If it all goes well, then opening day for major league baseball this year will feature Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole in the nation’s capital.
The union signed off Thursday on the details within a 60-game schedule. However, MLB has not finalized the product yet as teams review the variables and the league continues to navigate what it perceives are its best alternatives to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But the current plan in to launch the regular season on July 23, but not with a full slate of games. The highlight of the day will be the Yankees at Nationals Park against the defending champs, likely in prime time, The Post has learned.
So much has to go right between now and then as MLB attempts to begin spring training this coming week at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking in multiple key states for playing the sport such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
Keeping personnel healthy from the virus is Job 1, but also trying to limit injuries in such a strange, shortened preparation environment also will be key. But if it all can be pulled off, MLB’s plan is to have a marquee event at the outset with the Yankees in D.C. The biggest team in the sport against the 2019 World Series champs.
The centerpiece of such a game would be — health permitting — Cole’s debut against the three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer, even if starters are just stretched out to three or four innings by then. The two faced each other in World Series Game 1 last year when Cole was still an Astro. He gave up five runs in seven innings and suffered the loss while Scherzer earned the win with two runs over five innings.
They were scheduled to square off in Game 5 as well, but Scherzer was scratched because of a back ailment. Cole, in his final game with Houston, allowed one run in seven innings to earn the victory as the Astros moved within one win of a title. However, the Nationals won the final two games in Houston, including a Game 7 in which Scherzer famously started after recovering enough from the bad back and Cole never came in the game in relief despite briefly warming up.
If this regular season had begun on time on March 28, the Nationals already had announced that Scherzer would get the start at Citi Field against the Mets and Jacob deGrom. Cole was lined up to start the Yankees’ opener in Baltimore.
Cole’s debut — after signing a pitching record nine-year, $324 million pact — has been one of the most anticipated elements of the 2020 season.