Baseball season is only a few, short months away! Here are 10 story lines to start getting you ready for hot dogs, beer, and everything baseball…
1. Can the National League still compete?
No Prince Fielder. No Albert Pujols. No Ryan Braun (At least for a while). With the National League losing arguably their best hitters to the American League (Or suspension in Braun’s case), is there any way the NL can still keep up? The American League has dominated interleague play for years, and the moves made this offseason will only make them stronger. My prediction: There’s a strong chance the team representing the AL in the World Series will have home field advantage.
Adding Prince Fielder has made the Tigers the early favorites to win it all
2. What effects will the 50-game suspension have on NL MVP Ryan Braun?
Any time a player is linked to performance enhancing drugs, there are countless questions that have to be asked. How long has it been happening? Who else knew about it? Will he still be the same player without the help of PEDs? It will be interesting to see how Braun performs when he gets back from suspension, and just how much the PEDs were helping his game. Fans in Milwaukee (As well as baseball fans in general) have to be devastated that their franchise player will miss almost a third of the season, as well as the fact that his legacy and performance going forward will always be questioned. But here’s the biggest question of all regarding Braun…When do you take him in fantasy drafts? I just don’t know.
3. Will the Boston Red Sox rebound?
The Red Sox lineup is filled with talented players, but they just couldn’t put it all together last season. Boston was definitely a formidable opponent for most of the year, but that collapse down the stretch run won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and the changes made to their staff reflects that. All eyes will be focused on Bean Town to see how they start their post-Epstein/Francona era. Bobby Valentine was a highly questionable choice as the next manager in Boston, and it remains to be seen how players will respond to him.
4. Which team will be this year’s version of the St. Louis Cardinals?
The Cardinals dealt with injuries throughout the year, were on life support during the final weeks of the regular season, and still found a way to get the job done. Not only did they sneak into the playoffs, but they found a way to play their best ball of the year in October and November on the way to their improbable World Series victory. Which team in 2012 will get hot at the right time and take the playoffs by storm?
In 2011, the Cardinals made an unbelievable run to become World Series champs
5. Will any of the up-and-coming teams take the next step?
The Nationals, Pirates, and Indians have all made major strides from their days as cellar-dwellers in the standings. Over the last few seasons, these teams have built strong, young cores, and have given fans a reason to believe in the futures of their teams. Now that these teams have established themselves as legitimate middle-of-the-pack clubs, the next step is to push for a playoff spot and prove that they can stand tall with the traditional contending teams.
6. With so many AL teams turning into powerhouses, can the Yankees still make the playoffs?
The Yankees are regulars in the playoffs, but with the Tigers, Angels, Rangers, and Red Sox looking like elite teams, will the aging lineup in New York have enough pop to contend? Brian Cashman has somewhat addressed the issues on the mound, but they still don’t have a dominant staff. Other teams are making major improvements, and the Yanks might find themselves on the outside looking in. That additional Wild Card spot might come in handy in New York.
7. Will a new stadium, new logo, and a few big-name additions be enough to attract fans in Miami?
Hopefully Jose Reyes won't be distracted by those ugly orange uniforms the Marlins will be sporting (Photo by LM Otero/Associated Press)
It is a well known fact that baseball fans in Florida are almost nonexistent. Even when the Rays were in the midst of their amazing run to overtake the Red Sox for the Wild Card spot last season, the fans were nowhere to be found. Even with Mike Stanton hitting monstrous home runs for the Marlins, the fans stayed away. Starting this season, the now Miami Marlins will have a new stadium, a new logo, and ugly new uniforms. Additionally, they acquired a solid veteran starter in Mark Buehrle, an All-Star closer in Heath Bell, and a new star shortstop in Jose Reyes to strengthen their lineup. If this isn’t enough to get butts in seats in Miami, then I don’t know what is.
8. Can Theo Epstein do enough to make the Cubs respectable again?
If he can reverse the curse in Boston, surely he can do the same in Chicago, right? That’s what the Cubs were hoping for when they brought in former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. He’s already made one noteworthy move by shipping out clubhouse cancer Carlos Zambrano for the younger, less washed up Chris Volstad.
9. Will the new owner of the Dodgers be able to move the team from punch line to contender?
As a Dodger fan, I can only hope so. If there’s any chance of that happening this season, major personnel moves will have to be made. So far this offseason, the cash-strapped Dodgers have made the same kinds of insignificant signings they made last offseason, and in case you missed it, last season didn’t turn out too well for every Dodger other than Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the most storied teams in baseball history, but they have plenty of work to do if they hope to return to their winning ways of the past.
10. Will the Astros make their final season in the NL a memorable one?
Probably not. With Prince and Pujols both leaving the NL Central, and Braun suspended for a good portion of the season, the division should be wide open. OK…so maybe the opening won’t be wide enough for Carlos Lee and the Astros to squeeze through, but hopefully the team can at least improve. Who benefits the most from the Astros moving to the AL West? Clearly, the rest of the teams in the AL West…more easy wins for the Angels and Rangers, and a better chance that the Mariners avoid another last-place finish.
OK, you’re right…talking about the Astros is a pretty bad way to end this….
10-a. Is the addition of Albert Pujols enough for the Angels to overtake the Rangers in the AL West?
Obviously, landing a guy like Albert is HUGE for an organization. However, I still don’t think the Angels lineup is good enough to compete with Texas. Who is going to protect Pujols? Torii Hunter? Vernon Wells? Kendrys Morales (If he can even get healthy enough to get back on the field)? There is no doubt in my mind that the Angels are a superior team pitching-wise (Stealing the Rangers ace in free agency didn’t hurt), but is their offense good enough to carry them? Some young guys will have to step up if Pujols wants to avoid breaking the record for intentional walks.
It’s OK to start getting excited…Spring is just around the corner!
It didn't take long for Angels fans to fall in love with their new superstar