Cubs will begin title defense on Opening Night

Chicago-St. Louis matchup among 7 openers on ESPN

Cubs will begin title defense on Opening Night

The Cubs will play for the first time in 2017 as reigning World Series champions on April 2 in St. Louis against the rival Cardinals in the ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" matchup, one of seven Opening Day games over that first Sunday and Monday that the network will broadcast nationally.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement Thursday at the conclusion of Major League Baseball's quarterly owners meetings in Chicago.

That first Sunday schedule will feature Yankees at Rays at 1:10 p.m. ET on ESPN, followed by Giants at D-backs at 4:10 ET on ESPN2, and then the tripleheader finale at 8:30 ET on ESPN.

"The combination of the Cubs' World Series win and their rivalry with the Cardinals being one of the best in all of baseball, St. Louis is a great place for us to open the 2017 season," said Dan Shulman, the voice of "Sunday Night Baseball."

It should be a unique sight at Busch Stadium that night. Opening Day there is traditionally a tough ticket already, and based on what just happened in the 112th World Series, it might not be surprising to see ample Cubs blue blending into the red bleachers and box seats. The Cubs will defend a World Series title for the first time since 1909.

Grichuk's walk-off homer

Monday's ESPN quadrupleheader will feature the following openers (all times ET): Braves at Mets at 1:10, Padres at Dodgers at 4:10, the defending American League-champion Indians at Rangers at 7:05, and Angels at A's at 10:05. The game in Oakland will be on ESPN2, the other three on ESPN.

The seven ESPN games on Sunday and Monday are comprised primarily of divisional matchups and involve six clubs that played in the 2016 postseason.

The first Monday of the season will feature eight divisional matchups among the 12 overall games, in addition to an Interleague contest between the host Red Sox -- starting the post-David Ortiz era -- and the Pirates in a renewal of the franchises that met in the inaugural World Series in 1903. Cincinnati will have its traditional place among those 12 Monday games, with the annual Findlay Market Parade followed by Phillies vs. Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Other Opening Day games that Monday will include Tigers at White Sox, Marlins at Nationals, Mariners at Astros, Rockies at Brewers, Blue Jays at Orioles and Royals at Twins.

Moving the Cubs-Cardinals matchup to the prime Sunday night slot means those teams will now have an off-day the next day, followed by a continuation of their season-opening, three-game series on April 4-5.

ESPN also will exclusively telecast the Cubs' home opener on the following Monday, April 10 (8:05 p.m. ET), when Chicago will host the Dodgers in a rematch of last month's National League Championship Series. Coverage will include festivities from the championship ceremony at Wrigley Field.

For the third consecutive year, all games played on the final scheduled day of the regular season -- Sunday, Oct. 1 -- will begin at 3 p.m. ET. The simultaneous schedule aims to maximize the excitement of postseason races throughout the sport on the season's final day.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.