Before the blooming flowers of spring come the scents of fresh leather and pine tar as Major League baseball returns Thursday.
With the San Francisco Giants winning their first World Series title since 1954, many would think that they would be the favorite this upcoming season. Some experts think otherwise as many teams will be fighting for playoff spots the entire season after acquisitions made in the offseason.
Nonetheless if you are a fan of baseball you have a lot to look forward to this upcoming season. With only four playoff spots available in both the American and National Leagues, teams will be battling all season for postseason glory.
The usual suspects for postseason play in the National League East are the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. As for the Central expect the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds to battle for the top spot. Out west it should be a three to four team battle between the Giants, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As for the American League East the usual suspects will be back. The Boston Red Sox are looking to regain supremacy atop the division battling the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. The Central will have a tight race between the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and possibly the Chicago White Sox. The AL West will be a tight three-team race between defending AL champion Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland Athletics.
Every winter a lot of teams made offseason acquisitions to boost their ballclub in hopes of winning a pennant and hopefully a World Series come October.
One of the biggest offseason moves was left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies after what looked like he might sign with the Yankees or Red Sox. Lee joins a pitching staff with three ace’s: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
The Braves signed second baseman Dan Uggla to a five year contract to boost their offense. Uggla is a two time All-Star and should give an instant help to a much-improved Atlanta team.
The Washington Nationals shocked the baseball world when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract. This set the tone for other outfield free agents wanting a contract of that magnitude. The Nationals are waiting for the development of catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper was only 16 years old when he hit an estimated 500-foot home run during a home run derby at Tropicana Field. Depending on how fast Harper develops in the minor leagues we could see him playing as early as this season.
The Chicago Cubs acquired first baseman Carlos Peña and starter Matt Garza from the Rays in an eight-player trade.
In the NL West not many high caliber transactions happened. However the Dodgers and Giants signed two veteran infielders, Juan Uribe and Miguel Tejada.
In the American League the Red Sox made several transactions in hopes of having a better season in 2011. They signed All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford to add some speed on the base paths and former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks to contend for the setup man role out of the bullpen. Still, the Red Sox were not done. They traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to fill the role at first base as Kevin Youkilis moved across the diamond to third base.
Surprisingly the Yankees did not make many moves this past offseason, when they are typically big shoppers. Their biggest moves were adding relief pitcher Rafael Soriano and catcher Russell Martin.
The Rays brought two former teammates from the 2004 Red Sox championship team, signing outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramírez. The Rays are one of the smaller market teams and they typically do not make many moves, instead developing players in their farm system.
In the AL West, the pennant- winning Rangers signed third baseman Adrian Beltre and Brandon Webb. Webb is a former NL Cy Young winner, however he is coming off of Tommy John surgery to repair a torn muscle in his pitching arm. Other than those two moves the Rangers remained quiet this offseason compared to their division rivals.
The Angels did some shopping, most notably signing relief pitcher Scott Downs to help their bullpen, trading for outfielder Vernon Wells and brought infielder Alberto Callaspo to play third base.
Surprisingly the Athletics did a lot of shopping this offseason. Oakland is typically known for making a move for a bat and a pitcher. Instead they brought two outfielders, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, a designated hitter in Hideki Matsui and several pitchers.
Who will be hoisting the World Series Championship this year? All you have to do is watch America’s pastime this spring and summer to find out.
Jesse Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.