BEHIND THE PLATE: Baseball season is finally here
The grass is turning green and temperatures are creeping into the 60s.
It must be baseball season.
Major League Baseball begins another chapter in the post-steroid era when the Giants and Dodgers square off Monday in Los Angeles as San Francisco prepares to defend its crown.
Expectations are high again, not just for the Giants, but for all 32 teams this season as each will fight for almost nine months to become the next world champ. As spring training comes to a close this weekend, we’re left wondering what baseball has for an encore after an exciting finish to 2012.
“Moneyball: The Sequel” made a grand entrance in September as the A’s came back from a double-digit deficit in the summer to win the AL West on the final day by sweeping the Rangers. The magic continued in the postseason as Oakland fought off elimination but lost to eventual AL champion Detroit in the fifth and deciding game of the ALCS.
But 2012 was also the first year that welcomed two wild cards in each league as the Cardinals held off the Braves in the NL, and the Orioles pounded the nail into the Rangers’ coffin after their disappointing season. And who saw the final result of the season coming?
The Giants won their second title in the last three years and young Buster Posey added an MVP award to go along with his rookie of the year honors and two World Series rings.
If history shows us, in 2013 the Giants will have a tougher time defending the title, let alone make the playoffs. San Francisco missed out in 2011 after Posey suffered a season-ending injury, paving the way for the Cardinals to beat the Rangers.
How will 2013 stack up compared to the last two seasons?
The AL appears to be the most interesting, especially in the East. Any one of these five teams can win the division and don’t expect a wild card coming. With the Yankees plagued by injuries, the Blue Jays stacked with big acquisitions, the Orioles and Rays staying strong and the Red Sox looming, the division title will come down to the final game. Look for Baltimore to take the division.
The AL Central is still a two-team race with the Tigers and White Sox. If not for a collapse at the wrong time, Chicago would have punched a ticket to the postseason last year, but Detroit earned the division title before getting swept in the World Series. This one is not even up for debate as the Tigers should win the division easily.
The AL West will be fun to watch because the Angels loaded up, again. Los Angeles appears to be the favorite, but that’s what everyone said last year and look what happened. They tanked and Texas and Oakland made the playoffs. Expect the same but minus the Rangers. The A’s kept almost everyone from last year’s team and should be able to win the division, but maybe not in dramatic fashion again.
The NL looks boring compared to its counterpart.
The Braves acquired another Upton (B.J.) and look strong in the East. But Washington has the best pitching staff, aruguably, in baseball and three teams will be fighting for two playoff positions. Don’t be surprised if both wild cards come from the East.
The Reds will lead the NL Central, again, even after their playoff collapse against the Giants. The Cardinals surprised a lot of people, especially against Washington in the playoffs, so don’t count them out, either. But the Reds will be too strong and St. Louis could miss out completely.
Rounding out the league in the NL West, if the Dodgers can manage all their egos like the Miami Heat, Los Angeles could be the most dangerous team in baseball. Their lineup and rotation have many all-stars, MVP candidates and Cy Young winners. But the biggest question is if this team can mesh. After last year’s trading deadline, the Dodgers couldn’t make it work. But given an offseason, they should be able to get back into the postseason. Don’t forget about San Francisco, the band of misfits who prove that team chemistry is not overrated and can win championships.
Look for plenty of excitement next month as the new baseball season begins and don’t forget that there’s nothing better to do during the summer than catch a game at one of baseball’s cathedrals.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at lvnsports.com.