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How the last 10 defending World Series champions fared on Opening Day

How the last 10 defending World Series champions fared on Opening Day

It's been four months in the making, but the Nationals will finally be able to begin their World Series title defense.

On Thursday night against the Yankees, Washington will begin a 60-game sprint to the playoffs and what they hope to be another extended run through the postseason. Past defending champions haven't had as much luck going back-to-back, as the last NL team to do it was the 1975-76 Reds. 

But the playoffs aren't until October. As it went for every World Series winner before them, it all begins on Opening Day. So we looked back at how the last 10 defending champs did on Opening Day to see if we can find a template for the Nats to follow. 

2010 Yankees*: L 9-7 vs. Red Sox
2011 Giants: L 2-2 vs. Dodgers
2012 Cardinals*: W 4-1 vs. Marlins
2013 Giants: L 4-0 vs. Dodgers
2014 Red Sox: L 2-1 vs. Orioles
2015 Giants: W 5-4 vs. Diamondbacks
2016 Royals: W 4-3 vs. Mets
2017 Cubs*: L 4-3 vs. Cardinals
2018 Astros*: W 4-1 vs. Rangers
2019 Red Sox: L 12-4 vs. Mariners

* = Made the playoffs

As you can see, defending World Series champions have gone 4-6 to open up their title defense over the last 10 years. What's more troubling is only four of those 10 teams made the postseason, though all four of those teams made it as far as their league's championship series. 

The lesson to be learned here for the Nationals, and one they most likely already know, is that repeating is hard. Then when you consider a 60-game season without Anthony Rendon, and the challenges begin to mount for Washington. 

RELATED: WILL WEATHER POSTPONE OPENING DAY?

But since when was adversity a problem for this group? Last year, they started 19-31 and ended up winning the World Series. It's not like they can afford to do that again, but perhaps the difficulty this season will have on every team will give the Nats an advantage. 

Can the Nats break the trend of unsuccessful World champs? The best part is we don't have to wait very long to find out. 

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Nationals get snubbed once again on Sunday Night Baseball schedule

Nationals get snubbed once again on Sunday Night Baseball schedule

When ESPN released its initial Sunday Night Baseball schedule for the 2020 season, the defending champion Nationals were nowhere to be found. 

But that was a long time ago. Since the season was delayed due to coronavirus, they've had time to consider their rating-chasing actions and think hard about Washington's ommission. 

After further consideration and a newly released 10-game TV schedule, the Nationals...are once again nowhere to be found. 

Three of their division rivals (Mets, Braves, Phillies) are on the Sunday Night Baseball schedule a combined six times, with the Braves and Phillies featured on back-to-back Sunday nights. The Cubs and Cardinals as well as Yankees-Red Sox play twice on Sunday night as well.

RELATED: NATS' 2020 SCHEDULE FILLED WITH ODDITIES

In the spirit of analytics, 75% of the known Sunday Night Baseball schedule belongs to six of the 30 teams. The two final matchups have yet to be announced. 

Now, there are of course a very limited number of Sundays on the schedule this year and there's still a chance the Nats nab one of those last two games. For now however, Washington fans will just have to enjoy their team play on all but one night a week. 

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One player from each NL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

One player from each NL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

Major League Baseball's decision to implement a 60-game season will come with some interesting obstacles. Players will have very little time to prepare for the end of July start date, and some who use the 162-game marathon to slowly reach their best form could enter an early-season rut and never recover.

However, the shortened season will not be negative to all. Veterans with a lot of wear and tear can avoid another grueling season, while streaky players won't have to see their early success fall off in the second half of the season.

Looking at the National League, here is a player from every squad that could benefit from fewer games.

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves - Cole Hamels

Though getting back into baseball shape before the season begins could be challenging for pitchers, some who are near the backend of their career could greatly benefit from a smaller sample size in 2020. Realistically, a five-man rotation over 162 games yields around 30 starts. This season, it’ll only be around 12 depending on where a pitcher falls in the rotation and how off-days factor in.

Hamels is a guy who could shine if he doesn’t have to take the mound as many times. At 36 years old, the veteran free-agent addition had an up and down 2018 with the Chicago Cubs. Though there were some struggles early in the season, the wheels came off in August and September. In 10 starts he went 1-4 with a 5.56 ERA.

In 2020, there will be less of a grind for his arm to go through. With a full offseason and more to rest, the lefty should be rejuvenated and ready to bounce back. He did hurt his shoulder in February but is expected to be ready for the July start. Hamels has also shown that even later in his career he can put together a hot stretch. Following the trade deadline in 2018, he went 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA in six August starts.

This season, that one-month of work is essentially half a season of dominance.

Miami Marlins - Young Pitchers

The Marlins are a young team still working through a rebuild. With that comes a starting rotation filled with youth that is still adjusting to the long grind of a 30-start season.

The four core starters of José Ureña, Sandy Alcántara, Caleb Smith and Pablo López all got off to fast starts in 2019 to help the team ERA to sit in the threes. However, as so often happens, the success couldn’t last forever. Injuries and rough stretches damped what were promising showings overall. The lack of offensive success didn’t help either.

With only 60 games shared between the rotation this year, the young pitchers can avoid a midseason lull.

New York Mets - Yoenis Céspedes

It’s fair if Céspedes has become a forgotten name to an extent due to his recent injury woes. In the last three seasons, he’s only appeared in 119 games. Health is no guarantee in 2020, but as Céspedes nears a return to the diamond, the shortened season is a best-case scenario for him.

Not only will he have the benefit of a less grueling season, but the universal DH option means he won’t have to run around the outfield. All in all, it’s a dream scenario for the Mets.

In his last full-ish season in 2016 (132 games), Céspedes hit .280 with 31 home runs. There’s no guarantee the pop is the same after so much time off, but he could bring added production to New York’s lineup. 

Philadelphia Phillies - Rhys Hoskins

Hoskins is a dangerous hitter when he’s on, but staying on throughout the entire course of the season has been a struggle during his young career.

2019 was a prime example, as he hit .277 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI through the first 56 games of the season. He also had a .400 OBP during that time. Yet, after that, he dropped off dramatically and ended up hitting just .180 in the second half of the season. A similar trend showed itself in 2017 when he got off to an incredibly hot start when he debuted in August before dramatically slowing down the following month.

For a streaky player that has consistently gotten off to solid starts in the early stages of a campaign, 2020 works in his favor. Additionally, 60 games not only gives him a smaller chance of hitting the midseason lull but pitchers less of a time to figure him out.

Washington Nationals - Sean Doolittle

In 2019, Sean Doolittle was the reliever for the Nationals. In what was a down season for the bullpen, Doolittle’s name was called numerous times. Appearing in 63 games, Washington consistently relied on his arms to get the job done.

Though he was quite successful, the amount of wear and tear did take a toll on his arm. It resulted in a stint on the disabled list in order to let his arm rest after his velocity dropped off. Doolittle was able to regain form for the playoffs, but his vast usage was not ideal.

Washington brought back Daniel Hudson and signed Will Harris in the offseason to help lessen the load, but the bullpen still isn’t a strength. Additionally, as starting pitchers need extra time to regain stamina, the relievers will be used heavily. If the Nationals have a similar recipe in store for Doolittle in 2020, the 1/3rd of a typical season will help greatly.

RELATED: WHAT 60-GAME SEASON COULD LOOK LIKE FOR NATS

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs - Jon Lester

The veteran left-hander has been everything the Cubs asked for and more since he was signed in 2015. The anchor of the rotation helped bring a World Series to Chicago and continues to eat up innings on the mound. However, his 2019 second half showed signs of decline.

A 6.03 ERA and 1.836 WHIP over the last two months didn’t resemble the Lester many have become used to. Similar splits followed him during July and August of 2018. Entering 2020, the 36-year-old lost weight and is looking to recapture his workhorse ways of the past. If he can quickly regain arm stamina, he’ll be required to make fewer starts which could allow him to avoid fatigue.

Cincinnati Reds - Aristides Aquino

When Aquino joined the Reds in the majors in 2019, he was hitting a home run almost every time you blinked. He hit 14 in his first 29 games, the .320 batting average and 1.158 OPS was not too shabby either.

Then, things fell off in September as he hit another five home runs, but his batting average dropped to .196 and he became an all-or-nothing hitter. Only appearing in 56 games, it was most likely pitchers figuring him out that stunted his numbers.

Now, if that happened in only 56 games it is fair to think that 60 games could be a struggle too. But, this year is different. 60 games is an entire season, and if Aquino goes on a tear as he did in his first month, that production could propel the Reds to a dominant start that gives them a chance at the postseason. There is a chance he platoons as the Reds made numerous additions to the outfield this offseason, but a hot start may negate some of that. 

Additionally, while Aquino will face NL Central pitchers who may have a better idea of how to get him out, AL Central teams will be seeing him for the first time. Ask those who saw him last August how that worked out.

Milwaukee Brewers - Josh Hader

Much like Doolittle, Hader was constantly being called upon by Milwaukee in 2019. Not only was he asked to pitch in high-pressure situations, but they could stretch anywhere from three to nine outs.

As a fastball-dominant thrower, the velocity can only be at the top for so long. In a 162-game season, fatigue is bound to show itself. In a 60-game season, however, Hader should be well-rested and able to continue to have hitters looking like fools at the plate.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Everyone

Maybe an obvious answer, but the Pirates don’t have many players who streak at the beginning of the season. Josh Bell did in 2019, but he historically has actually performed better in the second half. Realistically, Pittsburgh is a team that is trending downward and the 2020 season could help put that on hold.

In a 60-game season, some solid starts on the mound coupled with decent plate appearances could keep them close to others in the standings. For good teams, 60 games don’t give them enough time to potentially separate themselves from the pack. For not-so-good teams, it’s the perfect formula to stay relevant.

St. Louis Cardinals - Yadier Molina

Entering his 17th MLB season, Yadier Molina continues to be one of the better catchers in the game today. A 60-game season that will require fewer days behind the plate should only help him.

Less strain on his legs will not only keep him spry when catching but will help him continue to find power in his swing. The 38-year old has recently stated that he wants to play at least two more seasons, and this shortened one could help make them successful campaigns. 

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NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks - Jake Lamb

Lamb isn’t really being saved because of the length of the games, but because of the universal designated hitter rule that comes with it. Initially competing for time at first base, the left-handed batter is coming off a poor 2019, to put it nicely.

However, the shortened season and DH allows him to find a spot in the starting lineup at the beginning. It will also give him a chance to focus just on his swing rather than trying to play a position he’s had little experience at.

Colorado Rockies - Pitchers

Though it may not be entirely true, it is harder to have solid pitching performances at Coors Field on the regular. The hitter-friendly park is especially unkind to Rockies starters who have to make 15 or so starts there.

In 2020, that number drops to around six or so depending on scheduling. It doesn’t quite dictate the overall success, but the numbers will look better with fewer appearances in Colorado (unless you’re Jon Gray).

Los Angeles Dodgers - Clayton Kershaw

Make no mistake, Kershaw has always been phenomenal over a 162-game stretch. But, this 60 game season could help him succeed in the one area that’s haunted him: postseason play.

Maybe it’s the pressure, but his struggles at times in the playoffs could be due to a tiring arm after consistently being the workhouse in the Dodgers rotation. Having to start fewer games could potentially be the factor that changes Kershaw from a postseason goat to a postseason GOAT during an all-in year for Los Angeles.

San Diego Padres - Chris Paddack

Paddack is well on his way to being a bonafide ace and workhorse for the Padres. However, it’s not crazy to think that less wear and tear this season could help him in the long run. 

The right-hander could easily handle the load of a top of the rotation starter over 162 games, but he did see a slight drop in performance in the second half of 2019. San Diego is close to contention, but if this were a full season, potentially burning out would be seen as unwise.

Now with 60 games, there’s no worries and Paddack will be fresh in the coming years when the playoff push is on.

San Francisco Giants - Hunter Pence

The veteran had a resurgence year in 2019 with the Rangers, and it was largely due to his ability to perform from the designated hitter position. Now with a shortened season and a universal DH, Pence can continue to thrive in that role back in the NL.

At 37 years old, the less time spent running around the outfield, the better.

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