One of opening day's beauties is its ability to swallow an entire day. Getting lost in an afternoon of baseball is an easy habit, and there are few better ones to do so than when the grass is its greenest, the ballparks their cleanest and the seasons empty canvasses.
Tracking the whole shebang … well, that's the tough part. And that is why we are here. Sometimes it's good for someone to hold your hand. To remind you who's pitching. To give you some insight as to the day's storylines. To hit the Weather Channel and take cues from their fine meteorologists as to what Mother Nature is planning. And then, for those who want brass tacks only, to do what baseball scouts do: assign a grade to the entire package, on their 20-80 scale no less, 20 being as unwatchable as "Joey," 80 as perfect as "Breaking Bad."
Keep it open in a tab, print it out and take it to the ballpark – do with this what you will. Just make sure to use it Friday as well as Thursday because baseball rolls out opening day in two waves this year.
OPENING DAY 2.0 (Friday)
Game: Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies
Time: 1:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Brett Myers(notes) vs. Roy Halladay
Keep an eye on: Well, Halladay threw a perfect game during the regular season last year. He threw a no-hitter in his first playoff start. So what's to keep him from twirling either on opening day? Certainly not an Astros lineup that features hole (Humberto Quintero(notes)) after hole (Angel Sanchez(notes)). If Chase Utley(notes) is on the Phillies' bench, plenty of discussion will center around the bum knee that nobody is talking in much detail about, which means the words being thrown around behind closed doors ain't good. And still, because Halladay comes before Cliff Lee(notes), Roy Oswalt(notes) and Cole Hamels(notes), expectations are barely dampened. It's World Series or bust for the Phantastic Four.
Weather forecast: 50 with rain. Hoping the pattern shifts.
Scouting grade: 65. For Halladay alone.
Game: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs
Time: 2:20 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Kevin Correia(notes) vs. Ryan Dempster(notes)
Keep an eye on: Wrigley Field, as it's going to be a lot prettier than the baseball. OK, that's not entirely fair. The Pirates do have some up-and-coming stars in Andrew McCutchen(notes) and Pedro Alvarez(notes), and the Cubs should be better than last year under the stewardship of Mike Quade. Correia is from the Mark Redman school of opening day starters – San Diego non-tendered him this offseason – and the Cubs are playing 2011 out in hopes that they show enough to convince Albert Pujols Lakeview is a nice enough neighborhood to spend 81 games a year (plus a few in October).
Weather forecast: 42 and rainy. Ugly weather to go with ugly ball.
Scouting grade: 35. Pirates-Cubs:baseball::Old Style:beer
Game: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians
Time: 3:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Mark Buehrle(notes) vs. Fausto Carmona(notes)
Keep an eye on: Indians catcher Carlos Santana(notes) and his return from the gruesome knee injury suffered in the middle of a Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign. Santana is a star-in-the-making around whom Cleveland is building. Chicago, meanwhile, continues its all-in ethos with its Adam Dunn(notes) signing and gives Buehrle the opening day start more as a nod to his tenure than his ability. John Danks(notes) is a better pitcher than him, and an argument that Gavin Floyd(notes) and Edwin Jackson(notes) are, too, isn't without merit. The White Sox's deep rotation, which includes Jake Peavy(notes) as well, makes them a trendy AL Central pick.
Weather forecast: 40 and partly cloudy. Better than the snow Thursday.
Scouting grade: 45.
Game: Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Jon Lester(notes) vs. C.J. Wilson(notes)
Keep an eye on: The battle of the left-handers that makes this opening day 2.0's best game. Lester has taken the Game 1 mantel from Josh Beckett(notes) and, at 27, is primed for his best season. Wilson is an admirable, if admittedly lesser, stand-in for Cliff Lee, whom the Rangers had hoped to see in this spot. And the lineups each face are dynamite. Carl Crawford(notes) and Adrian Gonzalez(notes) make their Red Sox debuts. Adrian Beltre(notes) and Mike Napoli(notes) don their claws and antlers for the first time. And the AL sees two of its best teams with their best pitchers.
Weather forecast: 85 and sunny. Share the heat, would you?
Scouting grade: 70. The AL champion hosting the AL favorite: What's not to like?
Game: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies
Time: 4:10 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Ian Kennedy(notes) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez(notes)
Keep an eye on: Troy Tulowitzki(notes) and Carlos Gonzalez(notes), the Rockies' Batman and Robin, on whom they spent $237 million this offseason to keep together for the rest of the decade. The shortstop and center fielder are the centerpieces of the Rockies' playoff hopes along with Jimenez, whose incredible start last season faded into a third-place finish in the Cy Young. The Diamondbacks are rebuilding, evidenced by Kennedy getting the opening day nod over the ineffective Joe Saunders(notes) and the apparently-too-young Daniel Hudson(notes). Arizona and Colorado met in the NLCS three years ago. It seems like a lot more than that.
Weather forecast: 60 and partly cloudy. Should be pleasant.
Scouting grade: 50. Jimenez drags an otherwise-OK game up to average.
Game: Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays
Time: 7:07 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Carl Pavano(notes) vs. Ricky Romero(notes)
Keep an eye on: Justin Morneau's(notes) return from a devastating concussion that caused him to miss the final three months of 2010 and sidelined him most of the offseason. Morneau, the former AL MVP, is among the many questions surrounding Minnesota, all of which concern injuries. Whether Joe Mauer's(notes) (myriad), Joe Nathan's(notes) (healing elbow) or Francisco Liriano's(notes) (tender shoulder), injuries – or, really, the Twins' ability to deal with them – will dictate the success of their season. Even though Toronto is graduating some of its prospects to the major leagues, it's still a ways off of contending in the AL East torture chamber.
Weather forecast: Opening day's best friend: domed stadiums.
Scouting grade: 55. For Morneau's return and Pavano's awesome mustache.
Game: New York Mets at Florida Marlins
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Mike Pelfrey(notes) vs. Josh Johnson(notes)
Keep an eye on: The Mets' corner outfield spots. In left field should be Jason Bay(notes). He's headed to the disabled list with a rib cage strain. In right field will be Carlos Beltran(notes). One scout who this week saw Beltran running in the outfield called him "Grandpa Simpson." Ouch. Johnson is the NL version of Weaver – dominant and underappreciated. Pay particular attention to Mike Stanton's(notes) at-bats against Pelfrey. If one of the pitcher's straight fastballs meets Stanton's bats, a 500-foot home run is in conceivable.
Weather forecast: 80 with slight chance of thunderstorm. Rain on Mets would be fitting.
Scouting grade: 55. Beltran's unintentional comedy combined with a Stanton moonshot potential and Logan Morrison(notes) tweeting about it all makes this an underrated gem.
Game: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Jeremy Guthrie(notes) vs. David Price(notes)
Keep an eye on: Ballplayers' personal items. Like Price's glove. That's personal. And Guthrie's hat. That, too. An AK-47, on the other hand, is not a personal item. It's a freaking machine gun. So Evan Longoria's(notes) attempt to pass it off as such, after burglars stole one from his house, was an ugly precursor to what should be an exciting year in Tampa Bay. The Rays slashed payroll and will welcome a new generation of kids to supplement the excellent core already in place. Baltimore, meanwhile, suffers from same old, same old: The names may be more well known and the salaries bigger, but this isn't a team that can compete now and may not be able to for a while.
Weather forecast: Tropicana Field's one redeeming point – no rainouts.
Scouting grade: 45. If "Jesse" shows up, I take back everything I've said. It's an 80.
Game: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
Time: 10:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Felix Hernandez(notes) vs. Trevor Cahill(notes)
Keep an eye on: If your eyes remain peeled at this point, the pitching matchup. Pure power in the Hernandez, the reigning Cy Young winner, against the latest purveyor of the turbosinker, the 23-year-old Cahill. Savor Hernandez while you can; the Mariners aren't much worth watching the four days he doesn't pitch (although rookie Michael Pineda(notes), a 6-foot-7 monster, may be worth a gander). Cahill, on the other hand, heads an A's rotation that is inspiring thoughts of the early 2000s.
Weather forecast: 68 and clear. Great night for baseball.
Scouting grade: 55. If not for lineups that grade out mediocre (Oakland) and nauseating (Seattle), this would've been plenty higher.
OPENING DAY 1.0 (Thursday)
Game: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
Time: 1:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Justin Verlander(notes) vs. CC Sabathia(notes)
Keep an eye on: Everything. On a day that lacks enough baseball for the masses – and could bleed even more with a storm primed to hit the East Coast – this game teems with storylines. Derek Jeter's(notes) return to Yankee Stadium after a harrowing offseason. Miguel Cabrera's(notes) first game since he drank himself stupid and got arrested. And a pitching matchup between two 95-mph-throwing aces who could send shivers up a lot of hitters' arms.
Weather forecast: 40 degrees and rainy. Ick.
Scouting grade: 70. For the characters involved, the intrigue and the setting, it is the perfect opener. One grade knocked off for the weather.
Game: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals
Time: 1:05 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Derek Lowe(notes) vs. Livan Hernandez(notes)
Keep an eye on: The sneakiest team in the NL, the Braves, who don't overwhelm with a superstar but feature a lineup that's strong throughout, a rotation that's deep and a bullpen overflowing with power arms. Infield defense isn't a strength, though it isn't so weak to count out Atlanta. Jayson Werth(notes) will take his first at-bat as a National, and a home run would be nice to placate those who worry his $126 million deal was excessive.
Weather forecast: 40 and overcast. Precipitation could come mid-game.
Scouting grade: 50. Put Stephen Strasburg(notes) on the mound and Bryce Harper(notes) in the lineup, as should be the case in 2012, and it's a 70.
Game: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds
Time: 2:10 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Yovani Gallardo(notes) vs. Edinson Volquez(notes)
Keep an eye on: Dugout shots of Zack Greinke(notes), who would have started for Milwaukee if not for the pickup hoops accident that sent him to the DL. Gallardo is a plenty able replacement, and he and Volquez have the most difficult jobs in the Queen City: shut down their opposition's lineup. Combine Prince Fielder(notes), Ryan Braun(notes), Rickie Weeks(notes), Joey Votto(notes), Jay Bruce(notes) and Brandon Phillips(notes) with Great American Ball Park, and home runs could soar all afternoon.
Weather forecast: 42 and cloudy. Rain should hold off.
Scouting grade: 60. Two teams that could spend all year battling get to start the year with bragging rights at stake and fireworks on the docket.
Game: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals
Time: 4:10 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Jered Weaver(notes) vs. Luke Hochevar(notes)
Keep an eye on: The enigma that is Hochevar, who commingles brilliance with disaster and is the Royals' top starter only by default. Weaver, on the other hand, was the best pitcher no one knew about last year and heads a strong Angels rotation that could keep afloat their suspect lineup. One name to watch there: Mark Trumbo(notes), the big rookie whose tape-measure spring training home runs gave the Angels a nice backup plan while Kendrys Morales(notes) heals. His first-base counterpart, Kila Ka'aihue(notes), is another masher hoping to win a full-time job before one of Kansas City's mega-prospects, Eric Hosmer(notes), arrives this year.
Weather forecast: 50 and rainy. Delays possible.
Scouting grade: 40. Mike Scioscia's brand of boring ball vs. the pre-prospects Royals? Maybe instead of a WNBA game, but wait five minutes for …
Game: San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals
Time: 4:15 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Tim Stauffer(notes) vs. Chris Carpenter(notes)
Keep an eye on: Albert Pujols(notes). Albert Pujols. And, sure, why not: Albert Pujols. The secondary characters in the Cardinals' season will be present – manager Tony La Russa, ever the power broker; Carpenter, starter because Adam Wainwright's(notes) elbow blew; and the Matt Holliday(notes)-Colby Rasmus-Lance Berkman(notes) outfield that will surround Pujols in the lineup – but the first baseman captures all of the attention because of what's to come. His free agency is the storyline of 2011, and another step begins Thursday.
Weather forecast: 54 and sunny. Rain should hold off until night.
Scouting grade: 60. A potential pitchers' duel between two teams that finished near the top of their divisions last year but could struggle to do so this season.
Game: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Pitching matchup: Tim Lincecum(notes) vs. Clayton Kershaw(notes)
Keep an eye on: Everything. The Giants are the defending champions, the Dodgers their sworn enemies. ESPN wanted the game in San Francisco so the Giants could raise their banners, but both teams said no. The starters couldn't be much more different (Lincecum a Northwest free spirit with long hair, a pot arrest and don't-give-a-damn attitude; Kershaw a religious Southerner who spent part of his offseason helping build a school in Africa) while so similar (both should challenge Roy Halladay(notes) for the NL Cy Young). Though the franchises are in divergent places – San Francisco so emboldened by its championship that it plans to start the season with star prospect Brandon Belt(notes) at first base, Los Angeles so gunshy from owner Frank McCourt's divorce that outfielder Andre Ethier(notes) expressed worry about getting non-tendered next year – the excitement surrounding this game is what it ought be.
Weather forecast: 76 and sunny. God bless L.A.
Scouting grade: 80. The rivalry. The stakes. The weather. The pitchers. The ne plus ultra of opening day.