Cubs vs. Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers has international appeal

ByJesse Rogers ESPN logo
Friday, April 5, 2024

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers face each other this weekend at Wrigley Field, but a year from now they'll likely be doing the same in Japan to open the 2025 season.

MLB has yet to make that official, but Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Sadayuki Sakakibara said Wednesday that MLB has slated March 19 and 20 for next year's season-opening series.

But Sakakibara did not reveal who will be playing. In the meantime, this weekend's three-game set will be highlighted by matchups of four prominent Japanese-born players.

"This is an exciting series," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Friday. "You have four tremendous Japanese ballplayers -- we're going to get to see [Shota] Imanaga versus Shohei [Ohtani]in a couple days which will be a lot of fun -- but I think it just speaks to the best players in the world are playing Major League Baseball."

Before Imanaga pitches against Ohtani on Sunday, new Dodgers hurler Yoshinobu Yamamoto will face Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who is off to a hot start. That matchup takes place on Saturday. The foursome being in one place forced the Cubs to expand their press box as interest in the three games is worldwide.

"We'll get to see all of them in the series," Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. "It feels like the Japanese player is starting to make a bigger impact in a series like this, in our game, and then you see it. That's fun to watch the great players around the world competing on the same field. That's awesome."

Neither team is at full strength as the Dodgers placed outfielder Jason Heyward on the injured list with a back ailmentand the Cubs are without No.1 starter Justin Steele. He's out the first month with a hamstring strain. Heyward should miss minimal time.

"I hope so," Roberts said. "They're going to give him three days of no activity then start ramping it up."

Meanwhile, Ohtani is continuing with his throwing program, according to Roberts. He could be ready to pitch again when the teams play in Tokyo and could see the field this season.

"He's building up with his throwing program," Roberts said. "If there is a conversation in September to run him out there to spell somebody else, a day of defense, we can have that conversation. But we're not even close to that yet."

Both teams enter the series on winning streaks -- the Cubs swept the Rockiesthis week while the Dodgers did the same to the Giants. So after facing one of the worsts teams in baseball, Chicago gets one of the best.

"This is a fun series," Counsell said. "You get to challenge yourself against a good team. This is a team that's been to the playoffs [11] years in a row. That's fun."

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