Baseball season didn’t officially begin last weekend as some fans seem to believe.
Although the Dodgers and Diamondbacks squared off for a three-game series in an Australian cricket stadium, the real season begins next week as 30 teams try to stay healthy and end up on top of the baseball mountain in October.
Let’s recap what happened in 2013 that saw the Boston Red Sox complete one of the most-recent sensational stories.
After a horrendous season two years ago, Boston finished atop the AL East with the league’s best record and home-field advantage. Off the field, Boston endured and rallied past the Boston Marathon bombing in April, giving the New England area something positive to root for this baseball season.
Detroit had a dogfight again in the AL Central but not against a common foe. Terry Francona’s Indians battled to take a wild card, falling just one game short of a division title. But the bigger surprise was the Royals, who finished with 86 wins and are primed to repeat the success this season.
The A’s didn’t let up from the previous season as they won the AL West by five games instead of on the final day of the regular season, while the Rangers missed the playoffs.
The National League was more predictable with Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles each winning their divisions. But the strongest division in the league came in the NL Central as the Pirates and Reds each nabbed wild-card berths. Cincinnati, though, lost in the wild-card playoff battle and saw the dismissal of manager Dusty Baker.
Where were the Giants? In fourth place and 10 games under .500 after winning the World Series two years ago.
But Opening Day is upon us once again as the rest of the league begins the season on Monday and Tuesday. There’s no more need to watch reruns from the last time your team was in the postseason. You can put away the baseball movies, for now.
It’s time for America’s favorite pastime to remind everyone how great and meaningful it can be.
How will this season differ from the past?
Like college basketball reveals every March, expect another Cinderella team to emerge. Expect coaches to be on the hot seat early, especially after spending all that money in the winter to put together a championship-caliber team. Expect a lot of surprises.
It’s going to be hard to top Atlanta in the East but Washington, as most are predicting, could win the division after bringing Carson native Matt Williams in to lead the Nationals. It’s going to be a two-team race but the Mets could develop into a darkhorse.
The Central will remain one of the, if not, best divisions in baseball with the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds battling to the death. Milwaukee gets Ryan Braun back after a PED suspension and the Brewers could make some noise as well. What about the Cubs? Chicago is such a distant afterthought anymore that the Cubbies could be the next Red Sox from last year, especially with Theo Epstein as the president of baseball operations.
It’s painful to say, but the Dodgers appear to have the West locked unless they run into issues in the clubhouse, which is possible considering the amount of money flowing in the organization. The Giants will have a tough time winning the division, let alone a wild card, but if they can get the pitching under control like 2012, then Los Angeles will be in trouble.
No one would flinch if the American League finished like it did last season, but I don’t see that happening again.
Boston now has the target on its back after winning the World Series but they’re built to win as is the rest of the division. Even with their new acquisition from Japan, the Yankees will have difficulty even making the playoffs. Tampa Bay still manages to stay in the running even with a small payroll and awful ballpark, while Baltimore isn’t too far behind. Toronto, last year’s predication to reach the World Series, fell hard in 2013 but all the Blue Jays can do is move up.
The Tigers are the class of the Central, but the Indians showed that the division is more than just Detroit and Chicago. Kansas City, though, is positioned to make another successful leap and could surprise everyone and win the division.
The West is Oakland’s to lose.
While Texas and Los Angeles try to figure how why money doesn’t equal wins, Oakland’s roster was created to sustain several seasons of dominance and, unless a star pitcher or hitter goes down for the season, the A’s are the favorite again. Even with grabbing Robinson Cano from the Yankees, the Mariners still have a lot of work to do if they want to be in the discussion for the playoffs.
National League division winners: Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles
Wild cards: San Francisco, Washington
American League division winners: Boston, Detroit, Oakland
Wild cards: Baltimore, Kansas City
World Series: Atlanta over Detroit in five games
The Braves’ return to the biggest stage for the first time since Greg Maddux dominated baseball will be welcomed with a championship ring after many years of controlling the division and falling short of even reaching the World Series.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.