The Real First Day Of Spring

I do not care what astronomers or meteorologists or Punxsutawney Phil say; tomorrow is the first day of Spring.  Tomorrow is Opening Day in MLB; that is the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring in Curmudgeon Central.  Normally, I devote today’s rant to a prediction of every division in MLB from top to bottom.  This year, however, feels significantly different.

It feels as if MLB has segmented itself into a group of “super-teams”, a group of teams trying to become contenders and a group of “tankers”.  It seems to me that only one division in MLB has two of the “super-teams” in it meaning that predicting the top of each division here will look like a thousand other predictions you can read elsewhere.  So, let me do something different this year.

I will list the consensus choices for the division winners and the one division where there might be some threat to the team at the top.  Then, I will suggest some things to keep an eye on as the season evolves not necessarily because they will change the division winners but because they could be very interesting.

  • NL West:  The Dodgers should win this division in a walk.
  • NL Central:  The Cubs return to the playoffs and revert to 2016 form.
  • NL East:  The Nats win here absent a curse from an evil spirit.
  • AL West:  The Astros win despite suffering a touch of World Series Hangover.
  • AL Central:  The Indians appear to be the best of this division by a mile.

The only race that might be “in dispute” is in the AL East where the Yankees and the Red Sox have the makings of a championship roster.  The Yankees clearly have the edge in terms of power hitting; the Sox have the edge on the mound.  That race could be in doubt in the final week of the season and both teams will make the AL playoffs.  For the sake of completeness here, I will pick the Red Sox to win the AL East just because everyone and his maternal grand-aunt are picking the Yankees.  I have to go against the grain somewhere…

Here are two Opening Day facts you can file under FNWR – Facts Not Worth Remembering:

  1. March 29, 2018 will be the earliest Opening Day in the history of MLB.
  2. March 29, 2018 will be the first time in 50 seasons that every team in MLB will open on the same day.

Here is another Opening Day fact that might be worth recalling because it could play into another storyline down the road in a couple of years:

  • Tomorrow will mark the 13th consecutive Opening Day sell-out for the Tampa Bay Rays.  They play the Red Sox and 42,735 tix have been sold.  Remember that the Rays usually rank in the bottom 3 in MLB attendance but the folks there do turn out for Opening Day.  The Rays want to move to a new stadium site in the Tampa/St. Pete area so attendance figures for the Rays are interesting if not vitally important.

The SF Giants were aggressive in the offseason after a miserable year in 2017.  However, the first robin of spring to arrive in the Giants’ training facility was apparently a turkey vulture.  Madison Bumgarner suffered a broken metatarsal in his pitching hand when hit by a line drive; he will miss 6 weeks at least.  That injury came on the heels of a pectoral muscle injury to Jeff Samardzija; he will be out at least a month.  The Giants were not deep in starting pitching, now they will try to make it until the middle of May with Manny, Moe and Jack on the mound.  There are not a lot of free agent pitchers out there to be had.  The only ones I could find were Matt Garza, John Lackey and Ricky Nolasco.

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle surveyed the Giants’ plight and then looked across the bay at the state of the A’s and had this comment:

“The theme for the 2018 baseball season in the Bay Area: ‘Fifty guys who won’t be around three years from now’.”

Here are eight things to watch for in 2018:

  1. How do the mega-free agents for next winter perform?  The free agent market this year was about as exciting as installing a new washing machine; next year’s market will generate plenty of heat and light.
  2. Is Shohei Ohtani a pitcher or a position player or a DH – – or all the above?
  3. Will the Astros’ World Series Hangover last as long in 2018 as the Cubs’ Hangover did in 2017?  It wasn’t until the middle of June when the Cubs looked like the Cubs.
  4. Was Miguel Cabrera’s miserable year in 2017 at age 34 a sign that his career arc is in decline or will he have a bounce-back season in 2018?  By the way, even if he is the Comeback Player of the Year, the Tigers are going nowhere…
  5. What happens in the second-tier of the NL East?  If the Mets say healthy, how good are they?  Are the Phillies on the verge of being good again?  Are the Braves on the verge of being good again?  Which of those three will finish second in the division about 18 games behind the Nats?
  6. How will Manny Machado adjust to playing shortstop instead of third-base?
  7. Do the Dodgers have a rookie who is good enough to win Rookie of the Year?  If so, that will be three years in a row a Dodger has done that.
  8. When the Marlins lose 105 games – or more – this year, will Don Mattingly still be able to smile at the end of the year?  Follow-up question would be can Mattingly survive as manager if the Marlins lose 105 games this year given the roster he was presented with?

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, about the Angels’ accommodation to Shohei Ohtani as a pitcher and a DH:

“Probably the most successful six-man rotation of all time was the rock band, Foreigner.  The Trump White House has also experimented with it among its senior advisors.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………