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Nationals, Mariners and Rangers among teams left off early Sunday Night Baseball schedule

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(USA Today)

One of the strongest indicators that baseball season is near comes when ESPN releases its early season schedule for Sunday Night Baseball.

Good news, baseball fans, that day arrived on Wednesday with ESPN confirming about half of their games for the upcoming season, which is also their 25th anniversary carrying Sunday night games.

The schedule opens with the Los Angeles Dodgers and their now historically wealthy left-hander Clayton Kershaw — who will have a week's rest after starting the season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia — going against the division rival San Diego Padres. Not exactly the juiciest matchup, but the selling point is obviously the Dodgers star power (and perhaps a hope Masahiro Tanaka's MLB debut happens that night). The Dodgers return again the following Sunday against the San Francisco Giants, which is definitely a high profile game, and then again on July 20 against St. Louis.

Again, it's not the complete schedule. Only March, April, three weeks of May and two weeks of July have been announced. We don't think they forgot June, but it's interesting to note some of the teams they forgot, or at least haven't penciled in at this point.

Perhaps the most notable team omission here is the Washington Nationals. We're sure they'll eventually slot in there a couple times, but it's a little stunning to see such a 'buzzy' team missing. Granted, they missed the postseason last year, but with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, a new manager in Matt Williams and expectations still high, they seem like a good bet to draw eyes early in the season.

By the way, the Atlanta Braves did win the NL East last season and we don't see them either.

On a grander scale, the AL West is only represented once, and it may not be the first team you'd guess. The two-time defending division champion Oakland A's are nowhere to be found. Neither are the Texas Rangers despite their status as perennial contenders. And the Seattle Mariners? You know, the team that scooped up Robinson Cano from the Yankees, already employs Felix Hernandez, and may not be done adding piece. No spot for them either.

The Los Angeles Angels, though? Sure, why not?

Hey, we all love to watch Mike Trout do everything, including jump flat-flooted onto a high platform. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are still attractions, too, if only to see how much they have left in the tank. But the luster has sort of worn off on the team as a whole. Hopefully we see those other AL West teams added in the coming weeks because that figures to be the most interesting division to watch from top to bottom.

Here's the schedule as it looks right now:

• March 30: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres
• April 6: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers
• April 13: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
• April 20: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
• April 27: Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
• May 4: TBD
• May 11: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
• May 18: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox
• May 25: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds
• July 13: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
• July 20: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

The Orioles-Red Sox matchup on April 20 comes on the eve of Patriot's Day in Boston. That entire extended weekend figures to be highly emotional at Fenway Park.

It's good to see the Pittsburgh Pirates get a home game on Sunday night. It won't be a playoff atmosphere, obviously, but it should still be a fun game with the NL champion Cardinals visiting.

Only one Red Sox vs. Yankees matchup? We know that will change. In the meantime, there's still plenty of both teams to go around. And plenty of Cardinals, too.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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