Crack open the peanuts and get a fresh cold one – baseball is back! This is the time of year when hope soars like a perfectly struck curveball, when every team has a chance at winning all 162 games, and indeed, of attaining World Series glory.
Yes, even the hapless Chicago Cubs! Heck, some people think they might go all the way.
So make a call to the bullpen, we’ve got a few hot storylines to throw out.
Craft pitching from Brew Crew starter
We probably shouldn’t expect too much from the Milwaukee Brewers this season, a sentiment I assume fans of the team feel every year. But it was only four years ago the Brew Crew won the National League Divisional Series, which is essentially the quarter-finals of pro baseball.
Okay sure, a few beers have gone down in the innings since. Still, there’s one good reason to watch this club: pop-gun pitcher Mike Fiers, who despite a relatively slow fast ball, wowed the minor leagues last season by striking out a high number of batters.
Grantland’s Jonah Keri thinks Fiers will have a good year even though it’s rare for those with a sub-90 mph fastball to send batters back to the dugout with any regularity.
Big expectations in the Big Apple
New York baseball is sort of like Manchester football nowadays – globalised to the point of saturation. Even people who know nothing of it seem able to tell you something about the Yankees or Mets – like why they prefer ‘NY’ branded apparel above all others.
Well, there’s a little less to speak of this season and that in itself is the story. The Yankees pitching staff is older and creakier, and whether or not the offence can keep pace with competitive American League East is a question even diehard devotees must be asking.
Meanwhile, the Mets have quite a good looking pitching staff and there’s some talk of them pushing for a wildcard playoff berth, if only because two of the teams in their division are dreadful – the Phillies and Braves.
I’ve always enjoyed watching third baseman David Wright because he’s a classy fielder, a good hitter and one of those guys that just plays hard. He’s just been a bit up and down in recent years, so there’s some pressure on him to bounce back.
Even someone as loved as Wright must sense potential food fight in the stands if the Mets falter yet again.
Can ‘Magic’ Beane do it again?
You’ve no doubt read the book and seen the movie about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who shall we say, likes to flip players around like they’re trading cards.
If nothing else, Moneyball is a very busy way to run a baseball team, with Beane working more offseason moves than Rachel Phelps (that’s a reference to the movie to Major League for the uninitiated).
Honestly, I think the only guy on the roster being carried over is Stomper, the team mascot.
The A’s won their division in 2012, stunning everyone, especially given that the American League West features the big swinging Los Angeles Angels, and more traditional winners the Texas Rangers.
They won it again in 2013 and looked bound for the World Series, though that never eventuated. Then last year they fizzled early in the playoffs.
So it’s back to being underdogs for the White Elephants and maybe that’s the way Beane likes it.
The feel-good Pirates
Once upon a time the Pittsburgh Pirates prompted more laughs than Jack Sparrow. Now they’re a playoff team with stars like Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the outfield, and a fan-base that seems euphoric about the club’s return to relevance.
Yes, they let their starting catcher Russell Martin go, which isn’t great, but then again they didn’t want to empty their pockets to retain his services.
In steps Francisco Cervelli, who’s a good defensive catcher, and handy with the bat. The degree with which he can avoid injuries and take charge behind the plate will certainly impact the Buccos’ performance.
And how can you not root for a team with that nickname?
World Series or bust – again – for Dodgers
After losing the National League Divisional Series last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers revamped the front office and signed a couple more big name players, Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. This is the year, folks!
Sometimes you need change, but perhaps not at the top of your pitching line-up when you can pencil in the name Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s best pitcher.
Then there’s Yasiel Puig, who Sydneysiders may recall smacking the leather off the ball at the SCG in last year’s season openers. Puig is a freak talent, a showman and the kind of guy that annoys other teams. He’s worth a look.
With all its talent, this team is hungry for a title.
The Nationals – everybody’s actual pick to win it
The Washington Nationals have a cool hat that rappers and other people of prominence like to wear. They’re also good at baseball and this can cause varying degrees of jealously.
For example, the incredibly talented Bryce Harper was recently voted the most overrated player in the game by his peers, to which Harper responded by belting a pitch 420 feet away in a preseason game. He may or may not have killed a passing pigeon. Harper does it all, and so is often regarded as one of the best players in the game. But he’ll need some help on offence.
While the Nationals pitching staff is first rate, Harper unfortunately can’t be there to smack 420 foot home runs for every other hitter.
It should be a wild ride in Miami
After some disappointing outings and poor attendance, there’s excitement around the Miami Marlins. It might just be because 2015 is the year that Miami makes the World Series against Chicago, according to Back to the Future II. Then again, we were meant to have hoverboards by now.
This is a team with some significant talent, including Giancarlo Stanton who led the National League in home runs with 37 last season, and Christian Yelich, who stole 21 bases last season, and is a very good outfielder.
But maybe you’ll just watch the Marlins for their wacky ballpark, which seems more like an homage to Florida’s great amusement parks.