Finally, after a long winter Opening Day(s) is(are) hear. While I’m slightly annoyed at the convoluted start to the baseball season spread over four different days; travel schedules that make no sense; I’m absolutely elated that baseball has returned. A lot of NFL Fundamentalists will complain that there is nothing going on during the summer. However, I am more than content to enjoy a random 15 game schedule on a Tuesday in July. It also helps that summer is my favorite season; maybe baseball being my favorite sport has something to do with that.
Baseball is unique in that the pace of the game lends itself to being portable. You can listen at work, at the campsite, by the pool, on the beach, on a long road trip, or running to the store. You can watch on television, and last but not least: spend time watching in person. Baseball is everywhere. There are over 2400 baseball games played in a Major League Season, not to mention there are several other levels of baseball that are worth following. Baseball is like a security blanket. No matter what’s going on in your life, between the beginning of April and the end of October you can find a baseball game to take you away for a few minutes…or three hours.
I’ll watch or listen to just about every level of baseball. Last summer I coached t-ball and played softball. Most of the time I follow the Kansas City Royals, sometimes I like to watch or listen to two random teams. Doesn’t matter if it’s Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech on a scratchy AM station while driving to a remote campsite, or Sunday Night Baseball in HD. I love to immerse myself in baseball.
That last paragraph makes it seem like my approach to baseball is random. However, I come into every season with my eye certain stories. Sometimes they’re the same story lines the national media like to talk about, and some times they’re rather mundane. Here is what I have my eye on this season.
Kansas City Royals vs Cleveland Indians
I save most, if not all of my Royals thoughts for my weekly post at I70 Baseball Sometimes I re-post them here, sometimes I don’t. If you follow me there you’ll know that this topic is something I noticed last year, and I see no reason to change it this year.
Let’s be honest. If the Detroit Tigers don’t win the AL Central this season it will be a choke job of epic proportions. However, long term I think the Royals have more going for them than the Tigers, White Sox, or Twins. Provided their young players develop the Royals will have a playoff window starting next year that will probably go until 2017. The problem is the Cleveland Indians are also a young team, and their playoff window is only different from the Royals by a few years. If the Royals are to jump through that window they must go through the Indians.
Believe me I want the Royals to beat the Tigers, and the other teams in the division. However, I understand the Royals are out spent, and out talented by the Tigers. Who I really want the Royals to beat this year, not only head to head, but in the standings is the Cleveland Indians. If the Royals can’t beat the Indians I’ll begin to worry if that playoff window will ever open.
The Circus in Miami
Circuses are wild and zany. I think this years version of the Miami Marlins will be similar, and not for baseball reasons. You have a foul mouthed short fused manager in Ozzie Guillen; an ill-tempered hard throwing starting pitcher in Carlos Zambrano; a fast-tweeting character in Logan Morrison, and a cast of high profile free agents. And oh yeah, they have a new stadium, new uniforms, and new expectations to win.
When the NWS issues watches the mean the conditions are favorible for severe weather, but not yet occuring. I’m saying conditions are favorable so some great profanity laden quotes, fist fights in the dugout, player suspensions, and ownership ire. It will be awesome. I’m also interested to see if this collection of characters can actually win. If they don’t win, I’m at least pulling for them to be entertaining.
The National Process
Because I root for a team that has been terrible for at least a generation I’m always on the look out for teams in the same position. Not because I like watching bad baseball, but because I’m look for signs that they might turn things around. Like Dayton Moore has his “Process”. Other terrible teams usually have a process too. I like to see whose process is the most effective.
Like the Royals, the Washington Nationals have had several years where if they didn’t have the number one pick in the draft, they were in the top three. Surely after years and years of picking high in the draft and signing those talented players. That those signings would eventually lead to a turn around? That’s the theory behind The Process anyway. The Nationals former number one pick Stephen Strasburg will be their Opening Day starter following Tommy John surgery last season. Their other number one draft pick, Bryce Harper, should be called up later this summer.
Last year the Nationals finished better than the Royals with a record of 80-81. Essentially they’ve gone from terrible to mediocre. Their next step is to become a contender in their tough division. They made the prospects-for-established-pitcher trade over the offseason in landing Gio Gonzales from the Oakland Athletics. I was hoping the Royals would have made that deal. In addition to trades and the draft, the Nationals have been active in free agency. They Signed Jayson Werth to a record deal last off-season, and landed Edwin Jackson this off-season. The Nationals front office has been employing a three pronged attack in player acquisitions as opposed to the Royals 1 ½.
I’m not really sure how the Nationals will finish this year. Much of that has to do with how the Phillies age this season. They are in a position that if a few things break right…they’ll be in the play-offs. If the Nationals make the play-offs they can call their process successful.
Texas Rangers vs. Anaheim Angels
On December 8th of last fall I wrote this concerning these two teams:
Today has been a really busy sports day for a random Thursday in the middle of December. It started early with free agents Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson signing with the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim. There are thousands threads that talk about in this situation. The biggest being that everyone in the sports world, including me, forgot that Arte Moreno has money to spend and that his team is in the second largest media market in the US. The Angels have never been slouches, but for some reason it feels like they were asleep and now they’re awake.
I’ve always thought the Texas Rangers were the sleeping giants in that division. I guess if you make it to two straight World Series you’re no longer sleeping. However, with Texas’ new TV contract, new ownership, and the fact that the State of Texas is supposed to increase in population by 20% over the next decade I think the Rangers will become the big market team everyone hates.
Maybe they will, and the Angels vs Rangers will become rivals for the same division and the same free agents. Kind of like a new money Yankees – Red Sox Rivalry. Or Maybe not. There are cultural and geographic differences that would prevent that. However, Angels v Rangers will be fun to watch on the field as well as at the negotiating table for years to come.
Since that writing the Texas Rangers spent over $150 million dollars to land Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Darvish has yet to pitch in an MLB game that counts, but all indications are that he will be a successful major league pitcher.
To add fuel to the fire former Ranger CJ Wilson tweeted Ranger catcher Mike Napoli’s cell phone number to his thousands of followers causing Napoli to change his phone number.
These two teams don’t like each other from the top down, they compete for the same players, and they play in the same division. Of all the divisional races this season I feel that the AL West will be the most entertaining. Not just this season, but for many seasons to come.
Two Wild Cards
Starting this season there will be two wild card winners in each league. The two wild card winners will then participate in a one game play-off with the right to enter the Divisional Series. A lot of people didn’t like the change. However, if they’re not going to create four divisions in each league, and only allow the division winners to advance to the post-season. This is the way to go. If you win your division you’re in the Divisional Series. If you win the Wild Card, you have to defend 162 games worth of work over a 1 game play-off in which anything can happen. Make winning the division more important, and make the Wild Card not a fun place to be.
The final day of last seasons was one of the best regular season evenings I can remember in Major League Baseball. An expanded Wild-Card guarantees we we will have two games that are win or go home. It also expands the likelihood that we will have similar season endings in the future.
That’s what I’ll be watching this season. Can’t wait, I’m ready to get this summer started. I kept score during the St Louis Cardinal victory over the Miami Marlins this evening. I’ll be writing more about that in the next week. In the mean time: Below are my predictions on how the divisions will stack up. I did not predict the play-offs. After all the play-offs are a crap shoot.
2012 Season Predictions
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
LA Angels of Anaheim
Wildcard 1: Tampa Bay Rays
Wildcard 2: LA Angels of Anaheim
New York Mets
St Louis Cardinals
Los Angles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
Wildcard 1: Washington Nationals
Wildcard 2: St Louis Cardinals