It’s finally April—that time of the year again. The sunlit grass in the outfield is ready to burn under spiked cleats; the sound of a baseball crashing into the padded leather catcher’s mitt is becoming music again.
After slogging through another Spring Training, we finally have made it to the games that count—we finally get to tune into our televisions and see our favorite players and the iconic stadiums packed full with fans eating hot dogs and drinking beer out of plastic cups.
Still, while we can all find some joy in baseball—even those of us who only get a taste of it at local minor league games—it’s a season that is happier for some than it is for others.
The San Francisco Giants fans, for instance, should feel every bit as sunny as their city is. The main reason being that 2016 is an even year, and the last even year that didn’t belong to the National League’s black and orange was 2008, when the Phillies pulled it off.
They also have reason to be optimistic with some recent roster improvements—including the quick-footed Denard Span.
But the Giants make-or-break will be the starting pitching this season. Newcomers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are both players that succeeded in the NL and really fizzled out on the other side of the big leagues, making them true wildcards in the rotation.
Venturing into the more depressing depths of baseball’s lower tier, we have the semi-local Atlanta Braves. The Braves are in a rebuilding mode, in the early stages. That means there aren’t a lot of heights to realistically aspire to, yet even still there is something to be afraid of for Atlanta’s oldest sports team.
They traded their talent—including the most entertaining shortstop in the league, Andrelton Simmons—for prospects and young talents. They aren’t expected to win, but they are demanded to show promise. If the farm system fails to produce in coming years, that could throw the franchise into a much longer process.
With any luck, though, they could end up like the Chicago Cubs. And yes, that sentence hasn’t been written in a sports article in a long time.
The Cubs hoarded prospects for the first few years under Theo Epstein, and now they might be shaping up into his magnum opus. From Rizzo’s reign of dominance to the promise of Kris Bryant, things are extremely optimistic around Wrigley, rightfully so.
The champions themselves might have something to say about all of these Chicago Cubs World Series predictions, though.
Out in Kansas City, they made a long advertising campaign about “Taking the Crown” and then they actually went and did it. They played with intensity and flaunted an exceptional defense, relying on their bullpen to take them through close games.
The two departures for the 2015 champs were utility man Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto. Although it would’ve come as a surprise when they acquired the two of them, Zobrist will be the much more missed player.
Still, the Royals are confident and ready to contend again.
Beyond just the teams, the league looks exciting all around right now. As analysts continue to remind us of baseball’s decline as a popular sport, young talent continues to pour in by the numbers.
Bryce Harper, last year’s MVP, is just 23 years old, coming off one of the greatest statistical outputs in baseball history. That’s not an exaggeration. Harper’s 9.9 Win Shares tops every non-steroid user since Joe Morgan’s in 1975, and his OPS of 1.109 was the highest the league had seen in 7 seasons.
Across the country, the still improving Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels continues to play like some kind of genetically engineered monster created by a mad scientist who took his fantasy baseball teams way too seriously.
So sit back and watch, whether you’re on a living room couch or leaning against the plastic seats of a minor league ballpark. You’ll get to see something worthwhile either way.
Even after all of these years ingrained into American tradition alongside greasy food and long work hours, it finds a way to surprise us.