And here’s the pitch… MLB season officially starts today

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Major League Baseball’s opening day is finally here.

The league hopes to put an offseason of uncertainty behind it as baseball embarks on a somewhat compressed, but full, 162-game schedule starting Thursday. Here’s everything you need to know.

Why the opening day delay?

The MLB season was originally scheduled to start on March 31, but the league announced it will cancel the start of the 2022 regular season due to a breakdown in negotiations as the league and players’ association pursue a new collective bargaining agreement ( CBA).

MLB owners initially locked players on Dec. 2, 2021, cutting off contact between teams and their players until the lockdown ended 99 days later. It was the first time MLB games had been canceled following a work stoppage since the 1994-95 players’ strike.

Under the new CBA, these canceled games will be rolled into the regular series of games, saving a full season of 162 games.

What has changed with the new agreement?

One of the biggest changes under the new CBA is that pitchers will no longer have to pick up a bat in the National League. The American League has allowed designated hitters to take the pitching spot in the rotation since 1973, but now the rule is universal for both leagues.

In the odd 2020 season, MLB temporarily installed the Universal Designated Hitter, but the National League reverted to its original rules in 2021. Now both leagues will have a Universal Designated Hitter for 2022.

Another big change this season will be an expanded group in the playoffs, going from 10 to 12 teams. The top two teams in each league will receive a first round bye and a third wildcard team will be added in each league.

One rule that hasn’t changed since it was implemented during the pandemic is the “ghost runner” rule, which puts a runner on second base during extra innings to help shorten regular season games. During the playoffs, there will be no “ghost runner”.

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Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani watches his home run against the Seattle Mariners on October 3, 2021 in Seattle.

One of the biggest stories in baseball last year was Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who many believe is helping transform the game. Not only did he dominate as a pitcher, but he also excelled as a hitter, hitting a total of 46 homers last year. That’s just two home runs behind league leaders Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Salvador Perez.

In response, MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to change the universal designated hitter, allowing teams that designate their pitcher as the designated hitter to continue batting even if they are removed from the mound. So even if a player like Ohtani is unable to finish the game as a pitcher, he can continue to bat.

After some big deals, fans have new players to cheer on

Many teams will feature new faces this season as a flurry of off-season moves have seen clubs spend big bucks. One such team is the Texas Rangers, who spent over $500 million on three players at the start of free agency, adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray to their roster.

The New York Mets also splashed the big bucks this offseason, signing 37-year-old Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million deal. The team also brought in Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte.

World Series champions Atlanta Braves are looking to repeat this season after trading for Oakland Athletics first baseman and Atlanta native Matt Olson. This forced the team to leave fan-favorite Freddie Freeman, who eventually joined the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Seattle Mariners are hoping to end their 20-season playoff drought with the help of one of last season’s best pitchers in Robbie Ray. They also brought in Cincinnati Reds All-Star Jesse Winker to bolster their offense.

The Minnesota Twins also caused a stir this offseason by signing arguably the best free agent available, Carlos Correa, to the richest free agent contract in franchise history.

Who can we expect to see on opening day?

A potentially spicy opening day matchup will be between defending American League champion Houston Astros, who take on last year’s phenom Shohei Ohtani, and the Los Angeles Angels at 9:38 p.m. ET.

Another game to watch is Albert Pujols’ return to St. Louis, after signing a one-year deal taking him back to the Cardinals. Before the lockout, St. Louis was supposed to open its season in Pittsburgh, but now they’re opening at home at Busch Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The World Series champions will face the Cincinnati Reds at home, where the Braves will have a chance to raise last year’s title banner and hand out rings on MLB’s opening night against a team that has discharged several of its stars in an effort to reduce the payroll.

The Mets will face the Nationals in DC, while the Milwaukee Brewers will travel to Wrigley Field to face the Cubs.

Cleveland’s new guards will begin their season in Kansas City, where they will face the Royals. And the San Diego Padres will travel to Arizona to take on the Diamondbacks to complete an exciting opening day of baseball.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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