We kept track of the wheeling and dealing during the coldest days of winter, then counted down until pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Now after more than a month down south getting ready and teasing us with rosters filled with minor leaguers, the Major League Baseball season is ready to kick off opening weekend, which gives us a chance to look at what could be in store this summer.
It is a new season and each team begins the year with a clean slate. For now the Kansas City Royals are just as good as the Colorado Rockies, who are just as good as the Boston Red Sox. Nearly every team comes back just five months later with a different look as compared to the prior year. All 30 teams have made the necessary adjustments to hopefully give them a chance to play more than 162 games and just because a team had success last year, doesn’t mean that will translate to this season.
The San Francisco Giants managed to prove their naysayers wrong and win the World Series last season but for now they are without closer Brian Wilson, who was key in their run. Their ”Kung Fu Panda” third baseman Pablo Sandoval lost much of his panda weight and has been one of the hottest bats during the spring and they will need it since their line up is not a high run producer. The Giants have plenty of competition in the National League West however, with each team being a potential playoff contender. The Rockies had a hot second half last year and hope to pick up right where they left off, being led by a player who came out of nowhere a year ago and threatened to win the Triple Crown – Carlos Gonzalez. Meanwhile, the Padres are out for vengeance after missing the playoffs due to a poor second half collapse, after leading the division by seven games in August.
Their neighbors to the east, the St. Louis Cardinals are the hot pick to win the National League’s Central Division this season despite having already lost their right-handed ace Adam Wainwright who needed season ending surgery after suffering an injury in spring training. The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds have plans of their own. The Brewers, who picked up one of the best pitchers in the game, Zack Greinke think he has what it takes to help them get back to the playoffs after a two year absence. Greinke’s health is a major question mark as the team gets close to opening day.
The last National League division is home to this year’s sexy World Series pick – the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have the best pitching rotation perhaps in the history of the game with their “Four Aces and Five of Chubbs”, as it has been referred to. The four aces being Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. The five of chubbs referring of course to Joe Blanton. They can’t seem to stay healthy with second baseman Chase Utley, closer Brade Lidge, and third baseman Placido Polanco each battling tedious injuries that could land them on the disabled list. This leaves the door wide open for the Atlanta Braves, who could be ready to pounce on the wounded Phillies. The Braves have only gotten better this winter after trading for Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. The biggest question is can their pitching hold up, well that and what does Chipper Jones have left in the tank?
The American League is a bit more cut and dry. The Boston Red Sox are the hands down favorite to make it to the World Series, especially after picking up All-Star center fielder Carl Crawford from Tampa Bay this summer. Add Adrian Gonazalez to that lineup and it is one of the most potent offenses in the league. They are in baseball’s toughest division though and if the Yankees can solve their pitching problems then look out, but it will be tough to recover after losing Andy Pettitte. Meanwhile, the Rays have become more like south Boston, picking up two former ”idiots” who helped the Red Sox win two championships, though it is uncertain how much Johnny Damon or Manny Ramirez will impact the Rays. Watch out for the Orioles – in a few years, they are cultivating a quality crop but it will take time to turn them into stars and produce wins.
The central is a three team race. Will it be Minnesota, Chicago, or Detroit? Who knows but it should certainly make for some entertaining baseball as September rolls around. The Twins haven’t changed much since last year and if anything have only gotten more healthy with the return of Justin Morneau, who missed half of last season thanks to a concussion. The White Sox and Tigers both have offenses that can slump for lengthy periods so pitching will prove key. The Sox will need Jake Peavy to return to form if they want a chance at October baseball.
Moving west, the American League western division is probably the worst in the league. Last year’s American league representatives in the World Series, the Texas Rangers should be able to take the division despite losing Cliff Lee and Michael Young stating he wants out of the organization. The Seattle Mariners have a pitching rotation that could be in one word deadly. But they just cant seem to all manage to be healthy at the same time and their lineup isn’t strong enough to carry the weight. The Los Angeles Angels could keep the Rangers checking the rear view mirror. They have an experience lineup and a good pitching staff but will they be able to produce all season?
So get out this week and buy some peanuts and cracker jacks as the Major League Baseball season begins and try to enjoy the roller coaster ride that lasts until the end of October.
Photo Courtesy of: AP Images