With the baseball season kicking off last Wednesday in Tokyo, now seems like a good time to take a look at a few major storylines around the diamond in 2012.
First base, new place
This offseason saw two of the biggest bats from the National League Central head over to the American League.
Former Cardinal and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols signed a massive 10-year deal to play for the Los Angeles Angels. For the Angels, it means an additional 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs. For the rest of the AL West, it means another potent bat in a lineup that already featured Vernon Wells and Tori Hunter.
The Detroit Tigers made the other big acquisition (in more ways than one) when they inked Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract. The 275-pound Fielder helps replace the loss of Victor Martinez, who is out for the year due to an ACL injury. While Fielder’s hitting ability is awesome, there are concerns about his long-term durability, especially with his weight.
Now watch me YUUUU
The Texas Rangers adding Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish was the other interesting addition to the AL West this year.
The Rangers hope that the more than $110 million investment they made in Darvish is sufficient to replace former ace C.J. Wilson.
The odds might be against Darvish, as he will be pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. Also, most Japanese pitchers have not had very successful careers in the big leagues.
Beast of the NL East
If there were one division that is really wide open, it would most likely be the NL East.
The Nationals have a deep rotation to compliment a group of young hitters, such as highly touted outfielder Bryce Harper. Atlanta has strong hitters in Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, and the Braves also boast one of the best bullpens in the league.
In Miami, the Marlins are opening a new park and may have the fastest 1-2-3 hitters in baseball Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and Hanley Ramirez.
The Phillies have three aces with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard injured, it will be difficult for Philadelphia to score runs.
Even the Mets have a chance … just kidding.
Last year, the MLB postseason picture came down to the last day.
The Tampa Bay Rays capitalized on Boston’s collapse and took the wild-card spot in the AL, while the Cardinals clinched the NL wild-card spot on the final day of the regular season before going on to win the World Series.
This year, an extra wild card will be added in each league. Now, the two wild-card teams will face each other in a single elimination game to determine who will advance to the playoffs. This means an extra playoff spot for everyone and more emphasis on winning the division to get a guaranteed playoff spot.
Chaos in Boston
In the wake of the 2011 Red Sox “Dream Team” not only failing to make the playoffs but also doing so in a memorable end of the year collapse, Boston rebuilt the team leadership.
Out are Theo Epstein and Terry Francona, and in are Ben Cherington and baseball genius, err loud mouth and failed Mets manager, Bobby Valentine.
The changes come on top of concerns about pitching depth and the health of underachieving speedster Carl Crawford. So far Valentine has made the most headlines by calling out Derek Jeter for being “out of position” during the “flip play” in the 2001 playoffs. Valentine should expect a nice Bronx reception when the Sox come to Yankee Stadium.