5 things to watch in 2012 (MLB Preview)

The Boys of summer are coming back as Major League Baseball kicks off another season. Last year gave everyone enough to talk about as the season came down to the very end. With such a long season the playoffs rarely come down to the very last day but that is exactly what happened in 2011. In the last month of the season the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves had big leads in the wild card race. Then it all came crashing down as both teams began losing and were overtaken by the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays in the last day of the season. It was the most exciting end to a season in recent MLB history. The league will have a hard time following up that performance this year but they will try their hardest. There will be plenty to watch for as fans wait to see the end of the season which could be more interesting with a big change in the playoffs creating more meaningful baseball for more teams. Along with this will be a number of stories that will be followed closely by every fan as the 2012 MLB season is set to kick off, aside from games in Japan, and a new season full of excitement begins.

 

Steroid Era Continues

The MLB has been divided into many different eras over its long history but the worst of these eras might have been the most recent one. The Steroid Era was a dark period in the history of baseball many of the big names that had made baseball popular during the Home Run era were seen sitting in front of the senate. When heroes become villains it is always tough for a league to take and it took some time for the MLB to recover. It seemed like they would after a very exciting and entertaining 2011 season with new stars emerging and a new commitment to testing. It all seemed to be working as hitters like Jose Bautista were not testing positive for PEDs but were still able to light up the scoreboard. MVPs became more than just Hr hitters, although it certainly doesn’t hurt, as Justin Verlander and Ryan Braun won both the AL and NL MVP awards. Then after the Brewers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, MVP Ryan Braun brought back the memories of the era that baseball was trying to forget. Braun failed a test after the NLCS for elevated Testosterone levels caused by PEDs. Another hero had fallen except this time it was a player that is nowhere near the end of his career and would have served a 50 game suspension. Braun appealed the decision and won thanks to a clerical error in the transportation of the positive test. The appeal did not claim that Braun had not used PEDs and he refuses to talk about it leading to a lot of speculation that the positive test was right and that Braun had been using PEDs. This season Braun will be under heavy scrutiny as he can expect to be tested more than any other player in the MLB and he can expect to get booed in almost every stadium. Braun has proven that the steroid era is not finished yet and will now be a reminder whenever anyone begins playing great as he has brought the cloud back over the MLB for the foreseeable future.

 

Big Bats in New Places

The offseason in the MLB is generally a time for teams to make themselves better and prepare for the future. One way to do this is to sign some key free agents to add some big names to teams that need that little extra. This year the free agent market had a number of great names including Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. These players were not the big prize though as there were two players who caught the attention of almost every team in the MLB. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are two first basemen at different spectrums of the game but both became the proverbial prom queen at the high school dance with both getting the most attention this year. Albert Pujols was the veteran in the free agent market as he was coming off his second World Series title with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols was a great hitter who had a bit of a downward spiral after some injury troubles but he picked it back up at the end of the season. That rebound was likely the reason that the Los Angeles Angels went out and signed Pujols to a 10-year $250 million contract that will see him play into his 40s and he fully plans to do just that. Meanwhile Fielder represented the younger version of Pujols although with a bit more concern on the health front. Fielder helped his team to the postseason and had another great year at the plate as he set himself up for a big payday. Before the start of Spring Training, Fielder finally decided on signing with the Detroit Tigers with a 9-year $214 million contract. With two of the biggest bats in the league changing teams a lot of people will be looking to see how they will do in their new homes and if they can help their teams reach their goals, the Angels barely missed the postseason last year and the Tigers left in the first round of the postseason. More than just the players may be the monster contracts that both of these players signed as many people will see if the spending was worth it or just more wasteful spending in the MLB. Either way you look at it Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will be two players to watch this year as they get used to their new homes.

 

MLB Rebranding

Teams in the MLB are always looking for new ways to get their fans excited and one of the best ways to do this is to rebrand. This is when a team changes their look, and sometimes their attitude, to not only find more revenue but also to look to change their attitude. This year the San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays have all made changes to their uniforms this year. They will all have new looks but there is no team that has made more changes than any other team this year. The Florida Marlins had been at the bottom of the league for years and have suffered major lows in ticket sales. This year the Marlins revealed a brand new attitude to go along with a brand new look. The Marlins were the most active team in the free agent market signing some of the best players in the free agent pool. The most recognizable change though will be everything to do with the team that is not about on the field performance. First the Marlins changed their location identification when they dropped Florida from their name and became the Miami Marlins. The Marlins will also now wear black, orange, and blue. Along with the new uniforms the Marlins will move into a new home at Marlins Stadium. Ultimately these changes are all for one reason and that is to get the fans excited again for a team that has had little reason to get their fans excited. A new stadium will give fans a new experience of sitting inside when the Florida summer hits in full making it more comfortable for the fans. The stadium will also provide new amenities that will attract more fans to the game where the performance of the team will hopefully keep them. Meanwhile the name change will give a bigger connection for the city of Miami and the new uniforms will give the Marlins a whole new line of merchandise. All of the changes for the Marlins are aimed at bringing back a club from the basement and will be something to watch as they undertake their massive change for 2012.

 

Wild Card Addition

For a long time the MLB has had a certain power structure as the same teams continued to make it into the postseason. As the years went on the National League saw a more even flow of teams while the American League saw pure dominance. The AL East has been a power for years with one team making the postseason after winning the division and the second place team earning the wild card spot. With this dominance the playoff race became a little more boring as if an American League team did not win the division they likely would not make the postseason. With these teams constantly making the playoffs and other teams constantly missing out the MLB looked for a solution. This solution came earlier this year when the MLB announced that they would rearrange the playoff structure to make it more even. The new playoff structure would add another wild card team to each league in order to give more teams an opportunity to play in the postseason. More so than that it would give more teams the opportunity to play meaningful baseball in September as the playoff race will now extend to a host of other teams rather than the two teams that usually fight for the wild card. The extra wild card will create only one extra game in the postseason as the two wild card teams will now play a one game play-in to earn the chance to play in the postseason. For many fans this was a relief as they may now see their teams play some important baseball at the end of the season. For years these fans had seen their season end too early as they would not have a chance at the postseason. Now the season will be extended for these fans as the MLB will see much more interest in the season at the end of their 162 games. The new wild card will start this year and will be one of the bigger stories to watch for near the end of the season as the MLB hopes to have another exciting season end like last year.

 

Centennial for the Monster

With plenty of milestones to look for this season there will some focus on a few players around the league. There will be one bigger milestone this year though and it will not involve a player but instead one of the most iconic stadiums in the MLB. Fenway Park in the heart of Boston will turn 100 years old this year as the Boston Red Sox will celebrate their legendary ballpark. Fenway is the oldest and one of the most unique stadiums in the MLB and it only takes one look to left field to see the most unique feature. In left field stands the left field wall affectionately referred to as the Green Monster. The Monster stands at 37’2” taller than any other wall in the MLB and is only about 310 feet away from home plate. For batters this means that if you hope to put it out in left field you have to put it high and put it high very fast. Along with the wall are the other unique aspects of the stadium including fully obstructed view seats that are placed behind support beams. There is the strange layout of the field with extremely short distances to the walls in some spots and some off kilter foul lines. Fenway may be an old, some may say decaying, ballpark but it symbolizes what makes the MLB so great. The history of baseball is what connects fans to their teams and to the sport and this is what Fenway shows. It is one of the few old school ballparks along with Dodger Stadium, celebrating its 40th anniversary, and Wrigley Field, 98 years old this year. The celebration of the centennial is made even more special for the fact that the ballpark has changed in recent years. With Yankee Stadium being demolished and a newer version created the old ballpark has been brushed aside to make way for the new and improved stadiums. Fenway looks back to the old days and shows that even an old park with some kinks can be great and this year the Red Sox will be looking to prove it as they celebrate the 100th year and hope to do so with a great season.

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