Hope Springs Eternal in Florida and Arizona

The 2013 Major League baseball season kicks off this month as players report to their respective camps in Florida and Arizona. Many teams were busy over the winter revamping their rosters.

In Los Angeles the new owners of the Dodgers didn’t sit in the cheap seats after purchasing the team for $2.15 billion. Led by former Lakers star Magic Johnson the Dodgers spent more than $200 million this offseason on just three players – Zack Grienke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League. The Dodger lineup is loaded with big name players like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Either. Only time will tell if the West Coast version of the Yankees can gel into a contender.

Another team making a big splash over the winter is the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto took advantage of the Miami Marlins fire sale and acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Emilio Bonifacio. But the Blue Jays weren’t done. A trade with the New York Mets brought knuckleballer R.A. Dickey north of the border to bolster a formidable pitching staff. Suddenly (on paper), the AL East looks like the toughest division in baseball.

620653_24123006The defending World Series champs San Francisco Giants stood pat, not signing any big name players. The Giants will rely on pitching and defense again. Mait Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum will anchor a solid pitching rotation. Pitching health will be important as the Giants’ bats produced the fewest home runs in the National League last year. The Giants need another MVP-type season from Buster Posey to carry San Francisco to another postseason visit.

Change is afoot in Texas as the Houston Astros make the move to the American League. The rebuilding Astros don’t have any household names and look like they are headed for another 100 loss season. The good news is the minor league system continues to improve. Be patient, Astros fans. Houston will join the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Rangers’ fans did not enjoy the last three months of 2012. First the team blew a three game lead with three games left in the regular season to lose the division title to Oakland. Texas was then quickly dismissed from postseason play by Baltimore. Things got worse when Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young left via free agency/trade. Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski were brought in to help fill the void. Pitching now seems to be the strength of the team. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland anchor a strong rotation. Star prospect Jurickson Profar gave Rangers’ fans a glimpse of the future in a late-season call up. He needs to make an impact in 2013 to help fans forget about the offseason departure of key players.

Here are our players to watch in 2013:

  • Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants) – The Freak had a forgettable 2012 season. He will need to rebound if the Giants hope for a repeat World Series visit.
  • Adrian Gonzalez (LA Dodgers) – a mid season trade brought Gonzalez to LA. Unfortunately he left his power in Boston. A resurgent Gonzalez will offer protection for Kemp and gives the Dodgers legitimate power at first base.
  • Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – Strasburg was on a pitch count in 2012 following Tommy John surgery. The Nats sure could have used him in the postseason. The pitch count has been lifted and Strasburg will be counted on to lead Washington back to the playoffs.
  • Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) – Jones had a breakout season in 2012. With the AL East wide open the Orioles will need Jones to duplicate last season if they hope to contend.
  • Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) – The Rangers lost a ton of offense in the offseason. Beltre will be the focal point in the lineup. Will he be up to the task?

The great thing about Spring Training is everyone starts anew. Optimism is high, and the excitement of another baseball season can help fight the winter chill. Tell us how you think your team will do this season.

 Jeff is a former semi-professional baseball player and contributor to the TicketCity Blog.

“A Home Opener is Always Exciting Whether It’s Home or on the Road.”

- Yogi Berra

PNC Park in Pittsburg (Photo by daveynin, flickr)

There are 162 games separating teams from the postseason today, and another 11 wins after that will get you a spot in baseball lore. This game isn’t about highlight reels, touchdown celebrations or jumping over a Kia to dunk a basketball. Baseball is about moments. These moments define the game and bring you to the stadium each night. That one moment can make the grueling 162-game season worth it for the players and the fans alike, and as the 2011 World Series proved they can come in droves. Going to a baseball game can turn out to be a night you’ll never forget, like hitting a hole-in-one.

Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” The wait is finally over, and tonight brings the first game of the 2012 Major League Baseball season (at least on U.S. soil).

The season opens in Miami, as Marlins Park will host its first ever regular season game. The new-look Marlins host the Cardinals, coming off their 11th World Series title win. The Marlins and Cardinals had off-seasons that look like polar-opposites. One team brought in multiple superstars to plant them firmly in contention; the other lost a loved superstar. It’s April 4th and there’s already no shortage of storylines.

That being said, I’ve put together some predictions for the 2012 season that anyone reading can come back and make fun of me for in October. Sports are about as predictable as earthquakes, but part of the fun is trying to do it anyway.

American League Division Winners:                                   National League Division Winners:

AL East: New York Yankees                                                       NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

AL Central: Detroit Tigers                                                            NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

AL West: LA Angels                                                                   NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

World Series Champions:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 

MVP  - AL: Albert Pujols (LAA), NL: Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)

Cy Young  - AL: Felix Hernandez (SEA), NL: Tim Lincecum (SFG)                      

Rookie of the Year –  AL: Matt Moore (TBR), NL: Trevor Bauer (ARI)

My MLB 2012 experience begins when I take the road trip to Houston to see the Astros vs. Rockies this weekend. Hole-in-one?

New Players Abound In 2011 MLB Season

With the shortest offseason in major sports, a lot can happen in around baseball during the winter, and this year was no different. There were a number of high quality free agents available for the taking, and as a result a lot of teams will have a new look come opening day. 

Few teams did more to improve their stock than the Boston Red Sox. In early December, the Sox landed the coveted first basemen Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with the San Diego Padres. Not only will this provide Boston with a big left-handed bat in the middle of its lineup, but also strengthens their defense. Several days later, Boston signed free agent left fielder Carl Crawford, a player that will be a spark at the top of the batting order throughout the season. Boston also bolstered its bullpen by signing Bobby Jenks as a setup man.

Cliff Lee, who brought the Texas Rangers to the World Series last season, was also up for grabs this offseason. After an intense bidding war, the Phillies beat out the Yankees and acquired the talented southpaw. Lee took less money to accept the Phillies offer, a team he took to the Fall Classic in 2009, and joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels as arguably the best rotation in the majors.

Another coveted pitcher, Zach Grienke, also changed hands. The subdued right hander had long been the lone bright spot for the Kansas City Royals over the years, but was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason in an effort to keep up with a loaded NL Central.  

There are a number of new players in Tampa Bay as well. Just one season after winning the AL East for the second time in three years, the Rays have a virtually new team. Crawford is gone along with Matt Garza (Cubs), Carlos Pena (Cubs) and Jason Bartlett (Padres). To help fill the void, the Rays brought in some very familiar faces – Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon – hoping for some veteran production out of the two former Sox.

Staying in the East, the Baltimore Orioles have long been in the basement, but they took steps to compete with the Sox, Yankees, Rays and even Jays this offseason. The Orioles acquired a few big bats in shortstop J.J. Hardy, first baseman Derek Lee and slugger Mark Reynolds. Add that to a bolstered pitching staff, highlighted by Justin Duchscherer, and teams should watch out for Baltimore.

What Are Your Favorite 2010 World Series Subplots?

At the onset of both League Championship series, the consensus was that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies were going to play deeper into October. The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers? They were the underdogs, only there for show. Well, that’s why they play the games. We think this series has as many subplots (if not more) than one with just about any other combination of teams. These are four of them we’re looking at come Wednesday night.

  • Does good pitching always trump good hitting? The Giants’ staff of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez led a rotation that had the best ERA and strikeout total in the Majors. The Rangers come in winning each of their playoff games by an average of 5.5 runs behind the hot bats of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero. Immovabale object, meet unstoppable force.
  • First title in a long time… or ever? The Giants haven’t won it all since they resided in Brooklyn 56 years ago. That’s longer than the Rangers’ franchise has been around, fifty years of futility that hasn’t even seen a trip to the Series.
  • Redemption stories. Over the past year Lincecum, Hamilton and Rangers manager Ron Washington have all been involved in well publicized off-the-field drug issues, which they have put behind them. Nice to see one or two of them win a title after cleaning up.
  • The hair. The Rangers aren’t exactly the (literally) clean-cut, ’80s-era Steinbrenner Yankees. But between Lincecum’s shaggy ‘do and closer Brian Wilson’s dyed-black beard, the Giants are obviously a team deeply rooted in San Francisco’s devil-may-care attitude. We’d love to see one of them propose shaving their heads or beards off if they win. Now that would be more interesting than a rehashed rivalry.

Is there anything we missed? Leave us a message in the comments letting us know what you’re looking forward to in this year’s World Series!