Baseball's Back! Your 2011 Opening Day Viewing Guide, For Maximum Enjoyment

At long last, baseball is here. Here's a look at the six Opening Day games that await us, along with some SUPER IMPORTANT talking points to consider while watching them.

At 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday, meaningful baseball will finally return as 2011 Opening Day arrives. As someone who's spent the last few months covering other sports, you know what I've really missed? The pace. I've quoted this bit from Daniel Okrent before:

That's the action of baseball. It's the absence of action. What it does, is it pulls us to the edges of our chairs. It pulls us to that point of anticipation. It pulls us to wondering what's going to happen, and playing the game in our mind before it plays on the field itself.

Sometimes. Other times, a televised baseball game is an electronic fishbowl, present only in the periphery of my vision while I'm washing the dishes. In either case, it's nice to have, be it on a weeknight when nothing else is happening, or on a TV precariously balanced on the railing of a back porch while my friends and I pay half-attention.

Today it returns, and we can glue ourselves to our screens and scrutinize a starter's delivery, or ponder one of the millions of little logic puzzles that make up the game of baseball, or stare at the statistics as they ebb and flow, or simply let the game sit there in the corner like a Siamese fighting fish, attacking its reflection until it's satisfied.

This is all a roundabout way of letting you know that I like baseball and think that it is great. Here are the six games that await us on Thursday. You're probably still adjusting to baseball mode, so to get you up to speed, I've included a few talking points/conversation starters to consider while watching each game.

Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m., ESPN

Last year: The Tigers led the A.L. Central for a brief time before enduring a mid-season slump and finishing at 81-81. After a dramatically close A.L. East race, the Yankees lost the division lead to the Rays on the last day of the season, claimed the wild card, and lost to the Rangers in the ALCS, four games to two.
New Yankees of note to look out for: C Russell Martin, OF Andruw Jones, IF Eric Chavez
New Tiger of note to look out for: C Victor Martinez
Yankees' starter: CC Sabathia (2010: 3.18 ERA. 237.2 IP)
Tigers' starter: Justin Verlander (2010: 3.37 ERA, 224.1 IP)
Our Yankees blog: Pinstripe Alley
Our Tigers blog: Bless You Boys
Talking points:

  • Do you think CC Sabathia would start putting periods in his front name if someone pointed out to him that two Cs next to each other look like a butt?
  • Why don't the Yankees have a dirt path that extends from home plate to the pitcher's mound? What's their problem?
  • If Hudson/Mulder/Zito were Legos, would Verlander/Robertson/Bonderman be the not-available-in-stores blocks you have to order off television that fit with your Legos, but just barely?
  • Do you think Andruw Jones has even bothered to change out of his White Sox uniform?
  • Do you think Andruw Jones has even bothered to change out of his pajamas?

Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals, 1:05 p.m.

Last year: The Braves held the N.L. East lead for much of the season, eventually settled for the wild card, and fell to the Giants in the NLDS. The Nationals finished with a 69-93 record and ended up in last place in the N.L. East for the fifth time in their six-year existence.
New Braves of note to look out for: 2B Dan Uggla, RP Scott Linebrink
New Nationals of note to look out for: OF Jayson Werth, 1B Adam LaRoche
Braves' starter: Derek Lowe (2010: 4.00 ERA, 193.2 IP)
Nationals' starter: Livan Hernandez (2010: 3.66 ERA, 211.2 IP)
Our Braves blog: Talking Chop
Our Nationals blog: Federal Baseball
Talking points:

  • Do you think the Braves and Nationals wish they had kept Pete Orr?
  • Do you miss Pete Orr?
  • Wasn't Pete Orr just the best?
  • Now that Adam LaRoche has signed with both the Braves and Nationals in his career, do you think Pete Orr sees a little of himself in him?
  • Pete Orr signed with the Phillies. Don't you think it's dangerous for the Braves and Nationals to allow a talent such as Pete Orr to sign with a team in the same division?
  • Who would win if Pete Orr and Mickey Morandini (in his prime) got in a fight?

Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds, 2:10 p.m.

Last year: Led by MVP Joey Votto, the Reds finished at 91-71, reaching the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. The Brewers hung around the middle of the pack in the N.L. Central for just about the entire season, finishing with a 77-85 record.
New Brewer of note to look out for: Manager Ron Roenicke.
New Reds of note to look out for: SS Edgar Renteria.
Brewers' starter: Yovani Gallardo (2010: 3.84 ERA, 185 IP)
Reds' starter: Edinson Volquez (2010: 4.31 ERA, 62.2 IP)
Our Brewers blog: Brew Crew Ball
Our Reds blog: Red Reporter
Talking points:

  • Could a baseball game be any more weekday-afternoony than Brewers-Reds?
  • I associate games between N.L. Central teams with sunny afternoons, and I associate games between A.L. Central teams with cloudy afternoons. Am I just stupid? Should it be the opposite?
  • It's supposed to be pretty cold. Wouldn't it be smart for the players to wear two gloves instead of just one?
  • When is someone going to stand up and say, "it's stupid that one division has six teams and another division has four teams"?
  • How many teams do you have to play for in order to be a journeyman? Edgar Renteria has to qualify by this point, right?

Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals, 4:10 p.m.

Last year: The Angels endured a disappointing 2010, finishing in third place with an 80-82 record. The Royals never posed a threat in the A.L. Central, finishing fifth with a 67-95 and finishing with a losing record for the 15th time in 16 years.
New Angel of note to look out for: OF Vernon Wells.
New Royal of note to look out for: OF Jeff Francoeur. Yes, yes, I know.
Angels' starter: Jered Weaver (2010: 3.01 ERA, 224.1 IP)
Royals' starter: Luke Hochevar (2010: 4.81 ERA, 103 IP)
Our Angels blog: Halos Heaven
Our Royals blog: Royals Review
Talking points:

  • Could Jeff Francoeur win Comeback Player of the Year? Can you win that award simply by recovering from being bad at baseball?
  • Which team do you think Wally Joyner will be rooting for? Do you think he likes both teams so much that he'll just be rooting for a good game?
  • The Angels aren't actually in Los Angeles, and the Royals aren't actually in Kansas. Should this game even count?
  • Rob Neyer figures that once their prospects mature, the Royals have a shot of becoming a contending team within the next couple of years. Given a) the Royals' awesome uniforms, b) obscure cellar-dwelling cred, and c) Bo Jackson nostalgia, would a playoff-bound Royals team overshoot "charming overachiever" status completely and advance directly to "terribly annoying hipster team" a la 2010 Giants?
  • If you actually say "of Anaheim" out loud after "Los Angeles Angels," are you a tool or just over-eager?

San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals, 4:15 p.m., ESPN

Last year: The surprising Padres led the N.L. West by 6.5 in late August before slumping and ultimately losing a playoff spot on the last day of the season. The Cardinals jockeyed with the Reds for  the N.L. Central lead for most of the season before leveling off and missing the playoffs with an 86-76 record.
New Padres of note to look out for: OF Brad Hawpe, SP Aaron Harang, RP Chad Qualls.
New Cardinal of note to look out for: OF Lance Berkman.
Padres' starter: Tim Stauffer (2010: 1.85 ERA, 82.2 IP)
Cardinals' starter: Chris Carpenter (2010: 3.22 ERA , 235 IP)
Our Padres blog: Gaslamp Ball
Our Cardinals blog: Viva El Birdos
Talking points:

  • Albert Pujols said that he will not participate in contract negotiations with the Cardinals during the season so that they don't turn into a distraction. How will he play this year now that we know that he can play baseball without someone following him around on the field, crumpling up contracts, and literally throwing them directly at his face?
  • Was 2010 Tim Stauffer basically 2005 Zach Duke?
  • Didn't the Cardinals sort of break their mold with Pujols? Shouldn't they have waited until he was 30 or 35 to sign him, like they did with every other power hitter they have ever had?
  • Do you think that right now, Bud Black is penciling in Adrian Gonzalez to hit leadoff, then writing "Adrian Gonz--" in the second spot before stopping, letting his eyes wander down the sheet, and letting out a long, sad sigh?

San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers, 8 p.m., ESPN

Last year: The Giants caught fire down the stretch to win the N.L. West and eventually the World Series. Their division rivals, the Dodgers, remained competitive during the first half of the season, but eventually finished with an 80-82 mark.
New Giants of note to look out for: SS Miguel Tejada, 1B Brandon Belt.
New Dodger of note to look out for: 2B Juan Uribe.
Giants' starter: Tim Lincecum (2010: 3.43 ERA, 212.1 IP)
Dodgers' starter: Clayton Kershaw (2010: 2.91 ERA, 204.1 IP)
Our Giants blog: McCovey Chronicles
Our Dodgers blog: True Blue LA
Talking points:

  • If Brandon Belt hits a home run and the broadcaster says, "that ball's belted," do you think he'll follow up with, "literally"?
  • Is this comic book cover of the X-Men holding the Giants' World Series trophy supposed to be in canon?
  • What happened to Don Mattingly's moustache? There's no way he would have shaved it voluntarily. Did he lose it in a terrible industrial accident of some sort?
  • Can we please just watch some damn baseball already?

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