Every year we all welcome in a new year by counting down the dropping of the ball in New York City. It's a chance to put the past behind us and look forward to a new year of possibilites. The same feeling applies for Baseball fans. When Spring arrives, teams and their respective fan bases head for the fields in Florida and Arizona with a refreshed thought process of, 'why not us'. My apologies to fans of the Royals and Padres. As we all wait for the ball to drop on a new season of Major League Baseball, I give you my list of the most intriguing storylines to look forward to in 2013 with my Sizzling 7 MLB Storylines.
#7. Infusion Of Youth To The Rescue
As a die hard fan of the game of Baseball it's sometimes hard to think about the fact that many of the super stars of my younger years are apart of the big cloud that continues to hang over Major League Baseball- The Steroid Era. Some of these guys like, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, for many of us were heroes of ours in some shape or form. I know that I wanted to play Baseball as a kid because I wanted to be just like the guys that I watched on TV or read about on nearly an everyday basis as a kid.
Fast forward to today's game, and many fans from 20 years ago have been turned off by the game because of the decisions made by players to cheat the game just to gain an edge in order to extend their careers. As a result, many of their accomplishments won't even be celebrated perhaps in the Hall of Fame, much less remembered through discussion amongst friends without mentioning the dreaded word, steroids.
Well, with the latest infusion of youth in the sport, it just may becoming a bit easier maybe sweep under the rug the memories of yesteryear and celebrate some of the new players of today. There isn't a highlight show or story written these days that doesn't include the kids who are taking over the game of Baseball today. Guys like, Mike Trout (Making ridiculous catches on the centefield wall), Matt Cain (Throwing a perfect game), Yoenis Cespedes (Power Surge in Oakland), Justin and B.J. Upton (The Upton Brothers recently united in the ATL), Justin Verlander (Tossing a No-Hitter), Starlin Castro (Capturing the highlight reel with his play at shortstop), Aroldis Champman (Lighting up pitching radar guns with his 100 mph Fastball), Matt Kemp (Slugging Home Runs at Chavez Ravine) and Andrew McCutchen (The newest cover boy of the MLB The Show video game) to name a few. This younger crop of Baseball players have got my attention with their play on the field and hopefully it's the plays that they make on the field that will generate new and old fans and remove that dark (steroid) cloud over the game.
#6. Nowhere But Up(ton) To Go From Here
Let's rewind to 2011. Atlanta was 10 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis before play on Aug. 26. They were still up by 8 1/2 games on the morning of Sept. 6. Instead of popping champagne for a second straight trip to the playoffs, they became the first team in major league history to squander a lead of at least eight games for a playoff spot in September. In 2012, the Atlanta Braves were able to put their final month collapse of 2011 behind them as they won an impressive 94 games. A feat that got them into Major League Baseball's very first wild card showdown, with win or go home face-off against the pesky St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the teams' success, it was the taste of failure that remained in the mouths of many Braves fans during the off season thanks to Atlanta's loss to the Cardinals. Well, Braves management has given fans a few reasons to wipe those tears away. And it comes in the form of the Upton Brothers. Atlanta now has has an outfield that features both power and speed in B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jayson Heyward, all of whom by the way are in their 20's. Couple that with a bullpen that has as much punch to it as a Hamerin' Hank Aaron home run. Braves fans can safely assume that there is nowhere but up to go from 2012.
#5. The Halos of L.A. - Starring The Great Hambino & The Machine
No, the headline above isn't the name of Disney's next big movie. Rather it's the feared duo of Josh Hamilton, newly aquired in the offseason and Albert Pujols who was brought in from St. Louis in 2012. The Angles seemed reluctant at first to take part in the big spending that occurs during a typical baseball off season. They decided against bringing back outfielder Torri Hunter. Hunter says that the club told him that they didn't have the money. Then the Angels were easily outbid on right hander Zack Greinke, who pitched well for them when it mattered most last season. Maybe it was the strategy of owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto, to wait for the right guy to come along. That guy was Josh Hamilton and the Angels showed him some love in terms of, $125 million over 5-years. The kind of love that Hamilton didn't receive from his former club the Texas Rangers. Now, the Angels, on paper at least, have quite possibly the most feared lineup in the American League that features Pujols, Hamilton and young phenom center fielder Mike Trout. If Disney wants to consider The Great Hambino & The Machine as a name for a new thrilling roller coaster at Disney Land I'm all about it. Just don't forget to show me some love, much like Mr. Moreno did with Josh Hamilton.
#4. Bats? Check. Arms? Check. World Series? On Deck, Perhaps.
To say that the Los Angels Dodgers are loaded with talent would be an understatement. But to say that the Dodgers are a no-brainer to win the World Series come October? Even a guy who picked the Super Bowl game and winner last season is reluctant to jump right into that prediction. However, I really love what the Dodgers have on paper heading into the 2013 season. The collection of bats that will be sporting the Dodger Blue are reason enough to think that maybe this will be the year that L.A. takes down their upstate rival and defending World Series Champs, the San Francisco Giants. However, we all know that in order to compete come October one will need to have a collection of Arms that can do some damage as well. While some will say that the Dodgers overpaid (6-years, $147 million) for highly covited ace Zack Greinke, I easily say that if the Dodgers wanted to make those dreams of dethrowning their arch rivals San Francisco Giants then they made the no-brainer decision. How good will the Dodgers be in 2013? Having guys like (Matt) Kemp, Hanley (Ramirez), Adrian (Gonzalez) and (Carl) Crawford in their everyday lineup surly will give opponents nightmares everyday that are forced to face them. For me however, it's their rotation of Kershaw, Grienke, Beckett, Billingsley and Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu that will get this team even closer to fulfilling Magic Johnson's, easier said than done goal of winning the World Series. Johnson won five NBA championships as the point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, the last one in 1988 -- which happens to be the last time the Dodgers won the World Series.
#3. New Kids On The Block
What will become of the AL East in 2013? Do you recall the 10-year stretch, from 1998-2007, when neither Baltimore nor Tampa Bay produced a single winning season? Not one. Well, that changed over recent years in the American League East thanks to the new kids on the block. Those new kids that I'm referring to are the Tampa Bay Rays and last season's pleasant surprise from the Charm City, the Baltimore Orioles. Tampa Bay changed the culture if you will, of big spending equals division and eventually World Series Championships in a division that was dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. And thanks to the Rays, the Orioles have taken a page from their success, earning themselves a trip to the postseason last year for the first time since 1997. Now, the Yankees and Red Sox are forced to reconsider how how exactly they do business in this new age type of baseball that the Rays and Orioles have implemented. Let's not forget about the Toronto Blue Jays who saw a fire sale taking place down in Miami, Florida and they took advantage of it. Toronto brought in Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson from Miami and also signed former Met and CY Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. Even though they didn't exactly follow the blueprint laid out by teams like the Rays and Orioles, many consider the Blue Jays as a viable threat in the AL East. When trying to break down the AL East don't forget about the new kids on the block because they are changing the way business is done and making it count on the field.
#2. Perfect Cure For Your RGIII Fever
Typically, when a team advances into the post season they like to be able to have all of their "studs" in line and ready to face the seasons' toughest task. The Nationals were coming off of a 94 win regular season in which they claimed their first National League East division crown and many Nationals fans were excited about what the future may have in store for their team. However, there was one main road block standing between a potential World Series Championship. That was the front office's controversial decision to shut down young phenom Stephen Strasburg after their self-imposed 160 innings pitched limit in 2012. Well, according to the Nationals, their fan base won't have to worry about that happening in 2013. As a matter of fact, the Nationals have said that they'd like to see Strasburg perhaps reach 200 innings this season. Heading into 2013, the General Manager Mike Rizzo and company targeted some areas of concern. They lacked a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder, so they went out and brought in Denard Span. In addition, they needed an experienced closer. Welcome in former Yankee closer Rafael Soriano who saved 42 games a year ago in replace of #42 Mariano Rivera. One can never over state the importance of having a shut down closer and I would even compare it to the significance of a game changing quarterback in the NFL. D.C. Sports fans are probably still trying to find a cure for the RGIII fever that they experienced over the fall. Look no further than your Washington Nationals. To me, aside from the defending Champions San Francisco Giants, they are, top to bottom the best team in the National League. In fact, they have all the pieces in place to compete for a World Series Championship this year. It sure is nice that manager Davey Johnson, withdrawing any injuries, will have all of his shiny, young and hungry, some new and others returning, tools at his full disposal all season and post season long.
#1. Championship Hangover?
With each new season two questions always surface. Can the champs repeat? And, who can take them down? The countless hours of debating this topic is one of the things that makes being a Baseball fan so darn fun. Quiet possibly the hardest thing to do in professional sports is to repeat. While that may be true, I'd like to make an argument for winning multiple Championships in a short period of time. After all, with guys moving around so often these days, it's hard not to have to face lift a fans game day programs each season. Couple that with the fact that so many teams, new comers and the usual suspects are trying to knock the Champs off of their championship pedestal. Yet somehow, the San Francisco Giants have in my mind defied the odds in winning two of the previous three World Series titles. And with the majority of their 2012 roster still in tact, the Giants have to be the favorite to win it (again) or at the very least represent the National League in the World Series, right? I'm sure teams like the Angels, Orioles, Rays, Cardinals and Dodgers to name a few, might just have something to say about that. And that is what makes this game so much fun to love. My predictions are not set in stone yet, but one thing that is set, is the fact that I will enjoy the next month debating with you and Sounding OFF on my weekly radio show (Sundays at 10a.m. on ESPN 730AM and ESPN730,com.), just who has the best chance of playing for all the marbles come October.
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