I don't know what the grammarians around the world think, but it seems natural to capitalize "Opening Day." Other sports have opening days or nights or whatever. Baseball fans have Opening Day, and it's a phrase with gravitas -- something to be uttered in hushed tones with utter solemnity. Baseball fans take this stuff seriously. We take everything seriously. This is one of the reasons why the other sports hate us.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that there's a certain kind of importance assigned to Opening Day. An Opening Day win or loss means something. Otherwise, we wouldn't have spent the last six months waiting for Opening Day, right? Boy, that would make us look silly. You know, if it turned out that Opening Day was just code for "a regular ol' day", and that there were 161 more of them. Ha.
Except we're on a mission to find the most meaningful Opening Day out there. Four teams haven't played a game, so we'll ignore them completely. The other 26 have played a game, and there have been wins and losses, triumphs and defeats. And one of those wins or losses has to mean something. Even if we have to force it.
There are three contenders for the crown. Because these Opening Days meant something, dammit. Unless they didn't.
Second runner-up - The Dodgers
Think about what the offseason really is. It's talk talk talk about how baseball games might look like in the future, maybe, if everything goes right. Take the Phillies, for example. All offseason, Phillies fans have mixed and matched players, argued about lineups and trades and signings, and mentally charted paths to success, however unlikely those paths might have been.
Then they finally get to a real game, and Cole Hamels is awful.
That's six months of buildup for something that wasn't supposed to happen. The same thing could have happened to the Dodgers. There was talk talk talk about the big offseason plans, about how everything was different. The Yankees made a catcher out of straw and burlap sacks because they didn't want to buy one, and the Dodgers took over the role of financial bully. And it would have been pretty deflating if nothing went according to plan after all that talk. It wouldn't have meant anything, but for a couple of hours after the game, it would have been kind of a downer. That's a lot of buildup.
Instead, Clayton Kershaw was transcendent, pitching a shutout and bombing the first home run of his career to dead-center. That was the kind of win that felt like it was setting something else up, like it was scripted. And after an offseason of big talk and big moves, that's exactly what a team wants.
First runner-up - The Yankees
The Yankees are fine. The Yankees are always fine. Remember when they pulled Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia out of cryogenic storage and used them to solidify a pitching staff that should have been terrible? The Yankees will be fine.
Here is the lineup that the Yankees started on Opening Day:
Brett Gardner - CF
Eduardo Nunez - SS
Robinson Cano - 2B
Kevin Youkilis - 1B
Vernon Wells - LF
Ben Francisco - DH
Ichiro Suzuki - RF
Jayson Nix - 1B
Francisco Cervelli - C
That's a piece of modern art. I count four players who would start on the Astros, and that's being generous with Ichiro's short-term outlook. Yes, they have a squillion dollars on the DL. This isn't the lineup for the rest of the season. Things should improve. But until then, the Yankees look absolutely dreadful, and they looked totally moribund on Opening Day.
Winner - Nationals
The Padres have had five first-overall picks in the June draft; their biggest success story is Andy Benes, and their second-biggest success story is Mike Ivie. The Pirates have had four first-overall picks, and Jeff King was the big prize there. The Nationals have had two first-overall picks, they had them in back-to-back years, and they ended up with franchise cornerstones. Generational players. The Royals get Luke Hochevar. The Nationals get Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Not fair.
Pretty sure the Nationals don't care about fair, and on Opening Day, they got the archetype of a Nationals win. The win featured Harper going nuts and Strasburg looking dominant, and while there's much, much more to the team than that, those two are the ones who will be on the bobbleheads in 2040. They're the stars of the team, yet they still have room to get better. It feels like they're finished products, but they can still improve. A lot.
After all that offseason chatter about how the Nationals were the best team in baseball, they went out and presented a well-constructed argument why at the very first opportunity. They completely shut down the … wait, who did they play? … oh god … well, it's not important whom they played. Strasburg pitching and Harper hitting. It was an obvious, simple scenario. And for a day, it happened. On the first day of real baseball, it happened. This has to mean something.
Unless it doesn't. But if you're looking for meaning in one game out of 162, the Nationals will do just fine.
(Also, goodness, Vernon Wells hitting fifth. At least he'll see pitches to hit with Ben Francisco behind him.)