MLB: 2012 regular season
The regular MLB season got underway yesterday as the renamed Miami Marlins hosted the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. Miami lost the game 4-1 but there was more focus on the flamboyant new stadium and the rebranding package. After officially opening in Japan last week the next seven months promise to be an exciting time for baseball fans. Here are a few things to look out for in 2012:
Albert is an Angel
It’s going to take some time for the eyes to adjust, but Albert Pujols really is a Los Angeles Angel. The three-time most valuable player and nine-time All-Star never finished lower than ninth in MVP voting in 11 seasons in St. Louis. He left for a 10-year, $240 million deal, and if he plays to the end of the contract, would finish his career with nearly as many games as an Angel as a Cardinal.
Everything is different in Miami, where it’s the Miami Marlins, not Florida. They play at brand-new Marlins Park, dubbed both gaudy and futuristic, and not in a football stadium. The roster has got an upgrade too, with the additions of shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, and the return to health of Josh Johnson. Manager Ozzie Guillen is new, too.
Fresh prince of tiger town
Just days after losing Victor Martinez for the season because of injury, Detroit shelled out $214 million over nine years for Prince Fielder, who drove in 100 runs or more four times in the past five seasons for Milwaukee. With Fielder, Miguel Cabrera (now at third base) and pitching triple crown winner Justin Verlander in town, the Tigers look set set to stay at or near the top of the AL Central for several years.
Expanded play-off push
For the first time, two wild card teams from each league will reach the postseason, with the total number of playoff teams growing from to from eight to 10. The two wild card teams in each league meet in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the division series. It’s now possible that a third-place team could win the World Series.
Kansas City’s long, painful rise to relevance continues with many predicting that the Royals will give Detroit a run for its money in the AL Central. A young and talented everyday lineup looks capable, but the starting rotation doesn’t appear to be playoff caliber. Certainly a .500 season (which would be the first since 2003 and the second since 1994) isn’t out of the question.
Welcome back Stars
Among the big names who missed all or most of 2011 because of injury were Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg (elbow ligament), Giants catcher Buster Posey (broken leg), Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright (elbow ligament), Mets pitcher Johan Santana (shoulder), Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson (shoulder) and Angels DH Kendrys Morales (broken ankle).
Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, who signed with the Rangers for six years and $56 million (not including the $51.7 million Texas had to pay Japan’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters) may live up to the advance billing. He’s still 25 and is the best Japanese pitcher to come to the U.S.
19-year-old Bryce Harper is looking likely to finally make his debut for the Nationals this season. He’s been the top prospect in the minor leagues since signing as the first overall pick in 2010 and last year hit .297 while topping out in Class AA. He’ll start this year in Class AAA, but nobody thinks that it’s crazy that he’ll have a major impact in the majors in 2012.
The Dodgers have two of baseball’s best players in outfielder Matt Kemp, who nearly won a triple crown, and pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who did. They’ll need bounce-back seasons from several players to contend, but with new owners including Magic Johnson, they appear willing to take on salary to put a contender on the field. Maybe it won’t be as noticeable during the season, but watch if the Dodgers are big spenders in the offseason.
New General Manager Theo Epstein, who worked magic with the star-crossed Red Sox, is taking on a task that is perhaps more difficult in trying to rebuild the cursed Cubs. But it’s going to take time — time to develop young impact players and time before some bad big league contracts (particularly Alfonso Soriano’s) expire.