As far as I am concerned, Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season is the REAL New Year’s Day – NOT January 1st.
Despite the popularity of the NFL and the NBA, I think a lot of people will agree with that statement.
After all, baseball was drawing crowds of 60 and 70,000 (at least in the Yankees’ case) when the NFL was a mom and-pop outfit played on high school fields and before the NBA even existed.
Personally, being that baseball has been my favorite sport since I was ten years old, Opening Day has always been a happy occasion for me, what with anticipating the first pitch and all of the hoopla that comes at the ballpark before that.
And of course I am so looking forward to going to Dodger Stadium, listening to Vin Scully, the greatest announcer in the history of sports, and having that first jumbo Dodger Dog – smothered in mustard and onions.
As today marks the opener for all but two of the 30 MLB teams – the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers having already met on Sunday – I thought that it was only fitting to give my predictions on how the two baseball teams in America’s second largest city, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will fare this spring and summer.
Let’s start this with the team that I have grown up with and supported since my elementary school days, whose admiration was passed down from my grandparents, the…
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
One thing is for certain regrading this iconic franchise:
If these Dodgers don’t go deep into the playoffs this season, it won’t be because of a lack of effort as their payroll, at $230 million, is not only the highest in team history but also the highest in baseball history.
Indeed, Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the rest of Guggenheim Group have ponied up big bucks as they have assembled a virtual all-star team, signing guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and particularly the top pitching prize on the free agent market this past winter, Zack Greinke, who enlisted as a Dodger for six years and $147 million.
And they are not even at full strength yet as another stud, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, is out until mid-May with a torn thumb ligament suffered in the World Baseball Classic.
Not that they should miss him all that much as this is a loaded team, complete with a pitching staff that has so many starters that three of them will work out of the bullpen. It will be led by Grienke and opening day starter Clayton Kershaw, with Brandon League starting the season as the closer, though Kenley Jansen will be there to fill in if League falters.
Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will be part of a Dodger batting order that will be expected to cause much damage, which is a big reason why the team didn’t panic when Ramirez went down as Justin Sellers will be holding down the fort at short and bat eighth for the time being. After a shoulder injury that affected him at the end of last year, Kemp is poised to break out like he did in 2011.
Which will not be surprising considering that he has Crawford, who is pretty much ready to go after his elbow surgery wiped out 2012 for him, Gonzalez and Ethier in the lineup with him.
My prediction for these Dodgers is that they will be in a war with their rivals, the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants – the winner of two of the past three MLB crowns – all season long; it should be a close race throughout, with one of those teams winning the National League West and the other one making the post-season as a Wild Card.
And of course once the playoffs start, anything can happen.
I will certainly be looking forward to watching these Dodgers, both in person and on TV, as things unfold.
Now let us talk about the team that, while my emotional fan loyalties are with their blue-clad counterparts, I have always had a fondness for, especially during my youth as Nolan Ryan, Don Baylor and Rod Carew were among my favorite ballplayers, the…
LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM
After adding the best everyday player in the free agent market this winter, signing Josh Hamilton for five years and $125 million of Arte Moreno’s money in December, I reckon it’s safe to say this:
As loaded as the Dodgers are, these Angels are every bit as loaded and will have a better chance to win the American League West outright that the Dodgers do of winning the N.L. West; in fact, the Angels are the consensus favorites in their division.
How can I possibly say anything different when these red-clad Halos boast what could be described as a 21st century version of Murderer’s Row, with one of baseball’s all-time great hitters, Albert Pujols and the Ultimate Wonder Boy Mike Trout joining Hamilton in manager Mike Scioscia’s lineup.
You know someone’s an all time great when a batting average of .285, 30 home runs and 105 RBIs, which were the numbers that Pujols put up in 2012, is considered an off-year. He is certain to reach the 500-homer mark as he is 25 round-trippers short, and his lifetime batting average of .325 not only leads all active players, but is tied with the immortal Joe DiMaggio on the all-time list.
As for the 21-year old Trout, I’m sure that some people have wondered if the left fielder wears a blue spandex suit with a big “S” on his chest under his Angel uniform; after what the now-ex-rookie did last season – hit .326 with 30 home runs, leading the American League with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored, not to mention finishing second in the MVP voting to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera – I would be surprised if opponents aren’t looking for Kryptonite to stop this burgeoning superstar as that green substance seems to be the only thing that can stop him.
At least at the moment, as the true test of whether or not Trout can sustain his success and not fall into the infamous sophomore slump, him now being considered a huge target, will commence this year.
A key to Angel hopes as far as hitting is how well Mark Trumbo will do; he is fast becoming the proverbial slugger that can smack the ball out of the park – 32 home runs last year – but whose swing is vulnerable to a lot of strikeouts.
If Trumbo, who is slated to be the designated hitter, can adequately protect Pujols and Hamilton in the batting order, look out!
On the mound, the Angels’ top two pitchers, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, are arguably the tops among the number one and two starters in the A.L., and Ernesto Frieri, who saved 23 games with a 2.32 ERA in 2012, will do just fine as the Halo closer, but the rest of the staff, particularly the other three starting pitchers, can be best described as we-hope-they-do-great / wait-and-see.
Overall, I predict that not only will the Angels win the A.L. West , along with the Detroit Tigers they have quite a good chance to represent the American League in the World Series – provided that they avoid injuries and don’t start slowly like they did last season in going 6-14 during those first few weeks of 2012.
2013 marks the best chance of the Dodgers and Angels meeting in October for a Freeway World Series in a long time; outside of 2009, when both teams were in their respective league’s championship series, the closest that Los Angeles’ two baseball clubs came to meeting for the MLB title was in 1982, when the Angels won their division while the Dodgers fell short of the playoffs on the last day of the season.
Needless to say, an I-5 World Series would be SO exciting for L.A. and Southern California, and I think the rest of baseball.
However, Dodger and Angel fans need to let this season unfold before ordering World Series tickets, as baseball is a marathon, as opposed to a sprint like football (especially the college version), and - as was said before – if there was ever a sport where the phrase “Anything Can Happen” applies, baseball is it.
In the meantime, to coin a longtime cliche…