Houston Astros lead list of loaded contenders and other storylines to watch in new MLB season

Jay Asser 22:03 28/03/2018
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Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros will aim to be the first team to repeat since 2000.

Opening Day has finally arrived and with it, new storylines to look forward to in the upcoming Major League Baseball season.

As usual, the winter saw plenty of player movement around the league, with several big names changing uniforms – and one star switching continents.

There’s a lot to sink your teeth into, so let’s dive in and take a look at three narratives to keep an eye on this season.

The contenders

Haves and have-nots. That’s where the league is at right now, with a bunch of loaded teams situated at the top, followed by a long list of mediocrity.

The defending champion Houston Astros remain favourites after bringing back every key member of the title-winning squad, while also adding Gerrit Cole in a trade to bolster their starting rotation. Their offence, led by reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve, should again terrorise.

But there’s quite a few teams that could keep Houston from becoming the first side to repeat since 2000, including the franchise that was the last one to win consecutive World Series.

The New York Yankees will truly be deserving of their nickname ‘Bronx Bombers’ this season as the middle of their lineup packs a serious power punch. As if Aaron Judge wasn’t enough, the Yankees went out and got maybe the only other player who can hit a ball farther in Giancarlo Stanton.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Dodgers, who still have the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw, which means they’re as likely as anyone to get back to the Fall Classic.

The Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals will also be in contention, as should the Boston Red Sox thanks to the highest payroll in baseball ($223 million).

Aaron Judge will form a lethal duo with Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees lineup.

Aaron Judge will form a lethal duo with Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees lineup.

Will Ohtani live up to the hype?

If you aren’t already aware of him, get ready to hear Shohei Ohtani’s name a lot this season.

And for good reason, considering the Japanese phenom has brought his two-way talents to the Los Angeles Angels from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. You read the ‘two-way’ part right. As in he can hit and he can pitch, a rarity that hasn’t been pulled off with success since the days of Babe Ruth.

The 23-year-old was named the best pitcher and best designated hitter (DH) in Japan’s Pacific League in 2016, so he’s already proved his versatility at a high level.

Whether or not he can sustain that success in America has yet to be seen, and expectations have been somewhat tempered after a rocky spring training in which he posted an earned run average of 27.00 and hit just 3-for-28 at the plate.

Ohtani will get his first start on the mound on Sunday, with appearances at DH likely sprinkled in throughout the season.

Regardless of how well he does in a duel role, Ohtani will be fascinating to follow.

Rookie Shohei Ohtani will pitch and hit for the Los Angeles Angels this season.

Rookie Shohei Ohtani will pitch and hit for the Los Angeles Angels this season.

Moneyball

Chicks dig the long ball. And so do most baseball fans, which is good for MLB because home runs are back in style.

Last season saw a record 6,105 home runs hit, which was a 45.8 per cent increase from the 4,186 hit just three years prior in 2014.

The aforementioned Stanton clobbered 59 himself with the Miami Marlins, which was the most by any player since Barry Bonds’ record-setting 73 in 2001.

With more and more balls leaving the yard, it’s likely to make games even longer, but fans probably don’t mind because offence will always be preferred to pitching duels or low-scoring contests.

Even though the Steroid Era is a thing of the past, that doesn’t mean home runs can’t be enjoyed as much as ever.

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