After a brutal 119-day delay, it is finally time to “Play ball!” MLB’s Opening Day begins with the New York Yankees facing the defending champion Washington Nationals without any fans in attendance at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.

Opening Day preview New York Yankees Washington Nationals
The NY Yankees square off against the defending champs, Washington Nationals, at National Park in DC. (Image: Scott Taetsch/Getty)

The crew at OG have been anxiously awaiting the first pitch for more than four months, and we’re excited to share an Opening Day preview. Better late, then never!

According to DraftKings, the Yankees are the favorite at -139 on the moneyline. The Nationals, playing their first game as defending World Series champions, come into Opening Day as a home dog at +123.

Location: Nationals Park, DC
First Pitch: 4:05 pm PT
Betting Line: NYY -139 / WAS +123
Pitchers: Gerrit Cole (NYY) at Max Scherzer (WAS)
Run Line: NYY -1.5 +125 / WAS +1.5 -148
Total Runs: 7.5 O/U

The Yankees and Nationals meet only once this summer with a three-game series to kick off the reduced season. The AL East will play the NL East this season, which is why the Yanks face the World Series champs.

The 60-game season includes a few tweaks in the rules. All teams will utilize a universal DH. There’s also a new rule regarding extra innings with a runner beginning on second base.

The Yankees are the second-highest favorite to win the World Series at 4/1 odds, according to the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, while the Nationals find themselves in the middle of the pack at 18/1 odds to win back-to-back title.

Nats Fade Hangover and History?

Every championship team has to worry about returning the next season with a dreaded hangover, because winning teams get a tad “fat and sassy” after a title run. Plus, everyone is gunning for them, so they never have an easy opponent.

The Nationals have to worry about a World Series hangover during a pandemic. Will the shortened season allow them to successfully defend their crown? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

The Nats also want to fade history to become the first team since 2000 to win consecutive World Series titles. If you go back 100 years and a full century of history, only 10 teams pulled off consecutive World Series victories since the New York Giants won back-to-back titles in 1921-22.

Between 1949 and 1953, the New York Yankees won five-straight World Series titles. That was the height of the “Damn Yankees” era that inspired a novel and stage play by the same name. In Damn Yankees, the Washington Senators can never seem to beat those damn Yankees until they sell their soul to the devil.

Since the Damn Yankees rattled off five in a row in the early 1950s, only five teams won the World Series in consecutive seasons. Those Damn Yankees pulled off that rare feat thrice (1961-62, 1977-78, 1998-2000). The Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays are the only other franchises to win consecutive titles.

Yankees’ World Series Mission

The Yankees lost to the Houston Astros in the 2019 ALCS during a controversial series. Everyone in the greater Houston-metro area thinks their hometown heroes are innocent, while the rest of the baseball community views them as pariahs for cheating with electronic devices and video surveillance.

While the majority of the Astros’ opponents won’t think twice about beaning batters like the universally loathed Jose Altuve, the Yankees will take the high road. They really don’t have a choice because the reduced schedule removed any Yanks/Astros matchups. The Yankees want to issue their revenge by going the distance and winning the 2020 World Series.

The Yankees are a deep team once again, boasting one of the deadliest bullpens in the big leagues. They have four guys who can win a home run title, and a couple of hitters who can contend for the batting crown. Manager Aaron Boone proved he could win with a bunch of minor leaguers after suffering numerous injuries to almost every starter in 2019. Even with a AAA club, Boone still won 100-plus games with the battered, beatdown, and burgeoning Baby Bombers.

To quote Ric Flair, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man. Wooo!” If the Yankees want to win their first title in 11 seasons, then their first step on the path to a championship begins with an Opening Day skirmish against the World Series winners.

Opening Day Matchup: Cole vs. Scherzer

It’s always fun when two aces clash in an old-fashioned pitching duel, especially on Opening Day. Old man Max Scherzer still has gas in the tank. The 34-year old and seven-time All-Star hurler welcomed the extra four months off to rest his arm.

Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.027 WHIP in only 27 starts. He’s secured double-digit wins in his previous 10 seasons. He’s a two-time 20-game winner, and has won 20 games in both leagues. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, also won the prestigious pitching award in both the AL and NL. In 2018, Scherzer struck out 300 batters for the first and only time in his career.

  • NYY: Gerrit Cole (2019 stats: 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326 Ks)
  • WAS: Max Scherzer (2019 stats: 11-7, 2.92 ERA, 300 Ks)

In the offseason, the Yankees made Gerrit Cole the highest-paid pitcher in the game. The 28-year old finished as the runner-up in the 2019 AL Cy Young voting, losing to his teammate, Justin Verlander. Cole went 20-5 last season with a 2.50 ERA and an impressive 0.895 WHIP.

Cole also whiffed 326 batters and became only the 18th pitcher in history to pass 300 Ks in a single season.

In the era of metrics, stat geeks are wary about pitchers who struck out a ton of batters in the previous season. The fatigue often builds up, and the pitcher suffers a dead arm the next season (e.g. Chris Sale, David Price).

The delayed start to the season could be a godsend for Cole, who pitched deep in the playoffs last season for the Astros. Cole was 3-0 in the 2019 playoffs with only one earned run prior to the World Series. He went 1-1 in two World Series starts.

Big Bats: Soto, Judge, Kraken

The Nationals will miss one of their best hitters from last season. Third baseman Anthony Rendon signed a free-agent deal with his hometown LA Angels. Rendon hit .319 with 34 home runs and 126 RBI. He co-led the Nats with 34 dingers last year, and led the team in RBIs.

The Nats will look to left fielder Juan Soto to provide power hitting this season. Soto also smashed 34 home runs last season and drove in 110 runs. With a full-time DH this season, Howie Kenrick gets to extend his career for his 16th season in the summer sun.

Aaron Judge’s future will be easy to predict. If he can remain healthy, then Judge has a legit shot at winning the AL MVP and securing the title of post-pandemic home run king. Judge missed 50 games in 2018 and another 60 last season. He started spring training on the IL, but the Yankees hope he’s healed up.

Judge is one of four or five dangerous bats in the lineup. Don’t forget, they still have Giancarlo Stanton, who led the NL in home runs a couple of seasons ago.

The Baby Bombers also have two budding superstars with shortstop Gleyber Torres and catcher Gary Sanchez. Torres flies under the radar with so many other big names surrounding him in the lineup. The Yanks dubbed Sanchez the “Kraken” because he’s just a beast who destroys the ball. Sanchez can be streaky at times, but he’s still one of the most dangerous hitters in the lineup.

In only 106 games and 396 at-bats last season, Sanchez hit 34 home runs. He’s another member of the Bronx Bombers who will do a significant amount of damage if he can avoid spending time on the IL.

Injury Update: Soto CV+

Breaking news as of Thursday, July 23 at 11:30am PT…

Nationals LF Juan Soto tested positive for coronavirus and will miss tonight’s game against the Yankees. Soto will head on the COVID-19 IL for 14-days.