By Joe Hanretty
he Major League Baseball season is officially underway, and pitchers and catchers reported to their respective spring training sites last week. Now, the positional players will join them for spring training. As America’s long-time favorite pastime and summer event, it seems fitting to give baseball proper attention prior to the inaugural game at Wrigley Field on April 5. Since the final out recorded in the 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, there has been an abundance of activity in the baseball world. Players and even some coaches have been hired, trained and let go in the past few months, and the professional baseball world has been spinning on its axis. So without further ado, here is a preview of some of the more prominent headlines leading up to the first pitch. Let’s start with the two World Series teams:
-They look to defend their title without their starting third baseman (3B), Pablo Sandoval, who joined the Boston Red Sox in the offseason.
-Starting pitchers (SP) Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum hope to return to form.
-Question: Can Madison Bumgarner continue at current success rate despite innings pileup?
-They look to keep strong rotation despite losing their ace starting pitcher, James Shields to the San Diego Padres via free agency.
-The bullpen personnel has not changed, an important decision that stresses consistency as the main goal.
-Most of lineup is still intact, so their “small-ball” philosophy could carry over from last year.
-The addition of head coach Joe Maddon, catcher Miguel Montero and pitchers Jason Hammel and Jon Lester headline the season.
-The young roster trend carries on with the much anticipated arrival of super-prospect, Kris Bryant.
-With both a crowded outfield and infield, this spring should reveal much about the depth of this team.
San Diego Padres:
-Not usually a team that turns heads in the offseason, nor the regular one for that matter, they added outfielders (OF) Wil Myers, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp; SP James Shields; catcher (C) Derek Norris; and third baseman (3B) Will Middlebrooks.
-Second baseman (2B) Jedd Gyorko will try to prove he can stay in the big leagues after a disappointing rookie campaign.
-With a solid pitching corps and an improved lineup, the biggest hole to plug is in the bullpen.
Boston Red Sox:
-General Manager (GM) Ben Cherington added SPs Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masteron; OF Hanley Ramirez; and 3B Pablo Sandoval.
-Apart from Sandoval, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, this team is very young and will look for its young players to round out the talent.
-The team signed relief pitcher (RP) Koji Uehara to a new two-year contract. Will he bounce back from a disappointing year?
Toronto Blue Jays:
-They bolstered their lineup with 3B Josh Donaldson, C Russell Martin, OF Michael Saunders and first baseman (1B) Justin Smoak.
-They just missed the playoffs last year after holding onto first place for much of the year.
-Question: Can they finally avoid Baltimore, Boston and New York for the first time since they won the World Series in 1993?
-They landed SP Max Scherzer from the Detroit Tigers in a major deal. They also landed Yunel Escobar to take over second base.
-Their starting rotation is Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. Those are five All-Stars…all on one team!
-Question: Can 3B Anthony Rendon repeat his huge breakout offensive season in which he was a finalist for the Gold Glove at third base?