The grass is cut. The infield is raked. Opening Day 2015 will officially be here on Sunday, April 5. The tedious month of drills and meaningless games finally are finishing up and America’s Pastime will be in full swing. As you flock to the ballpark or to your couch for opening day, it’s important to make sure you’re up to date with all the shuffling of players and changes that occurred during the long offseason. Here is a quick preview and some storylines you will need to know as the first pitch quickly approaches.
The Atlanta Braves have undergone a major overhaul led by new General Manager Jon Hart after Frank Wren was shown the door after the Braves woefully under-performed in the second half of the season. Gone are fan favorites Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis and Ervin Santana. Say hello to Shelby Miller, Jonny Gomes and native-son Nick Markakis who starred at Woodstock High School. Another big change is the name of Atlanta’s most despised player, Melvin Upton Jr. B.J. Upton decided to change his name and hopefully change his success at the plate after hitting .208 and taking the brunt of Braves’ fans’ criticism.
All signs point to it being a very long year for Atlanta. Hart has decided to build a farm system which Frank Wren left in shambles. The present day product will suffer greatly, but Hart has an eye towards 2017 and the opening of SunTrust Park. By that time the gamble Hart made by trading away his top players for prospects will need to pay off as the Braves will try to reap the benefits and open up their new park with a bang and a slew of young talented players.
As far as this season goes, expect the Braves to hover around 68-72 wins. Make no bones about it, this is a rebuilding year and fans will need to be patient. The NL East has gotten considerably stronger and the Braves will have to patiently wait for their prospects to develop.
The sexy pick to win the division is Washington with its pitching staff headed by the $210-million dollar man, Max Scherzer. He teams up with Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister to form the deepest rotation in baseball. Behind Washington, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins will push hard to make the playoffs. The Mets have looked great in spring training and hold the best record in the Grapefruit League. Michael Cuddyer has hit extremely well and new hitting coach Kevin Long has already seemingly made an impact on the likes of Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares who look crisp at the plate. Injuries, which have plagued the Mets for years, have already begun to bite them with Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin going down with tommy john surgery along with Daniel Murphy, and Vic Black ailing. The Marlins have a young exciting team led by Giancarlo Stanton. If he can receive protection in the lineup and the young pitching staff can produce, Miami should be in the hunt for a wildcard spot.
The Cardinals and Pirates have owned the division lately, but the laughing stock Chicago Cubs may get the last laugh this year. GM Theo Epstein has opened up the checkbook signing Jon Lester and anointing Joe Maddon as manager. The Cubs are oozing with uber-talented young hitters. Kris Bryant smashed nine homers to lead all players in spring training but unceremoniously was sent down along with Javier Baez in order to save another year of control down the line. If those two along with Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Starling Castro hit like they are capable, the Cubs very well may challenge to make the postseason coming out of a difficult division.
The defending World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants, will be without the lovable Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval was poached by the free spending Boston Red Sox this offseason. It may be difficult to repeat with the Dodgers and the suddenly intriguing Padres in the mix for a playoff berth. New San Diego GM A.J. Preller made waves wheeling and dealing as if the MLB was his personal video game. Though they still play in Petco Park, the additions of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp make the Padres’ outfield one of the most exciting in baseball. Add in James Shields as an ace, and things look bright in sunny San Diego.
Baltimore will try to improve upon a 96-win season, but it will be difficult with the improvements of Boston and Toronto. The Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez away from the Dodgers and will plug him in leftfield for the first time in his career. Pablo Sandoval is the Sox’s top signing this offseason, but they also landed prized Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old infielder who will join Boston’s minor league system. The Blue Jays added great veteran leadership in Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson.
The Tigers won the division, but the Royals stole the spotlight in the postseason. Detroit has lost Max Scherzer, but David Price assumes the role as ace in his first full season in the Motor City. Rick Porcello was dealt for slugging Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes who will provide a cannon arm and great pop. The Royals will have plenty of new faces. James Shields is gone from the top of the rotation, and big Billy Butler has departed also. Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez will try to fill in at their respective positions.
Moneyball is alive with A’s GM Billy Beane. Questionable trades backfired last season, but the gambling genius has not gotten gun-shy. Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, and Ike Davis have been brought in. Billy Butler will take over the DH role. Seattle is a team ready to make the next step. Nelson Cruz brings his 40+ homerun power and will team up with Robison Cano to provide offense for a strong pitching staff.