Parity appears in major league baseball
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 11:04
Player to watch, AL, Ryan Braun: We’re not here to discuss Braun’s defense of his positive test for testosterone - which was disingenuous at best. Whether you think he was innocent or guilty or lucky enough to slither through a loophole, Braun will be taunted all summer, not to mention scrutinized one at-bat at a time from here to October. Let’s see if he can handle the doubters without Fielder as his safety net.
Player to watch, NL, Carlos Beltran: It’s impossible to replace Albert Pujols on a defending world champion team. In that sense, the odds are stacked against Beltran. But the real burden will be playing center field on a semiregular basis, which he avoided entirely in 2011. Beltran’s bat and knees will be heavily taxed; how he holds up ultimately will decide the Cardinals’ fate this summer.
Team on the rise, AL, Blue Jays: That 24-7 record in spring training isn’t supposed to mean anything, of course, but the Jays have valuable assets in their starting rotation - notably Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez. They should be ready to lean on the Yankees and Rays in 2013.
Team on the rise, NL, Marlins: They’re less likely to surprise opponents than the Blue Jays, but there’s still no ignoring the off-season makeover. If Ramirez and Reyes can happily coexist; if Josh Johnson can stay healthy; if Heath Bell can reverse his declining strikeout ratio in the ninth inning; the Marlins could be formidable enough to topple the Phillies.
Player to watch (Yankees), Ivan Nova: The Yankees clearly were caught off guard by Michael Pineda’s 10-pound paunch in February, followed by his shoulder tendinitis in March. But team execs coped with the setback, in part because they had another young pitcher, Nova, whose trend line figured to keep improving in 2012. Then came the 8.06 ERA this spring. What does it mean, exactly?
Player to watch (Mets), David Wright: The Mets sent the right signal to their fan base by agreeing to a long-term deal with Jon Niese (it’ll be finalized shortly). But Wright’s future is more complicated, especially if he benefits from Citi’s redesigned outfield dimensions and starts hitting home runs again. Do the Wilpons dare make the same mistake with Wright as they did with Reyes, letting their best player leave via free agency with so much as an offer? Or do they bite the bullet and trade Wright in July?
Team on the decline, AL, Red Sox: Not even Bobby Valentine’s energy and charisma is going to help, especially if Josh Beckett and Andrew Bailey join Carl Crawford on the DL to start the season. Valentine’s honeymoon on Yawkey Way won’t last long if his team struggles in April and May.
Team on the decline, NL, Cardinals: This isn’t all Beltran’s fault, of course. But think of losing the game’s best hitter (Pujols), a Hall of Fame manager (Tony LaRussa) and a legendary pitching coach (Dave Duncan) in the same off-season. Where else to go but down?
(c)2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)