Wed, Apr 04, 2012 - Page 19 News List

MLB braces for extra-wild season

AP, NEW YORK

MAJOR LEAGUES

After last season’s nuttiness, when the defending champion San Francisco Giants won a whopping 103 games, but missed the playoffs, Major League Baseball could be even more wild this year.

MLB has become a major free-for-all, with credit (or blame) going to an expanded post-season format that adds two more wild-card clubs in October.

With Seattle and Oakland already playing two games in Tokyo last week, the rest of the league is set to embark on the 162-game season, beginning with Cardinals traveling to Miami to play the new-look Marlins tonight.

So good luck in your farewell season, Chipper Jones. Welcome back, Andy Pettitte and Manny Ramirez and nearly 50-year-old Jamie Moyer.

Glad you are feeling better, Buster Posey, Johan Santana and Adam Wainwright. Get well soon, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Hope to see you around, Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero and Roy Oswalt. Nice you could make it, Jesus Montero and Matt Moore and, in due time, fellow rookie Bryce Harper.

And hello, Magic Johnson. Maybe you can bring a big basket of success to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Because this year, it seems as if almost everyone is in the playoff race — even with a recent rash of injuries.

Spring training has been harsh on several teams, with relievers Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria and Joel Zumaya already out for the season and Miguel Cabrera, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett and Jones getting hurt.

In Boston, fans smarting from last year’s September collapse want the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park to become a yearlong celebration of Valentine’s Day in honor of new manager Bobby Valentine.

In Texas, the two-time American League champion Rangers are a worldwide attraction with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish.

In Miami, it is all new: the ballpark, the lineup, the uniforms, the expectations and Ozzie Guillen. Mark Buehrle, who pitched for the excitable manager with the Chicago White Sox, provided a preview for Marlins newcomers Jose Reyes, Carlos Zambrano and Heath Bell.

“Ozzie keeps everybody loose,” Buehrle said. “When he’s talking to you, you kind of laugh and giggle, and when he turns around and walks away, you look at everybody and say: ‘Does anybody understand what he said?’”

There is hope, too, in Washington and at Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs’ faithful want to believe general manager Theo Epstein will end a championship drought dating to 1908.

It is possible. Know this: Five of the past 15 World Series champs have been wild cards, including the St Louis Cardinals last season.

For Detroit manager Jim Leyland, whose team won the AL Central by 15 games and then signed Prince Fielder, a bigger postseason field is OK.

“There are a lot of mixed emotions, but as long as the playoffs don’t get watered down, it’s fine, but that won’t happen in baseball,” he said.

For World Series MVP David Freese, it is all right. Up to a point, anyway. His Cardinals were 10-and-a-half games out of first place in early September and made the playoffs under the previous system.

Of course, the Cardinals benefited from a monumental meltdown in the final weeks by Atlanta. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, took advantage of a similar fold by Boston.

The result was the most thrilling day in recent history, when the playoff picture changed by the pitch during the last hours of the regular season. In the aftermath, Valentine was hired to replace Terry Francona as Boston’s manager.

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