Major League Baseball begins 2021 season

The MLB starts its second season on time despite the COVID-19 pandemic


Dylan Tynes, Staff Writer

For the first time in two years, Major League Baseball opened its season on the traditional date of April 1. Of all the major professional sports leagues in America, the MLB saw its season changed the most since the arrival of the pandemic, as they were forced to push Opening Day back to July 23 and shorten the season from 162 games to 60. Rule changes and restricted schedules further complicated the season, and fans were not allowed to attend any games until well into the playoffs.

But the chaos of the 2020 season felt like a mere echo last Thursday as each club’s top pitcher toed the rubber for the first time in 2021. National League pitchers had to hit once again, and there were no noticeable players opting out of the competition. Every stadium allowed fans into the games, although the specific number varied between each team. While Fenway Park saw only 4,500 fans (12% capacity) allowed into the Red Sox’s series opener against the Orioles, in person, the Texas Rangers kicked off their first home series on Monday with a full-capacity crowd of 40,518 at the MLB’s newest ballpark.

Even with the many signs of baseball returning to normal, we were reminded that COVID-19 is indeed still present: an outbreak among the Washington Nationals nixed their opening series against the New York Mets, pushing their Monday game against the Braves to Wednesday. The MLB’s stringent testing policies were tested — they succeeded in preventing an outbreak — but it remains to be seen if future outbreaks will occur in 2021.

Among the teams who were able to play, a few common themes emerged throughout the weekend. The rumors of the MLB’s new deadened ball seemed to be somewhat true, as home runs were less frequent than in previous opening weekends, dropping from a frequency of one in every 26.9 at-bats in 2019 to one in every 30.7 at-bats. Of course, the sample size was small in each case, but early signs are pointing to a less power-focused MLB.

Despite the decline in home runs, there were very few truly dominant pitching outings across the league, as even the best starters seemed a bit rusty. Phillies starter Zack Wheeler likely had the most impressive performance on the mound over the weekend. The 30-year-old right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and striking out 10 on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves, one of baseball’s fiercest offenses from 2020.

The Phillies ended up sweeping the Braves in one of the weekend’s more notable statements, holding Atlanta to two runs over three games. The Houston Astros exploded offensively in a sweep of the Oakland Athletics, despite constant heckling and ridicule from A’s fans and employees alike over past cheating allegations. Stars like Alex Bregman and José Altuve were white-hot as the Astros dismembered the 2020 AL West champions, perhaps signaling they are the team to beat in the division.

The opening weekend of the AL East may have made analysts second-guess their projections for the division. The Orioles — fresh off a 25-35 season in 2020 — made quick work of the Red Sox. While Boston is still rebuilding, they showed little resistance to a mediocre Orioles rotation. Up in Toronto, the rising Blue Jays opened their season with a series victory over the Yankees, who were the betting favorites to win the American League before Opening Day. Even excluding the 2020 AL-champion Tampa Bay Rays, who took care of business against the Marlins over the weekend, the division seems to be up for grabs.

All things considered, the opening weekend of the MLB was a success. The Nationals’ COVID-19 issues were a sign of the times, but the lack of positive tests in other organizations provides some optimism moving forward. As the Nationals begin their season and teams around the league get into the swing of things, the 2021 MLB season may be relatively normal,  and that is all players and league officials alike can hope for.