It should be Opening Day of the 2020 season, but instead of drowning in our sorrows, let’s celebrate the best Opening Day performers in Dodgers history.
Opening Day is a chance for everyone to start fresh. Nobody is in a slump. Nobody is in a hot streak. Everyone starts with the same batting average and slugging percentage and pitching record and ERA. This is what makes the day special. It is one of the few days on the calendar when hope springs eternal.
As we wait for the 2020 season to begin, I thought it would be fun to look back at the Dodgers players who have turned the hopes of Opening Day into instant reality. Here are the top five:
Between 2013-2017, opposing pitchers couldn’t get Adrian Gonzalez out on Opening Day. The left-hander got hits in all five openers he played in for the Dodgers and helped lead the team to a 5-0 record. Of the 86 Dodgers with at least 15 plate appearances on Opening Day, Gonzalez has the highest OPS among the group.
He is 9-16 with one home run and four RBIs over five openers. His most notable game coming in a 6-3 win over the Padres when he got the Dodgers on the board with a home run in the 4th and started a rally in the 7th to put the team ahead for good.
4) Joc Pederson
Joc Pederson was almost traded away this past offseason, but maybe the Dodgers should keep him around for whenever Opening Day is scheduled. The 27-year-old outfielder has five openers under his belt with the boys in blue, and he has been a force at the plate.
His most notable Opening Day moment coming in 2017 when he hit a grand slam off Jhoulys Chacin to break the game open and give the Dodgers a 5-1 lead they would only build upon. He also had a game-breaking home run last season against the Diamondbacks when he connected on a two-run bomb off Zack Greinke to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead.
Pederson is batting north of .400 on Opening Days, 7-17 with three home runs, 10 RBIs, and six runs scored.
Roy Campanella played in ten openers while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. Sadly, a car accident left him partially paralyzed in 1958, which prevented him from playing in Los Angeles.
Campanella got a hit in seven of the ten openers he played. He had a two-homer game in a 1954 loss to the Giants. He hit a three-run home run to even the score against the Pirates in 1953, adding two more hits to help the Dodgers win 8-5. Overall, he hit .371/.421/.800 over 38 plate appearances with five home runs, 12 RBIs, and only three strike outs.
2) Raul Mondesi
The Dominican right fielder has played in six Opening Days, wrecking havoc in three of them. In fact, he might have the best Opening Day performance in Dodgers history. In an 8-6 win over the Diamondbacks in 1999, Mondesi went 4-5 at the plate, connected on two home runs, including a walk-off, two-run blast in the 11th, and drove in six of the Dodgers’ eight runs that day.
Mondesi had another monster performance in the 1995 opener against the Marlins. This game touches close to home as it was the last time that Major League Baseball didn’t start the season on time. That year, it was because of the strike. On April 25, baseball returned, and Mondesi put on a show, going 3-4, with two home runs and 4 RBIs. The Dodgers won the game 8-7.
Appearing in 6 Dodgers openers, Mondesi hit .346 with a jaw-dropping .846 slugging percentage. The Dodgers went 4-2 in those games.
The most ceremonious position of Opening Day is the starting pitcher. The Ace. The chosen one. And Clayton Kershaw has lived up to every name you can come up with in denoting a top flight pitcher. He has started eight Opening Days for the Dodgers, winning five of them, and pitching to a minuscule 1.05 ERA.
Only George Mullin, who pitched in the dead ball era, has a lower ERA among pitchers who have made at least eight Opening Day starts. To put Kershaw in more familiar company, his ERA is ahead of Bob Feller (1.21 over 7 starts), Walter Johnson (1.31 over 14 starts), and Jim Palmer (1.40 over 6 starts). None of these numbers are park or league adjusted, so the fact that Kershaw is on the top of these list of names when he pitches at a time baseballs are flying out of ballparks is astonishing.
Kershaw’s best Opening Day performance was probably in 2013 when he pitched a complete game shutout against the hated Giants. He allowed only 4 hits, struck out seven, didn’t walk anyone, and threw 65 strikes out of 94 pitches.
Thanks for reading! Keep checking back for Dodgers news, analysis, and historical perspective as we wait for the 2020 season to begin.