The King of Opening Day: A Look at Kershaw and the Numbers Behind the MLB Holiday
It’s a term synonymous with baseball across the United States and the globe. It’s capitalized for a reason. For fans, it is nothing short of a national holiday.
Today’s highly anticipated start is an occasion steeped in history, with tradition front and center. But this year, it’s also the latest signal of hope that American life and sports will soon be returning to normal.
The coronavirus pandemic led to an enforced break and a reduced 60-game regular-season schedule behind closed doors in 2020, with a limited number of fans allowed to attend the playoffs as the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to end their 32-year World Series drought.
But 2021 will see the return of the usual 162-game calendar and more importantly, spectators in the stands. All but one of the 30 teams will start at reduced capacity – the Texas Rangers are expected to have a full house for their opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.
As America’s pastime begins anew, we take a look at Opening Day by the numbers.
Kershaw Set for Historic Opening Day Start
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93 million deal – will be on the mound when the Dodgers open their title defense against the Colorado Rockies.
It will be Kershaw’s ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after injuries prevented him from beginning the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. The eight-time All-Star gets the nod ahead of Walker Buehler and high-profile addition Trevor Bauer, the reigning National League Cy Young winner.
Future Hall of Famer Kershaw boasts a 5-1 record with a 1.05 ERA on Opening Day. The 2014 NL MVP’s only loss came in his previous start in 2018 when he allowed just one run over six innings against the San Francisco Giants.
Since 1913 when ERA became an official stat, the 32-year-old Kershaw has the lowest Opening Day mark among pitchers with six starts – ahead of Bob Feller (1.21), Jim Palmer (1.40), Hal Newhouser (1.41) and Walter Johnson (1.51).
As for the star-studded Dodgers, they are 74-62 (.544) all time on Opening Day, including a 9-1 record since 2011. Their 9-1 (.900) Opening Day record over this stretch is the best in the league, ahead of the Houston Astros (8-2), Baltimore Orioles (8-2), Seattle Mariners (7-3), Detroit Tigers (7-3) and New York Mets (7-3).
Tatis Jr., Padres Open With High Expectations
Fernando Tatis Jr. heads into the 2021 season fresh off signing his eye-popping 14-year, $340 million contract with the San Diego Padres.
The Padres are pinning their hopes on MLB’s new poster boy delivering San Diego its first World Series title. Tatis won a Silver Slugger Award last year, hitting .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs.
The powerful 22-year-old Tatis is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career. Tatis, who was the youngest Padre to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days) in 2019, also became the fastest player in franchise history (24 team games) to hit double-digit home runs in a season in 2020 after hitting his 10th and 11th homers in August.
Across his two Opening Day appearances, Tatis has three hits in seven at-bats while slugging at .571. The Padres will be hoping he can improve on those numbers when they take on the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.
Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper and New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton also love Opening Day. Harper – the 2015 NL MVP and six-time All-Star – has nine hits and five homers in eight appearances, while Stanton – the 2017 NL MVP – has 13 hits, four homers and 12 RBIs through 10 games.
Blue Jays recruit George Springer, a World Series winner with the Astros, has also impressed on Opening Day with five hits, three homers and six RBIs in six games.
What Can Abreu and Freeman Do for an Encore?
Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman take the field on Opening Day looking to start another MVP-caliber season.
Abreu became the 28th player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in his career after finishing second in MLB with 19 home runs and fourth in the AL with a .317 batting average.
Freeman trumped Dodgers star Mookie Betts and Padres sensation Manny Machado to take home NL honors. Freeman’s 1.102 OPS was the second highest in MLB, trailing only Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, and he finished second in the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640).
Does it bode well for the pair in 2020?
Well, it certainly hasn’t been easy to win back-to-back MVPs. There have only been 13 players to pull it off in baseball history; 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera was the last to do so in 2012 and 2013. Albert Pujols (2008-09) was the most recent player to do it in the NL.
The End of the Cleveland Baseball Team as We Know It
After 106 years, this is likely to be the last Opening Day in which the Cleveland franchise will be known as the Indians. Cleveland has announced it will follow the example of the NFL’s Washington Football Team, who dropped their Redskins nickname in 2020 after years of debate, and change its name as early as 2022.
The club has won two World Series titles (1920, 1948), though its current streak of 71 seasons without a championship is the longest active run in the majors.
Cleveland has had a winning record in each of the past eight seasons (2013-20), making it one of four MLB teams with an active streak of eight-plus (Yankees 28, Cardinals 13, Dodgers 10). It is tied for the second-longest streak of winning seasons in franchise history (10 straight 1947-56; eight in a row 1994-2001).
Design by Matt Sisneros.