The Major League Baseball season opens tomorrow with a new league for the Houston Astros, San Francisco seeking a third World Series title in four seasons and the New York Yankees hurt, but dangerous.
The six-month campaign starts with the Astros playing host to the Texas Rangers and Houston moving this year from the National League Central to the American League West, giving each league three five-team groupings.
That means inter-league games, once unheard of until the best-of-seven World Series title showdown in October, are now to be played almost every night of the season after being reserved for only select dates in recent years.
San Francisco’s dominating pitchers, including standout Tim Lincecum and left-hander Barry Zito, will be counted upon to keep the Giants in contention, while last year’s National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval provide batting power.
However, the Giants will have to contend with the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers, whose new owners have poured US$230 million into salaries this season, landing pitcher Zack Greinke, southpaw hurlers Ryu Hyun-jin of South Korea and reliever J.P. Howell, while relying on Matt Kemp to lead the hitters.
Baseball’s biggest spenders, the Yankees, have faced injury and controversy in the off-season.
New doping allegations have surfaced surrounding Alex Rodriguez and a Miami clinic. Curtis Granderson is sidelined until May with a broken arm, while Mark Teixeira has a wrist injury that might need season-ending surgery, Derek Jeter is coming off ankle surgery and relief ace Mariano Rivera is back after surgery for one last season before retirement.
Unless C.C. Sabathia can spark the pitchers and Robinson Cano can stabilize sluggers, the Yankees could have a long season in the American League East.
Rising in that division are the Toronto Blue Jays, who landed last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle to pitch, doping-disgraced outfielder Melky Cabrera and shortstop Jose Reyes in a bid for their first trip to the playoffs since winning the 1993 World Series.
Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera comes off the first Triple Crown season since 1967, leading the AL with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 runs batted in.