Slate expectations: '18 opens with full schedule

Season opens Thursday, March 29, with wrinkles in store

Slate expectations: '18 opens with full schedule

The 2018 Major League Baseball season is already assured of starting on a historic note when it gets underway on Thursday, March 29. It will feature the first full slate of Opening Day games in 50 years and the earliest beginning date at any traditional Major League ballpark.

MLB released its tentative 2018 master regular-season schedule on Tuesday, and the unique Opening Day rollout will be among key new features, along with a single marquee game (Cardinals at Cubs) coming out of the All-Star break, an expanded three to four additional off-days for each team and MLB's first Midsummer Classic in Washington, D.C., in nearly a half-century.

The 1968 season -- the last one with a single postseason series, the World Series -- began with all 20 teams in action. In 2018, all 30 clubs will open on the same day, a notable departure from recent years. It will be only the 12th time in MLB history, and the first since 2011, that the regular season will begin on a Thursday (also 1901-04, '07, '12, '59, '73-74 and '76).

March 29 also will represent the earliest start to a Major League season, excluding special international events. The previous earliest opener at traditional Major League ballparks was March 30, when the 2003, '08 and '14 seasons began.

MLB Central: 2018 Schedule

Opening Day will feature eight divisional matchups among the 15 games, in addition to an Interleague contest between the host Tigers and the Pirates. The Yankees will open at Toronto for the first time since 2003; Cincinnati fans will see their "traditional opener" played once again on the actual first day of a season; and there will be a couple of early rivalry matchups in Giants at Dodgers and Astros at Rangers.

Nine games are scheduled for Friday, March 30; a full slate of 15 games is scheduled for Saturday, March 31; and the opening weekend closes on Sunday, April 1, with 12 contests.

The final day of the 2018 regular season, featuring 12 divisional games (notably including Yankees at Red Sox), is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 30. That would seem to ensure a World Series scheduled to end in October, if it starts again on a Tuesday.

One of the most unique twists in the 2018 schedule is the single day game on Thursday, July 19, when the Cardinals and Cubs renew their rivalry at Wrigley Field. In the past, both the Wednesday and Thursday following the All-Star Game have been dark, with the full schedule resuming on Friday.

In 2018, there will be no ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. That was stipulated last winter in the collective bargaining agreement to ease travel for all of the All-Stars. (This year was the last one allowed, and the Indians and Tigers representatives got to Miami past 5 a.m.) As a result of that switch, MLB has moved that lone game to Thursday in a national broadcast window.

Also, per the CBA, the regular season will be expanded starting in 2018 to provide three to four additional off-days for each team. Players will continue to be credited with a full year of service for accruing 172 service days over 187 days, rather than 183.

Interleague Play throughout the season will feature teams from one league against clubs in the same division of the other league. Notable series feature renewals of four World Series matchups over the past 10 years, including Phillies-Rays (April 13-15 at Tropicana Field); Cubs-Indians (April 24-25 at Progressive Field, May 22-23 at Wrigley); Yankees-Phillies (June 25-27 at Citizens Bank Park); and Giants-Rangers (Aug. 24-26 at AT&T Park).

Other important dates next season include Jackie Robinson Day on Sunday, April 15; a two-game series between the Twins and Indians at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 17-18; Mother's Day on May 13; Father's Day on June 17; the first day of the 2018 MLB Draft on Monday, June 4; and All-Star Week in Washington, culminating in the 89th Midsummer Classic on July 17.

The Puerto Rico games, which will be considered home contests for the Twins, will mark the first regular-season action on the island since the Mets and Marlins held a three-game series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in June 2010. Francisco Lindor of Cleveland and Eddie Rosario of Minnesota will be among big names returning to their homeland for that series.

Along with the 2010 series, MLB has made three other appearances at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The Rangers and Blue Jays opened the 2001 season there, and in '03 and '04, the Montreal Expos played several regular-season games in San Juan.

The last time the capital of the United States hosted an All-Star Game was at RFK Stadium on July 23, 1969 -- three days after man landed on the moon for the first time, and hosted by the second iteration of the Washington Senators, who would become the Rangers in 1972.

Notable anniversaries next season will include: Kirk Gibson's Miracle Homer to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers; a World Series win for Bob Feller and the Indians in '48; Joe Carter's homer to end the '93 season with a Toronto repeat; Philadelphia's sports breakthrough 10 years ago; Yankees crowns in 1928, '38, '58, '78 and '98; Stan Musial's incredible '48 season (.376, 18 triples, 39 homers, 139 RBIs, 11.5 WAR); the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homer chase of '98; and Detroit's World Series win in seven games over St. Louis in an eventful '68 season.

Tigers fans will no doubt be circling these key dates in 2018: July 13-15 (at Houston, just before the All-Star break) and Sept. 10-12 (vs. Houston at Comerica Park). Other than possible Spring Training matchups, those are expected to be the two chances to perhaps see Justin Verlander face his former team for the first time since being traded to Houston.

On April 17 -- exactly 50 years after their inaugural game at the Oakland Coliseum -- the A's year-long anniversary celebration continues with a 7:05 p.m. PT game against the White Sox that is completely free for all fans. This is thought to be one of the first completely free standalone games in MLB history.

With 15 teams in each league, Interleague Play will take place throughout the entire regular season for the sixth straight year. Clubs will again play 19 games against division opponents (76 total games) and either six or seven contests vs. nondivisional league opponents in home and home series (66 total games). Each club will also play 20 Interleague games (10 home/10 road).

Clubs are either starting to accept season ticket deposits or will do so soon, so check individual club sites for details. Game times for the 2018 schedule, as well as the 2018 Spring Training schedule, will be announced at a later date. The schedule is subject to change.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.