The wait is over. Opening Day is finally here. But how much weight does Opening Day actually carry? While it might be a holiday for some of us, you’re bound to come across an uncultured peasant who says stuff like, “Opening Day doesn’t matter. There are too many games in a season. One game is meaningless.”
Can the Opening Day matter?
If you feel the need to defend the importance of Opening Day, you really only need to look at the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers. They lost a nail-biter to the Colorado Rockies, 5-7. Fast forward to October and they’re on the outside looking in, missing out on making the playoffs for the first time in six years, finishing one game behind those very same Rockies.
Now while the butterfly effect of winning that game might have led to different moves by Stearns or Counsell and cause a much different season, it’s hard not to look at that one game when it’s all said and done. Brewers go into the 7th up one, bullpen can’t hold the lead, and they miss out by one game to that team. That game definitely mattered.
While some people might complain about the length of a baseball season, saying having that many games just waters it down, just remember: Water is good. You should drink water every day.
With that said, let’s dive into some facts, stats, and records when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers and Opening Day.
Can a game not matter?
Since coming to Milwaukee in 1970, the Brewers have a record of 26-24-1 on Opening Day. They’re 11-9 at home, 5-5 at American Family Field.
They also have a tie.
I cannot imagine a bigger kick in the pants than ending a Opening Day game in a tie.
April 3, 2000, at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, with one out in the top of the sixth, the umpires pulled the players off the field due to rain. They waited three hours before calling it a game, which became official since it went longer than five innings. They played a make up game the next day and, while keeping the stats for the players in the books, basically acted like the first game never happened. The Brewers and Reds each played 163 games, but you would never know it by looking at their records (73-89 and 85-77, respectively).
Opening Day definitely matters, but maybe not that one. In all fairness, though, the crew chief that eventually called off the game was Randy Marsh. There is very little written about this game online, so I almost want to just chalk this game up to being a glitch in the matrix since it just feels like it can’t be real.
Does hosting or travelling matter?
Okay, back on track, what else is there to know about the Brewers and Opening Day? One interesting coincidence is that in 2011 they opened on the road, then eventually made the playoffs. The next six years they played Opening Day at home and missed the playoffs. But then, in 2018, they went back on the road, and back to the playoffs.
Does it mean anything?
No. In 2019 they opened up at home and made the playoffs.
But at second glance, 2019 is actually the only season the Brewers opened up at home and then made the playoffs, so maybe it does mean something.
Does consistency matter?
Ben Sheets was the Brewers Opening Day four years in a row at one point, from 2002-2005, but the Brewers didn’t host an Opening Day game from 1996-2006. Sheets would have been the Opening Day starter in 2006, the first one hosted by Miller Park, but he started the year on the Injured List, giving the honors to southpaw Doug Davis.
While Sheets was able to start Opening Day for the Brewers in Miller Park in 2007, it would be his only Opening Day start at home. That means Ben Sheets, the pitcher with the most Opening Day starts in Brewers history, has more Opening Day starts at Busch Stadium (2), than Miller Park (1).
While it felt like Opening Day starters have been cursed for the Brewers as of late, Brandon Woodruff finally put an end to that in 2020 posting an ERA of 3.05 and ERA+ of 150. With numbers like those, it was an easy call to tab him as the Opening Day starter again in 2021, making him the first pitcher to start Opening Day in back to back years since Yovani Gallardo got the call five consecutive years from 2010-2014.
Playoffs and Opening Day
In 2020, the Brewers became the third NL team in the live ball era to make the playoffs three years in a row with three different Opening Day starting pitchers. The Atlanta Braves did it seven times between 1991 and 2005, mainly rotating between their powerhouse aces of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. The Cardinals then did it from 2011-2013 with Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, and Adam Wainwright.
The Dodgers and Brewers are both on three-year playoff runs with three different Opening Day pitchers. While the Brewers used three different pitchers as their ace, the Dodgers did it by accident due to injuries to Clayton Kershaw in 2019, when they replaced him with Ryu, and 2020, when they replaced him with Dustin May.
In the 51 seasons of Brewer baseball, 15 seasons had the same Opening Day starter as the year before. Those 15 seasons combine for a record of 1175-1252, good for a winning percentage of .484. This is interesting because the Brewers have an overall winning percentage .483. You would think if you throw the same starter out there in consecutive years, it’s because he’s proven to be good enough to do so. Then you would think if you have a pitcher good enough to not feel the need to replace in the offseason, you would probably have a team good enough to compete. Likewise, if you’re changing your Opening Day starter every year, it’s because you can’t seem to find or hold onto an ace.
Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo
The winning percentage for the repeat starter seasons did take a big hit when Sheets was carrying the load in the hard-to-watch early 2000s. Those years led to records of 68-94 in 2003, 67-94 in 2004, and 81-81 in 2005 — the light at the end of the tunnel of what was, for me, a lifelong rebuild.
In the 15 seasons with a repeat starting pitcher, the Brewers had five winning seasons, nine losing seasons, and one season with an even 81-81 record. They only made the playoffs in two of those seasons: 2008 with Sheets and 2011 with Gallardo.
Does any of this matter? Not really. But I think it’s interesting.
So if anyone tells you Opening Day doesn’t matter, you can say it might be the game that keeps you out of the playoffs, like in 2017. Or it might be truly, forgettably, unimportant and meaningless like in 2000. But the truth usually lies somewhere in between. You might not be able to tell if it matters because a 162 game season waters down the meaning of just one game. But remember: You should drink water every day, so you should watch baseball every day.