March Madness is upon us – my bracket’s not busted because come on, Kentucky’s going to win. (Ed. Note – I will redact this to whomever actually wins the tourney so as to appear ultimately omniscient. TC) The NBA is surging towards the postseason – if by surging, we mean limping at a fetid pace with most relevant starters resting on the bench. Hockey is
WILD FOR THE WILD a thing that happens. Football is…well, let’s not.
Meanwhile, the National Pastime returns in less than two weeks. Two weeks! Anything is possible!
I’ll be taking a look at each club’s outlook for the season in two subsequent columns, but there’s a couple of general topics that affect all teams. Let’s take a look at some hot topics for the 2015 season.
MLB has long fought a stereotype as a ‘slow-paced game’. This is not entirely undeserved – much of baseball is about the building of tension, followed by a quick succession of chaotic, uncontrolled events. Unlike soccer or hockey, there is no continual moment. Unlike football, hitters cannot precisely determine where they will hit the ball. It’s a game built upon epic faceoffs between pitchers and hitters…a face-off that has gotten out of hand in recent years.
This year, MLB has instituted a series of rules:
- Hitters must have foot remain in the batter’s box during their entire at-bat. Say goodbye to the endless parade of jock adjustments.
- Pitching changes will be timed. Days of ten minute pitching changes are over.
- Managers must remain in the dugout during any and all instant replay challenges. (This one might or might not have much effect, though look for expanding waistlines as the season drags on.)
- Play will resume immediately after shortened TV timeouts. (That one’s a welcome addition)
Truthfully, anything to help speed up the game is a good thing, if only to help make the game better for television – many teams have exploding payrolls because of gargantuan television contracts. It only makes sense to placate the TV overlords by capitulating to demands for more engaging programming. Also, who really needs to adjust their jock fifteen times? Seriously.
Pitching Renaissance/Hitting Recession
We’re in a new Golden Age of Pitching. Either that, or hitters are terrible. The truth lies in the middle. Amazing pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez are able to enjoy historic seasons because of advances in sports science and analytical studies make it supremely easy for pitchers to dominate hitter’s tendencies. League averages and home run rates are low, while league ERAs and strikeouts are high. It’s not as pronounced as some would have us think – much of it is the league reverting to pre-Steroids Era levels of offense. However, the odds of our seeing a historically great pitching season are higher than seeing an individually dominant offensive season.
All Hail King Kershaw.
The Ghost of Tommy John
The only thing that can seemingly stop the onslaught of great pitching are injuries to great pitchers. There’s been talk for years about a ‘Tommy John epidemic’ striking low multiple great pitchers every year, and already we’ve seen hurlers such as Yu Darvish and Zach Wheeler go down with TJ. Get used to seeing this happen more and more – as youth sports continue to become more and more specialized, kids continue throwing more and more often, and the emphasis is there to throw harder and harder, young pitchers are going to blow out their arms at alarming rates.
Parity Reigns Supreme…
Remember those exploding payrolls? That means more and more teams are keeping their homegrown stars, where before those stars might have signed with the Yankees and Red Sox of the world. (Well, that still happens – Boston will welcome new mega-priced free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Sandoval this year) After sifting through extreme optimistic projections for the upcoming season, it looks like only six teams don’t seem to have a shot. (Apologies to fans of the Mets, Rockies, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Twins, and Astros…unless you somehow manage to win, and I look like a moron.) Every team has a chance, these days. I speak from experience – the Cubs are my neighbors, and they’re one of the toasts of baseball.
Which brings us to…
Last year, the Kansas City Royals broke a decades-long streak of playoff futility, coming within one measly run of winning the World Series. While a return to the Fall Classic is improbable for KC, the aforementioned league-wide state of parity gives them as good a chance as any of the other twenty-three teams vying for the title.
Shoot, even the Cubs could win. Though, if that happens, the whole damn thing might burn down. (And by thing, I mean Chicago)
It’s a new season. Bring it on.