We are roughly 48 hours from another intense, unpredictable and enjoyable Major League Baseball season.
This year, the Boys of Summer are beginning earlier than ever (the regular season will end mid-week instead of on a Sunday for the first time in eons, so who says baseball cannot adjust? They actually do moreso than any other sport), on Thursday the 31st with half a dozen games — before we’re presented with a full weekend slate.
Here are ten nationally-televised matchups to keep an eye on prior to the July All-Star Break in Phoenix:
Giants-Dodgers (Thurs, 3/31): There are just two small things I miss about living in Los Angeles: In-N-Out Burger and Dodger Stadium. A 5pm battle in the late afternoon sun between historic rivals on Opening Day– one now being the defending champs — is simply delicious.
Padres-Cardinals (Sat, 4/2): Many believe these teams will be down in 2011, but baseball is too hard to forecast like that. An inter-divisional matchup of two strong second place clubs from last year on this season’s first weekend is very enticing — especially since I will be in attendance!
Yankees-Red Sox (Sat, 4/9): The Yankees may struggle this season, while the Red Sox are considered the best team in baseball; but even though we midwesterners love to poke fun at this overhyped matchup, it’s still ‘special,’ particularly the first series each season.
Rangers-Yankees (Sun, 4/17): While the Rangers’ pennant-winning club of 2010 exorcised 40 seasons of frustration, it was extra awesome that they knocked off the hated Yankees along the way (since New York ended Texas’s season three times in the late 90s). This game will conclude the teams’ first matchup since the 4-2 ALCS win for Texas last October.
White Sox-Tigers (Sat, 4/23): Many expect the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and if they do, these two upper midwest rivals will duke it out for AL Central supremacy. Chicago and Detroit compete in six head-to-head series this season, but this will be the first round.
Padres-Cardinals Reds-Cardinals (Sun, 4/24): Though the Reds pulled away in September to win the NL Central with ease, Saint Louis still dominated the head-to-head series in 2010, including a huge sweep in August before the Cardinals fell apart down the stretch. And I don’t need to remind you about the unique brawl in Cincy during that key series, beginning with Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina, ending with Chris Carpenter pinned against the backstop. No love here between these two rivals. This series will also be their first meeting of 2011.
Braves-Phillies (Sun, 5/8): The Braves first visit to Philly of 2011 culminates with a Sunday night telecast. (We can all be thankful to ESPN for finally putting the annoying Jon Miller/Joe Morgan broadcast team out to pasture last November.) These are arguably the two top teams in the NL East, and with the Phillies’ celebrated rotation, you have an 80 percent chance of seeing a top-tier pitcher in this one too.
Rangers-Phillies (Sat, 5/21): Interleague play returns with this unique matchup that was nearly your 2010 World Series. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers have fared through seven weeks at this juncture, as well as whether Philly’s Fabulous Four have lived up the hype, or floundered a bit like Miami’s “Heatles” so far.
Reds-Giants (Sat, 6/11): If the Reds perform to expectations, this could be a midseason matchup of two of the NL’s best, as Cincy embarks upon a west coast swing.
Yankees-Cubs (Sat, 6/18): Ten weeks in, one or both of these squads could be buried in 3rd or 4th place, but this is why Interleague Play exists: Yankees at Wrigley. If you want proof of baseball’s popularity, stop by Wrigley Field on Father’s Day Weekend.
*White Sox-Cubs (honorable mention,Sat, 7/2): A late Saturday afternoon start on 4th of July weekend at Wrigley for the cross-town showdown. Surely an epic scene, even if the game is often secondary.
Full season national broadcast lineup here.