It’s that time of the year once again. The fresh-cut grass, the roasted peanuts, the overpriced beer. Baseball season is upon us. Major League Baseball has actually already started the season with two games between Seattle and Oakland in Japan. The problem is, the league scheduled those games a full week before any other regular season games are played. In any case, the real season kicks off on Wednesday with the defending World Series champion St.Louis Cardinals taking on the new look Miami Marlins.
This winter brought about many interesting story-lines to watch for in the upcoming season.
1. The Ryan Braun Debacle: After winning the NL MVP just one season ago, will Ryan Braun be able to return to form, or will his suspension, which was ultimately overruled, throw him off his game?
2. City of Angels: Following a three-year run of AL West division titles for the LA Angels of Anaheim, Texas has taken over the division. The Rangers have won the pennant in back-to-back years and have gone to the World Series both times, only to fall short. The Angels have restocked their cupboards over the winter, having brought in highly-coveted first baseman Albert Pujols and viable ace C.J. Wilson. Pujols is fresh off his second title with the Cardinals, and if he can find his form in Southern California then the AL West title may return to the City of Angels.
3. Re-birth of the Marlins: The Marlins history has been a roller-coaster ride. After three years without success following their inaugural game in April of 1993, the Marlins spent heavily prior to the 1997 season, and followed it up by winning the franchise’s first World Series title. The Marlins then immediately dismantled the team for financial reasons and returned to their state of futility until returning to glory to win the 2003 World Series. It’s been nearly a decade since their last world championship, but hopes are high for the Marlins this year. They have a brand new stadium, a brand new name: the Miami Marlins, and an increased payroll featuring the likes of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle. Will the Commissioner’s Trophy be returning to South Beach? Only time will tell.
4. A Prince’s ransom: It took a lot longer than expected but the Prince Fielder sweepstakes finally came to an end in late January when the first baseman agreed to a 10-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. With essentially ever other big-name free agent having already signed, many people speculated Fielder was demanding too much money and wouldn’t be able to get what he was after. Those rumors were laid to a rest when the Tigers made him one of the highest paid players in Major League Baseball. The question is, does he deserve to be one of the highest paid players? He has incredible power at the plate, there’s no denying it. Batting from the left side, Fielder has surpassed the 30-home run mark each of the past five seasons, having fallen just short with 28 the year before. His batting average is not likely to be one of the highest in the league, but it’s usually above average. Last season he hit .299 with the Brewers and he has a career average of .282. The big knock against Fielder would be his lack of productive outs. Last season’s 106 strikeouts was the least he had during a full season in the big leagues. He’s also never going to be a threat on the base paths. In any case, the 27-year-old should give a nice boost to the Tigers lineup, and may be what Detroit needs to push itself over the hump.
5. Extra Wild Card: The MLB Playoffs are about to get a whole lot more interesting, and winning your division will be a hell of a lot more important. The addition of an extra Wild Card team to each league, will result in a one-game playoff for the two Wild Card teams, with the winner advancing to the real playoffs. This means the extremely competitive AL East will be a source of real interest. It’s believable that any one of New York, Boston or Tampa Bay will win the division. However, that doesn’t mean they will finish 1-2-3 in the division, with the upstart Toronto Blue Jays ready to make a push. The Jays have made it no secret that making their way into that one-game playoff is the goal this season. Once they make it to that, anything can happen. With one of the Majors’ better offences, a revamped bullpen and a solid young rotation, the Jays may finally have what it takes to return to the post-season, and the addition of another Wild Card spot has opened up one more door for the team to possibly knock down.
No matter how things shake down between now and November, one thing is for sure. There will be many surprises along the way, and that’s why they play the games. Play ball!