2011 MLB slate packed with exciting matchups

2011 MLB slate packed with exciting matchups

Get ready for something new in 2011.

The 2011 Major League Baseball regular season will begin with the Brewers at the Reds, the Angels at the Royals, the Braves at the Nationals, the Tigers at the Yankees, and the Padres at the Cardinals.

On a Thursday.

The tentative master schedule was announced on Tuesday, and the major change is the season's earlier start and finish, as recommended by the Commissioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters. Those five games will open the season on March 31 after a shortened Spring Training, followed by 11 April 1 games. The season's final regularly scheduled games will be played on Wednesday, Sept. 28 -- all in the interest of not playing baseball into November.

"The challenges of our scheduling are considerable, but I shared the committee's desire to make the necessary adjustments to assure that postseason baseball does not extend beyond October," Commissioner Bud Selig said.

"I think that any way that we can condense the season a bit [is better for the game], I think there's a real issue with weather," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, one of four managers on the 14-person committee. "You can get bad weather in October, but you have that buffer because there's still time ahead of you, and the chance of good weather is much better than if you have a cold spell in the first week of November that you can get things done."

Get ready to see the Cubs battling the Red Sox at Fenway Park for the first time since 1918. Get ready for the Cardinals' first visit to Baltimore, the same franchise once known as the St. Louis Browns. Get ready for Atlanta opening at Washington with a new manager.

"I think the integrity of the season is very important," Scioscia said. "I think there are natural pennant races, especially with the Wild Card. There's a Wild Card division, a whole new division that appears the last three weeks of the season. it's a whole new division that just appears to see what that last place can be."

Some clubs already are accepting 2011 season ticket deposits. Check MLB.com's online ticketing headquarters for your club's ticketing updates and see individual schedule stories for each club as well.

The 2011 season will mark the first non-Sunday or Monday start since 1998. The last regular season to start on Thursday was 1976. Previous seasons with Thursday starts: 1901-04, 1907, 1912, 1959, 1973-74 and 1976. The last regular season to end as early as Sept. 28 was 2003, and the last to end on day other than Sunday was 1990.

The 82nd All-Star Game will be played July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix, hosted for the first time by the D-backs. It will bring the Phoenix area a full week of festivities, starting with the popular All-Star Fanfest and culminating with the State Farm Home Run Derby, followed by the Midsummer Classic.

The D-backs, meanwhile, are less certain at this point about when their regular season will start. Major League Baseball, the Players Association, the D-backs and Giants are formulating what could be a two-game series at Taiwan in late March that would officially open the season for both teams. Yes, that could be another major novelty in 2011 -- but it's not yet set in stone. Those contests would be designated as home games for the D-backs.

The schedule, as it currently stands, does not include the Taiwan games, since only minor adjustments would have to be made on the calendars of the Giants and D-backs if they were to agree to make the goodwill trip. So if you're a Giants fan looking at that April 1 game at the rival Dodgers as Opening Day, then consider that it might just be the "mainland" season opener.

Despite the huge twist to the 2011 schedule, one thing hasn't changed for the Reds: They get to continue their tradition of starting the season at home. It just won't be on a Monday this time. Cincinnati will have its annual Findlay Market Parade during the morning on Thursday, March 31, followed by a matchup between the Brewers and the home team at Great American Ball Park.

Who knows? Maybe they will be raising a big flag at the ballpark that day.

For the second year in a row, the Red Sox will open their home schedule with a rivalry showdown against the Yankees. Boston's home opener always takes on a festive feel, and the presence of the Bronx Bombers will only intensify that. The Yankees will be at Fenway from April 8-10. For Boston fans unaccustomed to being on the outside looking in during the last month of this injury-riddled season, that new, pure 2011 season can't arrive soon enough.

When the Red Sox start Interleague Play, the first matchup will be one of the most compelling in the Majors. For the first time since the 1918 World Series, the Cubs will come to Fenway Park for a three-game series from May 20-22. No one in 1918 could have imagined that the Red Sox would not win another World Series until 2004, nor that the Cubs would still be waiting to win another all these years later.

Boston captured the 1918 World Series, 4-2, with talented young hurler Babe Ruth winning two of the games for the Red Sox. The Cubs played their home games in that championship at Comiskey Park on the south side because of its seating capacity.

The 2011 rotation of primary division matchups is: AL East vs. NL Central, AL Central vs. NL West, and AL West vs. NL East. For the Cardinals, that means a first in franchise history: playing the Orioles in Baltimore, with a three-game series scheduled for June 28-30. The Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954, but before that, they were long known as the St. Louis Browns. So technically, it's the first time the Cardinals have ever gone to another city to play that franchise, which they beat in the 1944 Cards-Browns World Series.

How different it will be in 2011 for the Braves. They will travel to Seattle and Anaheim for just the second time since the creation of the Interleague format, which will bring the Rangers, Orioles and Blue Jays to Atlanta next year. For the first time since 1990, somebody other than Bobby Cox will begin the season as the Braves' manager. Thus there will be enhanced attention surrounding the March 31 season opener against the Nationals in Washington.

Making up for a disappointing scheduling conflict with the G-20 Summit that saw the Phillies vs. Blue Jays series moved to Philadelphia this season, Toronto will get a second chance at welcoming back longtime Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay. The Phillies will play in Toronto, barring another wacky sequence of events, over Canada Day weekend (July 1-3).

While Target Field has been all the rage this season, there are no new ballparks coming for 2011. However, it will be the last year for Marlins baseball at Sun Life Stadium, as the club will be moving into its new retractable-roof ballpark in 2012, with an accompanying name change to the Miami Marlins.

The schedule release means you can start to make plans for those great Interleague rivalries, like the Subway Series clashes between the Mets and Yankees. Those will be May 20-22 at Yankee Stadium and July 1-3 at Citi Field. Just think: When the two teams last met earlier this season, it looked as if it could be a late-October preview.

As for the always action-packed Cubs-White Sox rivalry, six games between the two once again are on the docket for 2011. The Cubs, minus Ozzie Guillen's friend Lou Piniella, come to U.S. Cellular from June 20-22, and the White Sox invade Wrigley Field from July 1-3.

Who got the better of that Tigers-Yankees deal? Maybe they will still be talking about that when Detroit opens the season in the Bronx with a three-game series against the Yankees (March 31-April 3, with an off-day on April 1).

Houston will open the season on the road for only the fifth time since 1982 when it travels to Philadelphia to meet the Phillies on April 1. The Astros open Interleague Play against the Blue Jays in Canada, May 20-22. Toronto is the only current Major League city in which the Astros have yet to play.

For the first time since 1985, the Pirates will open the season in Chicago, this time with a three-game set against the Cubs. The Pirates have a 10-8 record, all-time, in Opening Day tilts against the Cubs. That trip will be followed by three games in St. Louis before the Pirates begin the 81-game home portion of their schedule.

Brewers fans, you'll get a full dose of the AL beasts in 2011. In addition to their usual home-and-away matchup against the AL Central-leading Twins, the Brewers will travel to face the Red Sox (June 17-19) and the Yankees (June 28-30) and will host the Rays at Miller Park from June 20-22.

If you love these Yankees-Rays matchups that are under way, then you might be interested to know that the Rays close their 2011 season at home against the Yankees from Sept. 26-28. Will they still be baseball's two winningest teams a year from now? Who knows?

The timing change in the 2011 schedule also will have an impact on fantasy leagues everywhere, because the final week will be interesting in terms of how commissioners handle it, especially for leagues that have weekly scoring. Options would include: a) Don't count the last week, b) Make the last week 10 days or (c) Make the last week only three days.

Among the early highlights of the schedule will be the celebration of Jackie Robinson Day on April 15. For the Dodgers, that will mean a home game against the Cardinals. The Dodgers, being the only team for which Robinson played, traditionally request and receive a home game on the date marking his Major League debut.

How excited are Orioles fans to see this new schedule? Baltimore will look to build on its end-of-season success in the first full year with manager Buck Showalter at the helm. The Orioles end Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., before traveling across the bay to the Rays' Tropicana Field for Opening Day on Friday, April 1.

If you're a Nationals fan, then maybe you'll see Stephen Strasburg again next August or so. He underwent Tommy John surgery after bursting upon the Major League scene and then being put on the shelf. Take a look at the 2011 Washington schedule, and you can start to think about possible dates that just might see the righty returning to the hill. And maybe you will see 2010 No. 1 overall Draft pick Bryce Harper with the parent team around that time.

On the docket is a probable expansion of each of the four Division Series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven format. That will be the subject of collective bargaining between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association when a new Basic Agreement is negotiated next year. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011.

The 2011 schedule is subject to change, including all Saturday and Sunday games, which are subject to Major League Baseball's national broadcast agreements with FOX and ESPN.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.