Today isn’t a national holiday, but it should be.
Today is Opening Day for the 2019 Major League Baseball season. Although the season technically kicked off last week in Japan with a two-game series between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics that saw Japanese native and baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki emotionally announce his retirement, today marks the official start of the season.
The baseball offseason brought drama in the form of high-profile players searching for new contracts before March. Names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, J.T. Realmuto and Josh Donaldson all joined new teams for this spring, some even joining division rivals of their previous teams.
Some of the most notable offseason moves came in the National League East. A number of teams tried to bolster their rosters in an attempt to catch the reigning division-champion Atlanta Braves who rode breakout seasons from young talent to an improbable title and playoff appearance last year. The Phillies gained former Washington National Bryce Harper and former Miami Marlin J.T. Realmuto to strengthen an already talented roster. The Nationals, while losing Harper, gained names like former Brave Aníbal Sánchez to join star talent like the budding Juan Soto and seasoned veterans Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Such moves from NL East rivals caused Braves fans to plead with their team to make offseason moves themselves to fix issues with the pitching staff, but the Braves’ front office has been practically silent since signing Donaldson in November. Prime pitching candidates are still free agents on the open market, most notably former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who was let go by the Red Sox after last season. Atlanta is seemingly unwilling to tie itself to a veteran like Kimbrel on a long-term deal — a deal that Kimbrel and his agent seem to be holding out for. According to David O’Brien of The Athletic in Atlanta, the Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers are the two teams still “in” on Kimbrel, but it is yet to be seen if he will join a roster in the coming weeks.
The Cardinals also made strides in transactions this offseason, signing Paul Goldschmidt, previously of the Diamondbacks, to boost their batting order. Although the Birds didn’t sign a Harper or Machado, some believe they are in position to compete for the NL Central once again this season.
Storylines from the offseason and spring training weren’t limited to the National League, however. The Angels experimented with Shohei Ohtani last season as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter, an experiment that they appear ready to stick with. Ohtani appears to be ready to shoulder the No. 3 starter role on the Angels’ roster on top of handling DH duties when he’s not on the mound. Two-way players aren’t an entirely new phenomenon, but one of Ohtani’s level hasn’t been seen in a long time. The Angels want to capitalize on that talent.
One of the biggest questions heading into the season is whether the Boston Red Sox have the firepower to repeat as World Champions. The Red Sox had one of the best statistical seasons ever seen in Major League Baseball last season, as they finished with 108 wins, a franchise high. Led by names like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox won the AL East easily last season, even with the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays winning 100 and 90 games, respectively.
From early in the season, it was evident that Boston was the cream of the MLB crop, but can the team repeat this level of performance in 2019? The Sox still have a strong pitching staff anchored by Chris Sale and David Price and will return a ton of offensive production from a season ago, so they could be primed for another run.
One of the biggest threats to Boston’s chances of repeating as American League and World Champions could be the Houston Astros, who have risen quickly to the top tier of the American League with their World Series title in 2017. The Astros made it back to the ALCS last season but lost the series to Boston 4-1. If the Astros can make another deep postseason run, the Houston faithful, including Houston natives who seem to make up a large portion of our campus population, will be very pleased.
As far as the National League goes, the Dodgers are hoping to avenge their World Series loss to the Red Sox by winning the NL pennant again this year — which may be difficult considering their offseason moves. The Dodgers let go of names like Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Matt Kemp, and much like the Braves’ fan base, Dodgers fans don’t seem very content with where the roster stands heading into opening day. Los Angeles still has former MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw as a starting pitcher, but the southpaw is now 31 years old and has struggled with injuries throughout his career, so reason would suggest that his level of production will soon decline.
While this barely scratches the surface of all that unfolded in this baseball offseason, it should help paint the picture that baseball rosters will look very different this season, and that could give rise to new contenders. This year’s free agents were insanely talented, and teams took advantage of that.
Regardless of whether your team is expected to be a contender in 2019 or not, let’s just be glad that baseball is back. As we’ve learned throughout the years, anything can happen in baseball. Injuries happen, teams go from worst to first and unexpected players have breakout seasons. Today, all teams start on even ground, and anything can happen.
With that being said, get comfortable, and let’s enjoy this ride to October.