What to watch for on Opening Day

Major League Baseball opens the 2024 season with several intriguing storylines ready to unspool. Here are some items to watch for on Opening Day.

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Sports

March 27, 2024 - 1:55 PM

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (65) throws against the Oakland Athletics during the second inning at the Coliseum in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group/TNS

After the Dodgers and Padres soft-launched the 2024 MLB season with a two-game series in Seoul, South Korea last week, the league’s other 28 teams are set to begin the season Thursday. 

All eyes remain on Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, who will make his home debut with LA amid investigations into his fired interpreter. Zack Wheeler and Spencer Strider square off in a juicy NL East opener between the Phillies and Braves in Philadelphia.

Several stars are set to debut with new teams, including Juan Soto with the Yankees, Josh Hader with the Astros, Corbin Burnes with the Orioles and Matt Chapman with the Giants.

Here’s what to watch for:

THE SHO GOES ON

Ohtani already made his Dodgers debut last week in South Korea, but all eyes will still be on the two-way sensation as LA hosts the Cardinals. The $700 million star is trying to play on after the firing of his longtime interpreter and friend Ippei Mizuhara, who Ohtani said Monday stole money from him to pay off gambling debts. Mizuhara was fired while the Dodgers were in Seoul last week for a two-game, regular-season opener against San Diego.

Ohtani, who won’t pitch this season while recovering from a second Tommy John surgery, was 3 for 10 with two RBIs as Los Angeles split the Seoul Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts posited Tuesday that Mizuhara’s absence could be good for Ohtani, saying Mizuhara had been a “buffer” between the Japanese star and his new teammates.

BIG EAST BALL

Zack Wheeler and Spencer Strider square off in a juicy NL East opener between the Phillies and Braves in Philadelphia.

Wheeler is pitching with a new contract after agreeing to a $126 million, three-year deal for 2025-27 this spring. The 33-year-old could’ve become a free agent after this season, but instead he recommitted to Philadelphia, where he’s been among the game’s best since joining the club as a free agent for the 2020 season.

Strider, meanwhile, has a new pitch. The 25-year-old right-hander has been working on a curveball this spring to deepen his repertoire. A scary thought for batters — without that curve, Strider struck out a major league-high 281 in 186 2/3 innings last season, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.

Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves finished 14 games ahead of Philadelphia each of the past two years. But the Phillies ended Atlanta’s postseason in Game 4 of a Division Series at Citizens Bank Park both times.

The New York Yankees’ Juan Soto hits a single in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during a spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 6, 2024, in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images/TNS

NEW IN TOWN

Several stars are set to debut with new teams. Juan Soto, still just 25, was dealt from the Padres to the Yankees over the winter and will slot into the lineup along with Aaron Judge when New York faces Houston. Late in the game, the Astros might counter Soto with Josh Hader, a five-time All-Star closer who signed with Houston in January.

Corbin Burnes is on the mound for Baltimore against the Angels after a Feb. 1 trade from Milwaukee. Matt Chapman should be at third base for the Giants against San Diego, and Rhys Hoskins suits up for the Brewers against the Mets.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW

Two of baseball’s top hitting prospects — the Brewers’ Jackson Chourio and the Rangers’ Wyatt Langford — are set to make their big league debuts. Chourio, 20, signed an $82 million, eight-year deal this offseason, the most money guaranteed to a player with no major league experience. Langford, meanwhile, will reach the majors less than a year after Texas selected him fourth overall in the 2023 amateur draft from the University of Florida.

Neither Orioles infielder Jackson Holliday nor Nationals outfielder James Wood cracked their opening day rosters despite impressive spring trainings.

OPEN AND CLOSE

Several teams are expected to open the season without their injured closers, including the Arizona Diamondbacks (Paul Sewald), the Baltimore Orioles (Félix Bautista), the Milwaukee Brewers (Devin Williams), the Minnesota Twins (Jhoan Durán) and the Toronto Blue Jays (Jordan Romano).

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