MLB schedule 2021: All Star, play-offs, finals, draft...

MLB fans will return to regular-season games across the United States this week for the first time in 18 months, in a radically different landscape amid the covid pandemic.

MLB schedule 2021: All Star, play-offs, finals, draft...
Kim Klement USA TODAY Sports

Tens of thousands of Major League Baseball (MLB) fans will return to regular-season games across the United States this week for the first time in 18 months, in a radically different landscape amid the covid-19 crisis that nearly caused last season to be derailed.

Eleven ballparks served as mass covid-19 vaccination sites during the offseason, administering more than 1 million doses, in stadiums where MLB now hopes to welcome back fans - slowly, at first - over a 162-game season, after the entirety of 2020's regular season was played to empty stands.

FILE PHOTO: Nationals Park is seen in WashingtonFILE PHOTO: The empty turnstiles at Nationals Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals, are seen on May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

"The league fared terribly last year and that was a combination obviously of no fans as well as only 40% the number of games and, for example, playoff ratings were terrible," said sports economic expert Victor Matheson, adding that the Los Angeles Dodgers' successful championship bid was the least-watched World Series ever.

As MLB works to bounce back from its annus horribilis, fans can expect new health and safety protocols at ballparks across the country, with all the clubs allowing at least some fans to attend their games including the Texas Rangers, the only team that will start its season with 100% capacity.

Yankees gunning for domination

The New York Yankees are looking to convert four straight postseason appearances into World Series glory as they launch their 2021 campaign on Thursday in a talent-rich American League, after a promising 2020 turned irksome amid a glut of injuries.

The Bronx Bombers started last year winning eight of their first 10 games in a shortened 60-game Major League Baseball (MLB) schedule, but struggled through a seven-game losing streak in August as top players including outfielder Aaron Judge, slugger Giancarlo Stanton and infielder DJ LeMahieu endured stints on the injured list.

Their season ended with a thud as they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, a conclusion Yankees manager Aaron Boone could only describe as "cruel."

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York YankeesMar 27, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres (25) doubles during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dodgers aiming to recreate 2020 form

After winning last season's World Series in a shortened, 60-game sprint, the Los Angeles Dodgers are confident they have the roster, and the hunger, to repeat as champions when their marathon 162-game campaign begins on Thursday.

The Dodgers ended a 32-year title drought in Arlington in October and hope to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the New York Yankees won three straight between 1998 and 2000.

Outfielder Mookie Betts said the team, who added hard-throwing Trevor Bauer to their already fearsome starting rotation in the offseason, had the personnel to get it done.

Los Angeles Angels v Los Angeles DodgersLOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels on March 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

MLB 2021 season: key dates

The coronavirus pandemic led to a shortened, 60-game regular season in 2020, but Major League Baseball’s 2021 plan involves a return to the previous, 162-game format.

1 April: 2021 season gets underway

11-13 July: MLB Draft

13 July: 91st All Star game (Atlanta)

The 2021 All-Star Game is scheduled to be held on 13 July at Truist Park - the home stadium of the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta had been selected as the venue of the 2020 All-Star Game, but the fixture was cancelled because of covid-19.

26 October: World Series begins

The 2021 MLB regular season is slated to end on Sunday 3 November.