MLB 2020 Opening Day: TV Schedule, Odds and Picks as Baseball Season Starts

After a four-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic and seemingly endless negotiations between the MLB and the players' union, baseball finally makes its long-awaited return on Thursday night.

The shortened 60-game regular season begins at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., when the reigning World Series champions take on the New York Yankees, before the Los Angeles Dodgers host the San Francisco Giants in Opening Day's second and final matchup.

It's been almost nine months since the Nationals defeated the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series to become world champions for the first time and a lot has changed since then.

The MLB has faced the real prospect of having to cancel this season due to labor disputes, while the threat of COVID-19 continues to cast an ominously large shadow over baseball and the U.S. as a whole.

Aside from that, the sport finds itself under the spotlight after exhibition games earlier this week saw several players kneeling during the national anthem to protests against racial discrimination and police brutality.

The MLB, meanwhile, has given the players the opportunity to wear "Black Lives Matter" or "United For Change" message on their jerseys on Opening Day.

Here's all you need to know about baseball's long-awaited return.

When is Opening Day?

The MLB season begins on Thursday, July 23. Originally scheduled for March 26, the MLB was forced to postpone the start to the season by almost four months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Who is playing on Opening Day?

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, the bookmakers' two main favorites to succeed the Washington Nationals as World Series champions, are both in action on opening night.

The Yankees take on the Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., at 7:08 p.m. ET, while the Dodgers host the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles at 10:08 p.m. ET.

A further 13 games are scheduled for Friday.

Opening Day TV coverage and live stream

Both games on Opening Day will be broadcast live by ESPN, with a live stream available on WatchESPN. Streaming is also available for subscribers via YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV.

Opening Day starting pitchers

Yankees @ Nationals

Gerrit Cole makes his regular season Yankees debut on Thursday night, while World Series hero Max Scherzer will be the starting pitcher for the Nationals.

Cole, who signed a record nine-year deal worth $324 million—the richest for a pitcher in terms of both total money and annual average salary and the fourth-largest in MLB history—went 20-5 as a starter for the Houston Astros last season with a 2.50 ERA.

He recorded a strikeout rate of 39.9 percent in the regular season—the highest ever by a starting pitcher—and ranked first in the MLB with 326 strikeouts.

Scherzer, meanwhile, was 11-7 as a starting pitcher, with a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts, but all major league pitchers in strikeouts/walks and started in Game 1 and Game 7 of the World Series as the Nationals defeated the Astros in seven games.

Giants @ Dodgers

San Francisco has named Johnny Cueto as the starting pitcher for Opening Day. Cueto went 1-2 as a starter last season, with a 5.06 ERA and 13 strikeouts. Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, will throw the first pitch of the season for the Dodgers. The eight-time All-Star and three-time National League Cy Young Award winner went 16-5 last season, with a 3.03 ERA and 189 strikeouts.

Odds

Bookmakers have the Yankees as a 1.5-run favorite over the Nationals. The Yankees are 7/10 to cover the spread with FanDuel and 33/50 with DraftKings and Bet MGM. The over/under line in terms of total runs scored is set at 5.5.

The Dodgers are also 1.5-run favorites over the Giants and are 3/4 to cover the spread with DraftKings, 7/10 with Bet MGM and 33/50 with FanDuel respectively. The over/under line in terms of total runs scored is set at 12.5.

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch in the first inning during the spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Steinbrenner Field on February 24 in Tampa, Florida. Mark Brown/Getty