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Yankees, Dodgers Establish Juggernaut Status by Acing MLB Opening Day

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 24, 2020

Los Angeles Dodgers' Kiké Hernández (14) is congratulated by Mookie Betts, right, Joc Pederson, left, and manager Dave Roberts after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning of an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Though the occasion played out under unusual circumstances, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers lived up to their billing on Opening Day of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

That is, as heavy favorites to play in the World Series.

What happened Thursday was nothing less than surreal. This was, after all, Opening Day on July 23. And for only a 60-game season, at that. With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, it was also the first real demonstration of what games will be like without fans in attendance. Between the kinda-sorta empty seats and the piped-in crowd noise, it was, well, different.

Factoring in a long rain delay that added a sinister twist to a televised interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred during the first game of the league's double feature, Opening Day of the 2020 season won't soon be forgotten.

Yet in the end, the Dodgers handily dispatched the San Francisco Giants by an 8-1 final at Dodger Stadium. And while their game lasted only six innings because of rain, the Yankees likewise had little trouble in a 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

As to how the Yankees rolled over the defending World Series champions, it helped that newcomer Gerrit Cole looked the part of a $324 million ace.

New York Yankees @Yankees

📍 District of Coleumbia https://t.co/W06LNhUbme

Cole didn't quite measure up to the sheer dominance of his most recent campaign with the Houston Astros, in which he led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while racking up 326 strikeouts.

Even still, the 29-year-old touched 99 mph and struck out five batters with only one walk in five innings. Adam Eaton's solo home run in the first inning accounted for the only hit and run he allowed.

"I mean, it was just a lot of fun," he told reporters afterward. "Probably no one could have envisioned the type of year that we're having this year, but within those parameters, it exceeded every mark. I just had a blast, really."

The Yankees can be just as thrilled with how Cole's run support came to be. All four of his runs came courtesy of sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, including half on Stanton's tape-measure blast off Max Scherzer in the top of the first.

New York Yankees @Yankees

And so it begins 💪 #NYYforNY https://t.co/ya2UY3kF0w

The pairing of Judge and Stanton was a huge deal when the Yankees first arranged it in December 2017. To wit, the two would have combined for 111 home runs if they had been teammates the prior season.

Yet the two have yet to truly break out as an unparalleled slugging duo, in part because of injuries. Last year was especially rough, as Judge was limited to 102 games while Stanton played in only 18.

Nevertheless, the 2019 Yankees slugged 306 home runs en route to 103 wins and, eventually, a trip to the American League Championship Series. If Judge and Stanton can stay on the field while Cole continues to earn his hefty paychecks, the Yankees will be at least as dangerous a juggernaut in 2020.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

For their part, the Dodgers got some bad news on the eve of Opening Day when longtime ace Clayton Kershaw had to go on the injured list with a stiff back. Between that and uber-prospect Gavin Lux's surprise demotion, their follow-up to a 106-win season in 2019 was sputtering before it even got going.

To be fair, that they didn't trip out of the gate has much to do with their opponent.

The Giants lost 85 games in 2019 and are now without future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy, pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, and star catcher Buster Posey. What's left can charitably be described as "not so good."

But to give credit where it's due, the Dodgers also got a boost from rookie right-hander Dustin May. Starting in place of Kershaw, he scattered seven hits and a run in 4.1 innings. He also struck out four, in part with a gnarly sinker that had Twitter a-buzzing.

Most of the Dodgers' offense, meanwhile, came courtesy of utility man Enrique Hernandez. He drove in five runs, including two on a game-sealing blast in the eighth.

Los Angeles Dodgers @Dodgers

Something about @kikehndez and Opening Days. Tag us using #BudLightHomers & #Sweepstakes or RT this post for your chance to win an authentic 2020 HR ball! https://t.co/VxLPFGxYAJ

Thursday also brought the West Coast debut of 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, who was fresh off putting his signature on a record-setting $365 million contract Wednesday.

It was an eventful moment in more ways than one for the former Boston Red Sox star. Betts was the only Dodger to take a knee for racial justice during the national anthem, and he then went 1-for-5 with a run scored in the game itself.

After the game, though, he was all too willing to deflect attention to his teammates.

"Everybody contributes, not one person we rely on, everybody passing the baton. A full-team effort. Can’t ask for anything better than we have here," Betts told reporters.

When people look at the Dodgers lineup, their eyes are immediately drawn to Betts and fellow MVP Cody Bellinger, and then to other stars like Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson. But between Hernandez, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, Will Smith and Matt Beaty, even the bottom of the Dodgers' depth chart is teeming with talent.

Their pitching staff isn't much different. Even without Cy Young Award winner David Price—who, like Posey, opted out of playing this year—the Dodgers have a good arm for every occasion. Trotting out a guy with a triple-digit, bowling-ball sinker as an emergency starter was the ultimate proof of this concept.

Thanks to the very nature of this season, the ice under the Yankees' and Dodgers' feet can only get so thick.

Neither has much room for error in a 60-game season, particularly if their depth is tested by injuries and the coronavirus. The possibility of the latter came into sharp focus Thursday when Nationals star Juan Soto tested positive and had to go on the injured list mere hours before MLB's grand opening.

But all any team can do this season is take it one day at a time. The Yankees and Dodgers can be very pleased with how day one went.

        

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.

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