consensus is he will become the first player in MLB history to sign a contract worth $500 million. But could he leave the Angels before then? If the Angels fall out of playoff contention before the trade deadline, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Ohtani moved at the deadline so the Angels could get something in return for him rather than watching him walk in free agency. His name already surfaced in trade rumors last summer.
Aaron Judge’s encore
After hitting 62 home runs last season, how will Aaron Judge follow it up? Judge cashed in after his record-setting season and signed a nine-year, $360 million contract, so the pressure will be on for him to deliver again this season. This is a guy who got booed at home in the playoffs, so don’t expect any honeymoon period for Yankees fans. Adding to the sense of urgency is the fact the Yankees’ offense might have to carry the team early in the season with so many pitchers on the injured list.
Which unlikely teams will make the playoffs?
Projection systems like the one at FanGraphs are helpful for giving a general idea of which teams will have success in a given season, but you never know who will surprise you once the games are actually played. As Tom Verducci points out, in 27 of the 28 seasons since MLB introduced the wild card, at least one team that had a losing record the year before has made the playoffs. (The only exception is 2005.) Last year, the Guardians, Mets and Padres all reached the postseason after posting sub-.500 records. So who could it be this year? Verducci has four potential candidates, but to me, the most likely is the Twins. Minnesota plays in the weakest division in the majors and made some offseason acquisitions that should lead to an improvement over last year’s 78–84 record.
The Twins struggled with starting pitching depth last season but added Pablo López in a trade with the Marlins this winter. He’ll get the start today against the Royals. Verducci also thinks starters Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober (who’s 6'9") will take steps forward in what will be their third seasons in the majors. Free-agent acquisition Christian Vázquez will be an upgrade behind the plate over Gary Sánchez, especially defensively. The Twins did lose last year’s AL batting champ, Luis Arraez, sending him to Miami in the López deal, but they added one of those players who many expect to bounce back offensively due to the ban on the shift: Joey Gallo.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- Today’s Daily Cover, fittingly, is a detailed breakdown of every division in baseball.
- Michael Rosenberg argues the Lamar Jackson saga is more proof players need agents to handle contract negotiations.
- Before Kevin Durant’s return to the Suns last night, Chris Mannix wrote it’s coming at a perfect time for Phoenix.
- Chris Herring and Rohan Nadkarni broke down the 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame class.
- I did a ranking of every MLB stadium that features some really awesome pictures from Sports Illustrated photographers.
- Iowa’s Caitlin Clark beat out Aliyah Boston for Naismith Player of the Year.
- Kings rookie Keegan Murray broke a record previously held by Donovan Mitchell.
- Kansas State’s breakout March Madness star Markquis Nowell declared for the NBA draft.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
5. Capitals winger Conor Sheary’s backhand goal.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 38-point triple double and Jrue Holiday’s career-high 51 points in the Bucks’ win over the Pacers. (They’re the third pair of teammates in NBA history to combine for at least 85 points, 25 rebounds and 20 assists in a single game.)
3. Grayson Allen’s poster dunk on Jordan Nwora.
2. Steven Adams wearing the shirt with his face on it that the Grizzlies gave away at last night’s game.
1. Frida Maanum’s one-touch goal from outside the box in Arsenal’s UEFA Women’s Champions League win over Bayern Munich.
After the Mariners snapped their 21-year playoff drought last season, which two AL teams are now tied for the longest postseason drought in the majors? (Hint: They both most recently made the playoffs in 2014.)
Yesterday’s SIQ: On March 29, 1996, the newly relocated Baltimore NFL franchise team announced it would be known as the Ravens. Which two of the following names were also finalists?
Answer: Marauders and Americans. In a Baltimore Sun telephone poll of nearly 34,000 people, Ravens finished first with 22,463 votes, while 5,650 picked Marauders and 5,635 wanted Americans.
The Marauders name was inspired by the Martin B-26 Marauder, a World War II bomber that had been built in Baltimore. The Americans nickname was inspired by a locomotive built in Baltimore.
The franchise cast a wide net in coming up with a new name. The NFL’s merchandise division came up with a list of more than 100 possible names, which team executives then whittled down to 17. Input from focus groups in Baltimore cut the list to six, and a telephone poll decided upon those three finalists.
One of the most popular ideas was to bring back the old Colts nickname, but Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay and Baltimore owner Art Modell couldn’t agree on a price. (Irsay wanted between $25 million and $50 million for the name, while Modell was willing to pay only about $5 million, according to The Baltimore Sun.) Other options included Bombers, Railers, Steamers, Mustangs and Bays. Modell’s favorite was Bulldogs, but that option didn’t garner widespread support.