There’s been one near no-hitter, and a game in which a player hit three home runs. There have been trades.
Baseball has announced its return with authority.
After the unexpected World Series matchup of Royals and Giants, the offseason gave us a pledge to speed up games, more crazy spending by owners, as Jon Lester signed with the Cubs, Jeff Samardzija with the White Sox, Max Scherzer with the Nationals and their loaded staff and James Shields with the Padres. The preseason gave us the return of Alex Rodriguez from his drug suspension — and start of Ervin Santana’s drug suspension.
What a way to start the season.
Here are five story lines to follow in the weeks and months ahead:
1. How will the Dodgers mess things up this time? A loaded team oozing star power won 94 games during the regular season, then pulled a clunker in the postseason, losing to the Cardinals. That triggered a change in the GM office and led to the trades of Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon. The Dodgers might be even better in 2015. Jimmy Rollins is a winner, but that clubhouse, with Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier, will never be tranquil. And they still have four starting-caliber outfielders who deserve playing time.
2. Policing pace of play: MLB this week sent out warning letters to about 10 players for violating the new pace-of-play rules and will follow up with fines starting on May 1. Is this really going to work? David Ortiz and Miguel Cabrera should just give the league account numbers for withdrawing fines. Listening to players complain about getting letters from the league will be season-long entertainment, but how the league cracks down on offenders will go a long way toward speeding up — or not speeding up — games.
3. Who is this year’s Kansas City? The Royals rose from the ashes last season to get within one game of the World Series title. Many believe that the Seattle Mariners, thanks to offensive upgrades, can be this year’s Royals. But there are other worthy candidates. The Padres have added Matt Kemp, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel and the Upton brothers, and the Marlins gladly took Dee Gordon off the Dodgers hands. Some feel the Cubs can contend after landing Joe Maddon and John Lester.
4. Can San Francisco repeat? It has been 14 years since there has been a back-to-back World Series champion, tying for the longest such run ever. Can the Bruce Bochy-led Giants end the streak? The news isn’t good early, as righthander Matt Cain has a flexor tendon strain, but this team rolls with the punches as well as anyone. The Dodgers have reloaded, and the Padres’ total makeover makes the AL West more competitive, but the Giants are used to doing more with less.
5. Is it Mike Trout’s league now? Now that Derek Jeter is retired, the office of The Face of Baseball is now unoccupied. Many believe that Angels young star Trout is a lock for the position, but could a worthy challenger among the group of Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutcheon and Giancarlo Stanton emerge to at least make this a debate? Does he have to come from a large market? Can multiple players hold the title? This will be fascinating to watch unfold.
Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Anthony Gose are gifted defensively — something Detroit sorely needs on a team that is not sound in the field as in other areas. Any offense from these two is a plus. The pair torched the Twins in three games at Comerica Park last week and headed into the weekend with identical .545 batting averages. If Iglesias and Gose have figured out hitting, the stakes are raised even more in the Motor City because Detroit was productive without them.
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Cleveland locked up righthanders Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with long-term deals. Their No. 1 and No. 2 starters were guaranteed a total of $60.5 million. Kluber, at 29, is a late bloomer who won the AL Cy Young Award last season.
Carrasco went against the advice of his agents to sign when he could have gotten more. Why? He had a heart condition that required non-invasive surgery last year. They were part of an Indians rotation that posted a 1.04 ERA and held Astros hitters to a .096 batting average in the season-opening series.
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The White Sox will send Chris Sale to the mound on Sunday for his 2015 debut — his first since recovering from an avulsion fracture in his right foot. “We’ll be cautious and respond by his body and how stuff looks, and act accordingly,” White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn said.
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Many feel the Royals will be unable to make up for the loss of righthander James Shields, but free-agent Edinson Volquez allowed just six baserunners over eight innings on Thursday in his Royals debut. If Volquez can get within range of Shields’ 14-8 record and 227 innings pitched last season, the Royals will be a playoff threat again.
The 3-2 pitch
• Those who think the Royals were a fluke last season, think again. It’s a good team, and if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas improve on last year’s numbers — which should be easy to do — Kansas City will be a factor in the AL Central race.
• The Phillies are doing the right thing by holding on to Cole Hamels. Some team is going to need a quality starting pitcher at midseason to fuel a postseason run, and that’s when the Phillies will capitalize.
• There’s a lot of excitement in Chicago about the new-look Cubs. But it’s early to call them a playoff contender.
... and two predictions.
• Joe Mauer hit four homers all of last year. He will have at least six by July 1.
• David Ortiz needs 34 home runs to reach 500 for his career. He’ll have to come back in 2016 for his 20th season to get it.