Welcome back, baseball: 5 series to watch in April

Smell that? That’s the start of the baseball season rapidly approaching.

While spring training’s relaxed atmosphere is a welcome reprieve for most of our climbing blood pressures, and the World Baseball Classic did well to temporarily satiate our desire for meaningful baseball, there’s just nothing that compares to watching teams duke it out over 162 games in hopes of reaching the postseason. Though the season is a marathon, storylines often don’t need long to gain steam thanks to some luckily scheduled battles in the first month.

Here are five key series to watch in April:

April 2: Cardinals vs. Cubs

The winding history of the Battle of Route 66 makes it a perennial must-watch, but there are some added incentives this time around. Scheduled for the first Sunday of the season’s prime-time slot, nobody wants to drop their opening contest with a national audience watching, but the majority of the pressure will be on the visiting World Series champs.

The contests will also play host to a couple of awkward reunions, too. Dexter Fowler, who spent the last two seasons in the Windy City, will play his first official games a member of the Cardinals against his former team, while Jason Heyward, who made the opposite swap last season, will look to quickly erase his disastrous 2016 campaign.

April 3: Rangers vs. Indians

The two teams with the American League’s best records last season are also getting an early look at each other, with the Texas Rangers hosting the Cleveland Indians for a three-game series starting on Opening Day.

Edwin Encarnacion’s official Indians debut will be the top story, but Michael Brantley’s long-awaited healthy return, as well as Mike Napoli playing against his former team will be interesting side angles to follow.

April 10: Cubs vs. Dodgers

If hyped postseason rematches are more your thing, this is the series for you.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Cubs played one of the most exciting series in recent memory in the NLCS, and we could get more of the same starting April 10. Aside from Cubs’ pitcher Brett Anderson, there aren’t any players facing former teams, but you can bet the Dodgers want at least some semblance of retribution for their postseason elimination in six games.

April 18: Blue Jays vs. Red Sox

The AL East looks set to restore its status as one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and no team wants to waste an opportunity to separate itself from the pack.

Fans will get a preliminary look at the presumed contenders for the division title when the Boston Red Sox visit the Toronto Blue Jays on April 18 for a three-game set. There will be some notable names from past showdowns between the two heavyweights missing, however; David Ortiz is now enjoying the fine life of retirement, while Encarnacion now plies his trade on the other side of Lake Erie.

April 28: Red Sox vs. Cubs

We could be watching a Fall Classic preview toward the end of April.

Both the Red Sox and Cubs are odds-on favorites to win the American and National League pennants, respectively, and that won’t be taken lightly, even in the first month of the season. With the three-game series, the only scheduled interleague meeting between the two contenders, the opportunity to get a mental leg up on a potential World Series opponent will be too big to pass up, for both clubs as well as neutral fans.