KEY DATES TO MARK AS BASE­BALL GETS READY TO RESTART

Merced Sun-Star - - Explore - BY JAY CO­HEN

At long last, base­ball is ready to go af­ter open­ing day was de­layed by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. With a myr­iad of po­ten­tial prob­lems cir­cling a 60-game sched­ule, the whole sea­son is truly a day-to-day propo­si­tion.

With that in mind, here are a hand­ful of dates to mark on the cal­en­dar. Just make sure you use a pen­cil.

THURS­DAY, JULY 23: New York Yan­kees at Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als: Base­ball be­gins again with a star-stud­ded matchup in a city that knows a lit­tle some­thing about ex­pec­ta­tions and power. Juan Soto and Wash­ing­ton open their ti­tle de­fense af­ter win­ning the World Se­ries for the first time in fran­chise his­tory. Ger­rit Cole is hop­ing to lead New York to its 28th cham­pi­onship af­ter the ace righthande­r signed a block­buster deal with the Yan­kees in free agency.

THURS­DAY, JULY 30: Cleve­land In­di­ans at Min­nesota Twins: The Twins clubbed a ma­jor league-record 307 homers on their way to the AL Cen­tral ti­tle last year – and then added slug­ger Josh Don­ald­son in free agency. Cleve­land fin­ished sec­ond in the di­vi­sion with 93 wins, but its big­gest off­sea­son move might have been the one it didn’t make – hold­ing on to Fran­cisco Lin­dor. The In­di­ans kept their All-Star short­stop in hopes of mak­ing another play­off run, and they should be in the mix once again.

FRI­DAY, AUG. 7: Hous­ton Astros at Oakland Ath­let­ics: Jose Al­tuve and Hous­ton fin­ish their first road trip in Oakland, home of former team­mate Mike Fiers. But this isn’t go­ing to be one of those warm re­u­nions. In an in­ter­view with The Ath­letic for a story pub­lished in Novem­ber, Fiers blew the whis­tle on Hous­ton’s sign-steal­ing pro­gram in its run to the 2017 World Se­ries ti­tle, touch­ing off a scan­dal that could shadow the Astros for years to come. Fiers and the A’s visit Hous­ton for the first time on Aug. 28.

THURS­DAY, AUG. 13: St. Louis Car­di­nals at Chicago White Sox: The Car­di­nals are in and the Yan­kees are out for base­ball’s trib­ute to “Field of Dreams” at the site in east­ern Iowa where the 1989 movie was filmed. The Yan­kees

were sched­uled to face the White Sox in the first reg­u­lar-sea­son game in the Hawk­eye State, but the Car­di­nals got the role af­ter Ma­jor League Base­ball short­ened its sched­ule be­cause of the pan­demic. MON­DAY, AUG. 17: Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als at At­lanta Braves: Ron­ald Acuna Jr. and At­lanta host Trea Turner and Wash­ing­ton in their first meet­ing since the Na­tion­als won it all. The Braves topped the NL East last sea­son for the sec­ond straight year – and flopped in the play­offs once again. While At­lanta was elim­i­nated by St. Louis in the NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries, Wash­ing­ton took home the cham­pi­onship. The di­vi­sion ri­vals also play seven times in the first half of Septem­ber. FRI­DAY, AUG. 21: Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs at San Fran­cisco Gi­ants: Madi­son Bum­gar­ner re­turns to San Fran­cisco af­ter sign­ing an $85 mil­lion, five-year con­tract with Ari­zona in De­cem­ber. The ace lefty spent his first 11 sea­sons with the Gi­ants, win­ning the World Se­ries in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The newlook Di­a­mond­backs also ac­quired Star­ling Marte in a trade with Pitts­burgh in Jan­uary.

MON­DAY, AUG. 31: Trade dead­line: Last day dur­ing the sea­son to trade a player. The dead­line to be in an or­ga­ni­za­tion for post­sea­son el­i­gi­bil­ity is Sept. 15.

WED­NES­DAY, SEPT. 2: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yan­kees: The Rays were one of base­ball’s big­gest sur­prises a year ago, go­ing 96-66 and mak­ing it to the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries be­fore los­ing to Hous­ton. Now Char­lie Mor­ton and com­pany are ex­pected to bat­tle New York for the AL East ti­tle. The 10-game sea­son se­ries between the clubs could go a long way to­ward de­cid­ing the di­vi­sion af­ter the Yan­kees went 12-7 against the Rays in 2019.

SATUR­DAY, SEPT. 12: Hous­ton Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers: Los Angeles was sup­posed to face the AL Cen­tral in in­ter­league play this year. Then the coro­n­avirus hit and MLB re­or­ga­nized its sched­ule to limit travel – set­ting up Hous­ton’s first trip to Dodger Sta­dium since the Astros’ sign­steal­ing scheme be­came pub­lic knowl­edge. The Dodgers lost to Hous­ton in seven games in that 2017 World Se­ries, and they weren’t shy about ex­press­ing their dis­dain for the Astros af­ter the scan­dal came out over the win­ter.

SUN­DAY, SEPT. 27: Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers at St. Louis Car­di­nals: The last two NL Cen­tral cham­pi­ons fin­ish the reg­u­lar sea­son with a four-game set. Jack Flaherty and Paul Gold­schmidt led the way as St. Louis won the di­vi­sion last year for the first time since 2015, fin­ish­ing two games ahead of Mil­wau­kee. But the Brew­ers played with­out Chris­tian Yelich down the stretch af­ter the star out­fielder broke his right kneecap.

Los Angeles An­gels at Los Angeles Dodgers: The Free­way Se­ries drives into the last week­end of the sea­son. Mike Trout and the An­gels are hop­ing to re­turn to the play­offs for the first time since 2014, and they'll have Joe Mad­don in the dugout af­ter he was hired as man­ager in Oc­to­ber. The loaded Dodgers, who ac­quired Mookie Betts in a Feb. 10 trade with Bos­ton, are aim­ing for their first

World Se­ries cham­pi­onship since 1988.

KATHY WIL­LENS AP

On July 23, the Yan­kees play at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als. Ger­rit Cole is hop­ing to lead New York to its 28th cham­pi­onship af­ter the ace right-han­der signed a block­buster deal with the Yan­kees in free agency.

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